Sunday, January 25, 2015

Story for the Day: Balane's Curse -- Part 2

Aiden and Adaoire are not the only two men who suffer from Balane's Curse. Anyone who dared stay up beyond the small hours with more than a few drinks to furnish them feels all the anguish that Balane's rays beating down on them must afford:



The aubade of sparrow twittering in the bare shrubs beside the road, the grouse hiding in the patches of dwizzened grass shyly ebbing out from breaks in the snow, the gulleys filled with snowbroth trickling along the cracks in the road, the skree of gulls caroming across the landscape pervaded the morning air with an uncommon melody, accompanied by the groans of fellow farmers walking with them along the way, age sitting lightly on their bent backs and broad shoulders, their heads bowed in surrender to the light, the countryside laid out before them prostrate under the grief of winter. Everyone moving toward town shuffled thither in a slow bustle, feet scuffing and steps clointering, hands clumpsed and feet heavy with the remembrance of an evening of unbridled gaiety, Balane’s Curse settling over everyone who dared indulge the inhibitions of the holiday. Farmer greeted one another along the road in a haze of half cheerfulness and half disconcertion, their rasping voices giving relief to a clear sky, the soft voices of men speaking everywhere in a dreadful hush, whilst the women who passed were all eager animation, their voices pealing in musical cadence as they offered their passing felicitations, rousing the somnolent, the divagating, the petulant, the aching, their sanguine tempers resurrecting even the most dismal and desperate of smiles. Everyone honoured Aiden and Adaoire, as two of Frewyn’s most celebrated farmers, with a nod and a wish of “Maith Ailineighdaeth,” though some wishes were spoken in a agonizing drone. The women cooed and crooned over the children, and the men remarked at how much they were grown, and though their dry lips were wreathed with smiles for the two young boys, their eyes were speaking a very different conviction, looking and trying not to look at the bacon and bread in their basket.  
   Aiden and Adaoire pressed on, speaking quietly with the boys and rendering passing salutations to everyone who passed, until two men, older and looking very deplorably, one swearing a soldering apron over an impossible sweater, and the other walking under a sinful old hat and practicing a most disagreeable look, both cultivating begrutten aspects, their features attacked with frost, seeming as though to have refined the art of a headache, each lurking under wool coats disdaining the world and condemning everything else.   
“Aiden, Adaoire,” said the man with the hat, his voice a wreck of gleet and smoke. “How’re yous lads?”
Maith an shin,” the twins replied. “And yerself?”
“Had to get out, though she’s a cold one this morn.” The man with the hat glared toward the sun and quietly despised it. “Aye, that light. It’ll wake you up somethin’ fierce.”
“So’ll the wife,” said the man with the soldering apron. “Heard yers from all the way over the hedge.”
 “Aye, she was doin’ me head in.” The man with the hat looked pained and rubbed his eyes with his fingertips. “Shoutin’ and hollarin’ since early this morn’.”
The man with the apron grinned. “Shoudna had that last pint. Told you not to.”
“Ach, you told me, and sure I didn’t listen.” He waved at hand dismissively at his friend. “Go feed yer stock and hush that up. You got cows what need feedin’ and a mouth what needs quietin’. Go away to yer fields and have a breakfast and kill the two birds with the one stone.”
“You lads look up for it,” said the man with the apron, smiling at Aiden and Adaoire. “How’s it gettin’ on with the two wives? They let yous stay up and make a night of it?”
“Aye, we had a time of it,” said Adaoire, his headache coming on again, diffusing and trickling over from the man with the hat, whose state he reckoned must be contagious. “Good craic till the wee hours with the wives gone to bed.”
“And the wives let yous be at it?” said the man with the hat. He grimaced at the sky and looked agonized. “Wyn Abhaile, I’m married to the wrong women.”
“Just married too long,” the man with the apron corrected him, with half a smile. “Their marryin’s still fresh. Wait th’while. Aiden and Adaoire’ll be comin’ down to the Seidh Maith, usin’ the counter for confessionin’ sure enough.”
“Only thing we’ll be tellin’ you,” and Adaoire closed his son’s ears when he said it in a hushed voice, “is what a right hashiff we gave ‘em night before.”
“Aye,” said Aiden, self satisfied and all approbation, “our girls like us out o’ the house a bit, makin’ a raucous elsewheres. They see us enough durin’ the day. They’re glad to have us out.”
“They let yous out for a drink and a walk,” said the man with the apron. “Wait till yous have more wee-uns. They’ll have yous tied by the leg.”
Adaoire would have attested to their being no possibility of more children in future, as they were perfectly happy with their namesakes and could want no other children in the house beyond what stock their cousins could furnish, but the sun blazed against their visitor’s faces, the man with the hat writhing about, sinking under all the anguish of the light searing his eyes, and the man with the apron growling and wishing the sun would go away, their aspects recommending an internal patience and outward indignation, desirous that the snows should come on again and grey out the sky. The ceaseless sibilation emanating from town behind offended their ears, and the tinkling peals of joyous children ringing out in plangent exultation was a trial to their rattled nerves. They groaned and placed their hands over their eyes. They were sorry, but they must go: they could not longer listen to the dissonance from town as they could open their eyes, and the two men went off away home, probably to nurse their wounds and cure their headaches with stout and coddle, and Adaoire and Aiden were left to continue toward town.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Damson's Distress Pre-order!

