Friday, June 23, 2017

The Third Raven

The Third Raven
by
Bobby Derie

In the shadow of the dragon, a fire burned. The squire warmed his hands before the coals that had once been a soldier - perhaps a friend.

The third raven settled itself next to him.

"The battle is over," it croaked. "The battle's won."

The squire nodded, staring at the skull amid the coals as it blackened and fell in on itself.

"The new king is to be crowned," the raven croaked "The new queen to be wed. The gods smile on them; the heavens are in accord once more."

"I killed the dragon," the squire said.

"Yes," the bird croaked.

"I saved the girl that would be queen. I saved the boy that would be king. I found the sword that slew the dark lord. I was their dagger in the dark, all the months of this campaign."

"You will not be remembered," the raven stared him in the eye. "No bard knows your name. No destiny is written for you. No god smiles on you."

The squire smiled at that. "The gods smile little, I think. Not at the shit-covered peasant in the field, or the woman who dies in childbirth, or the beast who feeds the army in the field. Does the antlion think of the aphid, that nourishes his prey? Does the bee consider the earthworm that works at the flower's root? A pox on all those bastards. Let me be forgotten."

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Friday, June 16, 2017

The Last Kludd

The Last Kludd
by
Bobby Derie


"Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren."


The inside of the pulpit was dark and mildewed, though the few faces in the congregation could not see it. The Reverend Tom Mitchell peered out from behind his glasses at the familiar few. Old, grey heads nodding in their rhythm.


The fire had long since gone from his oratory. Age had broken his voice, arthritis gnawed at his wrists when the summer storms broke, his mind sometimes tumbled back to older sermons, remembering faces long dead, long past. The old grey heads, if they ever noticed his slips, had never mentioned it or seemed to mind. His eyes...could still read the book in front of him.


"And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant."


Wrinkled hands closed the book as he stared out at the crowd, the last row a blur. Yet there seemed to be more people there, filing in. Tardiness means nothing to the Lord, he thought to himself, so long as they all should get there.


"The Curse of Ham," he began the sermon, "was when Noah set one of his own number apart. Like, but not alike. So that they might all know their crime, and serve in their place..."


There were more people in the church now. The back row was nearly full - though he could make out few of the details, they seemed fairly well-dressed in white suits or...robes? Was there a choir rehearsal that he had forgotten about? Well, no matter, they could wait to the end of the mass.


"We today have forgotten our place, as others have forgotten theirs. Ours has become a mongrel society!" A spark of the old fire caught in the voice. He remembered standing before a different sort of pulpit, in a cool cavern - the klavern - lit with electric lights, the steady hum of the generator. Before him spread rank upon serried ranks of chivalrous ghosts in their pale habits. He crossed himself.


"The love of God set down rules for mankind, even as for Adam. 'Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.' Confusion! And would not Noah be confused to see the world we live in now?"


The Reverend slipped back into the present, and the church really was filling up. The choir or whomever had filled the back two rows completely, and were still filing in.


On the pulpit before him, the younger Reverend with the fiery voice had read aloud from two books, laid side by side. His voice had echoed in the cavern and shook in the souls of those present. Good men, family men, good Christians; police officers and doctors, lawyers and farmers, even the odd politician... ten dollars and an official robe bought fraternity, if not salvation.


In the chapel, the grey heads were lost in a sea of nodding white hoods, and for the first time the quivver of fear found its way into the old priest's voice.


"It was different, in that time. People lived apart. There were laws for it. You could live back then, and call yourself a good man for following those laws...those laws that kept people in their place..."


A horse, draped in white, strode into the chapel, carrying a white rider, a long sword by his side. The hooded figures parted to make way down the aisle, their hands gently brushing the sides of the horse as it clopped. The grey heads never rose to watch him pass.


"...even as in the time of Jesus. How long, oh Lord, how long did we dwell in the house of bondage?"


The figure stopped before the pulpit. The reverend stared at the sword - which flickered between an old curved cavalry saber and a straight-bladed fraternal sword, the two images wrestling superimposed. It was like watching a film of an old memory. The robed man on the horse. Yes, he remembered. He had been dubbed, like a knight. They had all been knights. The reverend stepped away from the pulpit and came up to the altar rail, the warm breath of the horse on him as the blade came down toward him.


"Do we dwell in it still?" Asked the last kludd, as the blade fell.


###

Friday, June 9, 2017

O Fire

O Fire
by
Bobby Derie

O fire, five drops of blood I give to thee,
Five drops for five lives,
The lives of five men.

One crimson drop I give for he who stole my book,
The shadow among shadows,
The grasping hand,
Bane of libraries.

One I give for he who hired him,
The false face of friendship,
The seeking eyes in my house,
The opening purse-strings in the dark.

One I give for he who bought it,
Greed-crazed, gold-fingered,
Stinking of trade,
Who sought wisdom with coin.

One I give for he who copied it,
For it was not his lore to share,
Faithful scribe,
You erred in this illicit scroll.

And the last drop of blood I shed for myself,
For I am bereft,
Though I call fire on my enemies,
Fire cannot return my book to me.

###

Friday, June 2, 2017

Kidding Around

Kidding Around
by
Bobby Derie
The detective had been drinking. In the long lull as one bartender cashed out and another came in, he told me a story.
"We caught this guy once soliciting with a fucking petting zoo worth of goats in the back of his van. And video equipment. Let him sweat for a while, he says he's been paid a lot of money to make these bestiality videos. Client was very specific. So the DA cuts him a deal, he rolls over on the client. We get the warrants sorted out, go pick him up. That's where it gets weird."
He ran a finger around the edges of the glass, and rubbed the salt into his gums.
"When we're arresting him, he almost has a heart attack when he sees us, but then we start reading the charges and he busts out laughing. At the word 'bestiality' he breaks down in tears of joy happy, laughing his ass off all the way through booking. Because that's just misdemeanors in this state."
"As opposed to what?"
"Felony possession of child pornography, among other things. We go back to the guy with the goats, and it turns out the client had hired him to make 'kid flicks.' Goat-boy had misunderstood what the client wanted."
###

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Ruin

The Ruin
by
Bobby Derie

There is in England a certain respect for age which goes beyond mere tradition. Respect is perhaps not the right word for it, because it is as though a touch of antiquity is bound up within the British character, and though it may be chased away from the thoughts of those in great cities like London, yet it is never far from the surface, and many an Englishman and woman has turned up a bit of Rome with a spade, or gone into a cellar and found a fragment from some ancient war, or coatbuttons that shone bright when Shakespeare set down his sonnets, or else flints from some dimmer age of habitation. History was crowded thick on the island, and it moved in the blood and minds of its people.

All of this greatly vexed Stephen Hawkmoor, for after some years of excellence and luck in business, he had obtained a private ambition: the purchase of a mock castle. Now, some would look down at Hawkmoor for this, but only those as who look down on wealth that is won rather than inherited or found by fortune. Hawkmoor as much as he loved history, which was as much as any Englishman, was yet cognizant of possibilities: that is, while it is honest and good to inherit a grandfather's sword or a mother's patch of land, for ages and ages those selfsame bits had been honestly traded for good hard cash.

The mock castle was itself no gauche thing; for if it was less than three hundred years old, and its turrets and barbican no more than cosmetic affections, it was still a thing of generations, with trees on the grounds two hundred years old, and window glass warped by time. It had odd creaks in the floor, and graffiti in the servant's passages, doorways that had been bricked up, rooms whose original use had been lost to time, and a wine cellar that was dark and damp and cobwebbed, that gave the impression that you could pull down any wall and find there a leering skeleton.

Yet it had no ruin.

This vexed Hawkmoor greatly, for he had dearly wished to have a proper ruin on the grounds, to wander through on cold nights with his dog, or to read poetry on a heavy summer evening, and to forbid his daughters to play in during spring and autumn. Nor was the lack of ruin do to effort; he had called forth archaeologists and antiquarians, and scoured maps and charters back to the Magna Carta. The scientists came with their ground-penetrating radar, and the bookmen searched their archives, and yet they all came back with empty hands: Hawkmoor had, in some fluke, happened upon the one corner of the island that had never been so much as an over-night camp for wandering Saxons. It had been farmland to back before the Norman Conquest, and the farmhouse itself had been torn down and carted away when the foundations of the current house has been laid.

So, Hawkmoor resolved that if there was no ruin, there would be one. It was a little folly, he knew, but not without precedent; many such ruins had been constructed by romantic peers with more money than sense and who cared nothing for the strange glances of the local folk.