Damson's Distress Vol 1 is now available for pre-order at Papercranebooks.com. The publisher asked me to write a summary for the book. This is what happened:
Sir Damson Aelhelm, a young lord in the royal court of Marridon, who grew up under the careful auspices of his father in Ballentyne Valley, was never very well-liked by his noble peers. He was shunned in the halls of the Academy for being a lower lord, for growing up tall and fair, and his kindly manner, innocence and handsomeness did him no service amongst those who who had only affluence to claim for their qualities. Time passed on, and Damson's father passed on likewise, leaving him the sole heir of the Aelhelm estate, and while he could have endured as a lord of moderate fortune all the rest of his days, Damson decided that he liked the idea of being a knight. He turned his attention toward the king's arena, and after triumphing over the resident knights, he became the king's champion and earned His Majesty's favour --- until Damson had the misfortune of overhearing the king's plot to kill his intended queen. Confronting the king saw Damson thrown off a cliff for his efforts, and as he plummeted to the sea, he wondered how he might rescue the queen. how he might save the kingdom--

"Oh, I am tired to death of this summary," Danaco exclaimed. "It says absolutely nothing about my giant, my ship, or my hair. And how it does go on! Bartleby, have you ever seen so insipid a
summary? I say you must have written this."

The rumpled old man fixed his spectacles, turned up his nose, and frowned at the back of the book. "Hogwash," he rasped. "I should never have written anything half so tiresome. It hardly says anything about our history at all. It goes on about the knight for half a mile. The dullard isn't half so interesting as this nonsense professes. Did I write it indeed!" He let out a dry laugh, and his jowls joggled. "Ha! More like Rannig wrote it."

Rannig rubbed his chin and looked mindful. "I don't think I wrote that, Bartleby."

"Oh, no? Certainly sounds like something you should write. It is full of adjectives that have no business being where they are, and there is even a misused dash. Certainly not something I would write."

"Perhaps the knight wrote it himself," Danaco mused. "He does have talent for poetics when he tries."

The old man humphed. "If he did, at least some semblance of knowledge seeped into that brain of
his."

The knight looked charily about and stepped closer to the old man. "I am standing just beside you, sir," said Damson, distressed. "Merely because the author has not written that I am not present in this scene does not mean that I am not here, sir. Pardon me, sir-- I do not mean to interpose, sir-- but I can hear you, sir."

"Of course you can hear me, sir knight," said the old man. "And of course I intended you to hear me."

"You see, Damson, here we are blaming you for this hideous thing by way of a summary," said Danaco.

"But I assure you, sir, I did not write it," Damson implored.

"If you did not fashion this paragraph which says nothing about us then who did?"


Damson pointed to the author's name, and the old man gave a cough.

"Yes, well," Bartleby hemmed, readjusting his spectacles, "you must have fed the author some autobiographical hokum. This is still your fault."

Damson looked vexed and hung his head.

"Aw, don't ye worry, Broken Knight," said Rannig, putting his enormous hand on Damson's shoulder. "Everyone'll read the book and see that the story isn't really about ye."

"Thank you, sir giant," said Damson, in a deplorable hue, his shoulders withering "I am beginning to feel better already."

Rannig gave the knight's back a hardy slap, which made him fall forward, and Danaco stood in defiance of the summary, looking all the grandeur he felt. "Come, open the book," said he, addressing the reader. "You must own that you are curious now, and well you should be with a giant, a knight, and a curmudgeonly old librarian. And a captain," with a gallant bow, "and a pretty one at that." He brandished his long black mane and flexed his arms, making his muscles ripple and contract. "I am exquisite. There is reason enough for you to open the book. How is that for a summary? Will that do for you? Very well, then. Rannig?"
 
"Aye, boss?" said the giant.

"To the ship. We must take out places and be prepared to receive Damson when he falls from the cliff."

"Aye, boss."   

The giant lifted the knight from the ground and carried him off, while the captain and the old man followed, preparing for their entrances in the story, Danaco whipping his sword about and practicing his steps, and the librarian arguing with himself over which category this book belonged to, while Damson, dangling from the giant's shoulder, wondered how he ever met his odd friends and what he should ever do without them.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Story for the Day: Balane's Curse

Balane's Curse, or a hangover, is so named for the Frewyn Goddess of the Sun, who curses those who drink too much by shining her light on them the following morning. While everyone in Frewyn, being a largely agrarian society, looks forward to a holiday, not everyone-- Aiden and Adaoire especially-- looks forward to the morning after.



The table was dressed for breakfast, their places were supplied with cups and plates and utensils, though the violent gurgurlation of their stomach recommended that there should be no time and indeed no need for utensils or napkins until their crapulence were done away and their sense set
to rights. Their lips slightly parted, their minds festering in miasma of morning confusion, their brains in an impenetrable fog, their hands found their way to their cups in supplication of tea, a brew by which their condition should be cured, by hanging their heads over their cups, their chins resting in the palms of their hands supported by their elbows leaning in opposition of the table. They were quiet and repentant, reflecting on how sorry they were that they should have fallen asleep without having eaten or had any water to drink before venturing to bed, and pining at the clamour the boys were making as they attacked their mother and aunt with embraces and entreated for more cake than ought to be necessary for such a time in the morning. Aiden and Adaoire shifted their hands from their chins and supported their heads by putting their hands over their ears and staring dismally at one another, and Triskillien could not but laugh.
“Does vis aulvays happen the next morning?” Triskillien asked Dealanna, her cheeks aglow as she smiled. “I have never seen vem vis quiet before.”
Dealanna glanced back at the table, and then turning back to the range, she said, “It’s the only reason I allow Adaoire to drink as much as he likes on a holiday.” She lifted the bacon onto a plate and cracked a few more eggs into the pan. “It is strange to see them so quiet,” she observed, looking askance at the table, “but also satisfying to see them reaping the consequences of too much ale after we warned themnot to stay out too late in the cold.”
Adaoire felt more than saw the look his wife was giving him, felt the meaning of I told you not to drink so much rather than heard it, and he held his aching head between his hands and gave a subtle groan.
“Boys,” said Aiden, in a beseeching tone, “be good lads now and hush up that hollerin’.”
The children paused in their entreaties for cake and looked bemused. “We’re not hollerin’, Uncle Aiden,” they chimed.
Aiden and Adaoire winced and writhed, the clear tones of the children assailing their aching heads in a fulmination of noise and cheer, and they raised a finger to their lips, leaning into one hand, and made a deplorable moan.
“What’s wrong with Da and Uncle Aiden?” Little Adaoire asked his mother.
Dealenna turned the eggs over and smiled to herself. “You might want to ask them yourselves.”
Adaoire mumbled something about might wanting to allow the boys have cake for breakfast.
“Please, Aunt Tris?” the boys begged, with pouts and glistening eyes. “It’s Ailineighdaeth.”
Triskillien, being the only Galleisian in the house, who had been used to celebrate the same holiday in Galleisian style, by fasting and pretending to be repentant for sins she had never committed, looked to Dealanna for an answer. She would give the boys anything they wished, having been denied everything that a joyous life in the Frewyn countryside could offer when she was their age, and as their desperate expressions began to work their powers on a yielding heart, she said, “Can I give vem a small piece?”
Dealanna would have said no, but it was the holiday and they must be allowed something extraordinary to mark the day as exceptional. They were allowed one small slice of cake after their oats and milk were done, and the boys gasped and hastened to the table, and whereupon took their seats between their father and uncle, staring curiously at each as one covered his ears to save himself from any extemporaneous noise and the other covered his eyes to shut out the glare of the morning sun. Dealanna set down bowls for the boys, and Triskillien came with the kettle, filling the teapot and brewing the tea while Dealeanna arranged a basket of various breads, butter and jams, fruit cake and thick slices of wheaten toast with honey. A few minutes saw the end of Aiden and Adaoire’s dismal looks and the triumph of their revived spirits: the tea was ready to be poured, and once Triskillien had famously done the honours, their hands had been furnished with a cup and their mouths busy gnawing at slices of toast, the twins felt themselves almost equal to conversation. Tea, however, must restore them to full health; the telleric scent emanating up from their cups was working its way toward their hearts and restoring their awareness with uncommon alacrity.
“Aye, I could eat my dinner offa that,” Adaoire lovingly proclaimed, studying his tea with his nose in his cup and admiring the impenetrable colour. The curls of smoke billowed up in serpentine wafts and titillated his nose, and once he had gloried in it, had admired the drink’s grand history and lauded the efforts of the teamaker, languishing over his affection for tea, its restorative properties and the hand his wife and sister in law had in making it, he raised the cup to his lips, inhaled and enjoyed a prolonged delibation. The terrarian taste attacked and awakened his mind, its richness and sharp tones making a scandal of his senses, the panacea of Frewyn’s farmers washing over and soothing every sensibility baring a semblance to sorrow. He lowered his cup, to give the tea his hearty approbation, and raise it to the Gods with a most gratified sigh. “Borras, that’s a tea,” he declared, with a thankful nod to his cup. “That’ll sure take us to Farriage and back.”
“Aye,” said Aiden, slower to respond but not slower to admire, “tea so thick you could travel on it, sure.”
“Mornin’ Da!” the boys chimed, their mouths full of oats.
Adaoire winced and grumbled, “Mornin’, boys. Let’s try to keep ‘em voices down a bit, aye? Yer Da’s head is in a way to be split.”
“Why?” the boys asked.
“’Cause it feels like yer Da put his head in the coppicin’ block and had an axe taken to it.”
Little Aiden’s nose scrunched.“What’s a copp-in-in block?”
“When all the trees what you’ve coppiced need to be shaved and shaped for usin’,” said Aiden, rubbing the side of his head.
The boys seemed incredulous, wondering what their father and uncle could have been at so late in the evening to make their heads feel like wood shaved and squared off by an axe.
“Why were you up so late and all?” Little Adaoire asked.
Aiden and Adaoire flinched at the high pitched tones, and Adaoire playfully put a hand over his son’s mouth.
“No more o’ that loud, boy,” said he, with a dreadful sigh, “or we’re puttin’ you outside with the gilt and havin’ her sit on you.”
“Why?” asked Little Aiden.
The shrill sounds of a young and unmodulated voice rang through Aiden’s ears. He gave a jolt, carefully put down his tea, and covered Little Aiden’s mouth with the palm of his hand. “Chune agus Aoidhe,” he swore, rubbing his brow, “we’ll have to teach you boys how to whisper proper.”
“We can whisper good,” they proclaimed in an audible undervoice as the hands were removed from their mouths, their tiny voices, though subdued, not quite meeting Aiden and Adaoire’s ideas of a tolerable tone.
They shushed the boys and swatted at their noses, imploring them to diminish their voices still farther, flurning and floddering in grim appreciation, whilst the boys sat musing over what could have happened after they had gone to bed that would make their father and uncle so unwilling to talk and so eager to hide from the sun. The farmers sat back in their chairs, leaning away from the window, whence the suns rays now began pervading the kitchen, and after witnessing their gowls and groans, Little Aiden asked, “Are you and Uncle Aiden sick, Da?”
“Aye,” said Adaoire, refilling his cup of tea, “yer uncle and me caught the mabhrach from
Sketch of Adaoire, WIP by Twisk
bein’ out in the cold last night.”
 “Adaoire, don’t tell them that,” was a plea which, though said plaintively and coming from Dealanna, was wholly disregarded.
“You don’t have the mabhrach,” said Little Aiden quietly, glaring at his father.
“Sure this morn we do,” Aiden asserted.
Little Adaoire frowned in suspicion and folded his arms. “If you got it, then where is it?”
“Aye, Ma said the mabhrach is a big rottin’ patch we get from bein’ in the dirt.”
A sharp look assailed Adaoire from its source at the range, and rather than defy the counsel of his wife, which was meant to have the boys fear being sullied, Adaoire furtively placed his finger into his cup, and dotted a splotch of tea onto his arm. “See that patch there?” pointing to the stain, “It’s growin’.”
The boys gaped with interest, and they examined their father’s hand, looking for all signs of  
the irreversible and unfortunate condition as their mother joined them at table.
“Adaoire, you’ll frighten them that way,” she said quietly, bringing the eggs and dividing them amongst the plates.
“It’s only a bit o’ coddin’,” said Adaoire. He stole a pinch at his wife’s ample haunch, and she
smiled and swatted him with a cloth as she returned to the range.
“But vey will think yoor serious,” said Triskillien.
“Naw,” Aiden crooned, “they know we’re only foolin’ ‘em a bit.”
“But Uncle Aiden,” said Little Adaoire, “you don’t really have the mabhrach, do you? Ma said it can kill.”
“This here is the one day kind,” said Adaoire, winking at his brother. “It’ll get worse before it gets better. I’ll roll around with the pigs a bit, go purple all over, and then I’ll be right as a post. Pass that bread you got over there.”
“Will the bread help?” said Little Aiden.
 “Aye, it will. Bread is a cure for many things.”
“Like colds?”
“Sure, like colds.”
“And like cranky fathers and uncles too,” said Dealeanna, putting a few rashers into her husband’s plate.
 Little Aiden looked bemused. “What’s a cranky?”
“It’s a monster what takes over yer Da when he’s hungry,” said Adaoire, staring at the bacon in his plate, the grease glistening in the soft glow of kitchen light, its nidor beckoning him to ravage it. His stomach let out a violent roar, and the children stared at him and straightened in their chairs. “See? That’s the cranky right there, tryin’ to get out.”
The boys made a soft “Whoa…” expecting their father to be devoured any moment, and they watched their father and uncle as they pored over their plates, admiring their full breakfast and honouring the two wives who were generous enough to have prepared it. They said their thanks and afforded them all the commendation that was their due, but the boys, fearful that there was something alive in their father’s stomach trying to devour him from the inside, tapped their mother’s arm and asked, “Da doesn’t really have the cranky, does he, Ma?”
“No, boys,” said Dealanna sweetly, sitting next to her children and fruzzling their hair with maternal affection. “Your father and Uncle Aiden only have Balane’s curse.”
“What’s that?”
“When the light gives you a headache the morning after too much ale.”
 “Do you have a headache, Da?” said Little Adaoire, smiling.
“How d’you reckon?”
“You look like you have a headache.”
“Aye? Well,” Adaoire laughed, his head aching with every guffaw, “since yer doin’ all that narlin’ over there with yer brother and all…” He left off, indulging in his breakfast with all the fervor that so prominent a headache deserved. He barded his bread with a rasher and soaked it in a pool of melted butter, mantled over his plate and ate with an open mouth. He humphed in delight, humming and deliciating in all the satiation that soft-boiled yolks and brined bacon could promise. “Now that I got some bacon in, my ears are workin’ better.”
“Does bacon help yer hearin’?”
“Anything what’s on a plate’ll in front of a man’ll help him listen. Ask yer mother.”
“Does it help girls listen too?”
Adaoire would have said that nothing should ever improve a woman’s hearing beyond what scandal exchanged at a corner in the market could supply, but he checked himself and said nothing, enjoying his breakfast and keeping his eyes on his plate, though he felt a penetrating glare vying for his notice from across the table.
“Do we still have to be quiet?” Little Aiden asked, in a softened hue.
“Aye,” said Aiden, pushing a piece of bacon onto a slice of toast with his thumb. “The ears are workin’ but the head still hurts. Eat yer oats, and then we’ll have a bit o’ that cake.”
They finished their breakfast together, the boys slottering through their stewed oats with the ambition of cake in view, and Aiden and Adaoire finished the last of the toast and wiped their plates clean of the remaining butter and eggs while Triskillien and Dealanna ate their scones, with dollops of clotted cream and fresh lemon curd made by Calleen and left for them to finish over the holidays. Headaches subdued, palates were appeased, and clean plates saw the return of good humour and raucous voices.