Now before just throwing money at such a folly, Hawkmoor resolved that if he was going to do a ruin, he would do a proper one. So he toured the ruins that were extant, a series of vacations that lasted the better part of two years - for there are few places in England or Wales that cannot be visited on a week-end, and he did not wish to neglect either his family or his business - and marked the broken pillars and the low grey walls, the buried mounds and vaults, the stones piled and toppled. Then he hired an architect, and put the matter before him. What he wanted, was not too ostentatious or ridiculous, yet in his research an image of it had fixed in his mind, and he gave forth a proper history of how such a place would have been, if it had been, and how it had become like that.

The architect took many notes, and smiled. He surveyed the whole of the grounds around the house, and they found a little patch clear of trees, not too far from the house, and away from all the pipes and other subterranean architecture. There he built the crypt.

For it was a crypt, though Hawksmoor had not thought of it in quite that way. The cellar of an old Roman house, with its bare altar to Mithras with its half-effaced characters, which had been repurposed by some family in Elizabethan times, and then buried and half-uncovered in the Victorian era, where they added a superstructure of red brick and ivy, where the chunks of Roman masonry were embedded in the brickwork, and the whole enclosed in a kind of simple garden with a low wall and shallow ha-ha all the way around, like a moat. It was built in layers, starting with the lowest level, and filled in gradually over three summers, and cost Hawksmoor a great deal. Yet at the end he shook his architect's hand, and thanked him heartily.

In the spring and summer it was a secret garden, which he chased the children out of; in the autumn it was a solemn place of dead leaves and dead vines, and in winter the snow laid on it like it had been there a hundred years. Hawksmoor did not entertain guests in the ruin - they all, he knew, must have known it was but a folly, and one did not brag on follies; a very few who were unfamiliar sometimes mistook it, and that gave him a slight glow, though he never failed to tell them it was not a real ruin, but a later addition - how much later, he did not tell them, for a touch of mystery did not hurt. In his office, he had framed a blueprint of the ruin, done by hand in brown inks by the steady hand of his architect, who was likewise a good draughtsman, and the paper on which it was sketched was no less than a hundred years old, for one can find hundred-year-old paper readily if there is money enough.

Then one solstice, Hawksmoor was out in his ruin. The night was dark and crisp and clear, and the party insufferable; his wife had insisted on having a Chinese buffet, and had invited certain relatives he would gladly have walled up in the wine cellar that they were intent on draining. So a little walk to clear his head, and a glass of whiskey to keep him warm, out to his ruin. It was then, in the moonlight and beneath the Christmas star, that he saw the ghost.

It was a wisp of a figure, a sketch of deeper darkness against the shadows of snow-covered ivy on red brick and white "Roman" masonry.

"Merry Christmas," Hawksmoor said, unsure of what else to say.

The spirit said nothing for a time, but seemed to gain a bit of substance. "This is a good crypt," it said at last. "I have wandered for quite some time...there is a lack of such places. Too many are too crowded. I wandered through churchyards and priories, and the dark places in the woods, and all the ghosts chase me out, saying 'No room, no room.' But this is a good place. It is...quiet."

Perhaps it was the whiskey, or the way the cold brought tears to his eyes, but the spirit's little speech touched Hawksmoor. "Well, you are welcome to stay. We would be happy to have you. Although I must admit..." he coughed politely "...this is, perhaps, not quite so old as it first appears."

"All places were young once." The spirit said, and then the shadow flitted - Hawksmoor could swear he saw it move - and seemed to spread. The whole of the ruin took on a new aspect now, and he felt it in every breath, which despite the whiskey seemed to chill the lungs. Now there was a presence in the ruins, a terrible potential charged within the very stones. Hawksmoor smiled and took his leave, retracing his footsteps in the snow. Whatever its age, he knew now it was a proper ruin.

###

Friday, May 19, 2017

Noblebright

Noblebright
by
Bobby Derie

Flowers opened to greet the dawn, as Rickard rode out the gates of Evilbane. He had spent the night praying and fasting in the chapel, meditating on the object of his quest, and now that the appointed hour had come he set out on it, astride the charger Alfbert.

Three orders of knighthood were there in the land, and the most exclusive were the Chaste, champions of the Queen; for it was not enough to be a doughty knight of good character and skill at arms, but one had to prove themselves of worth by a quest. When Rickard had begged the honor, the white-whiskered grandmaster looked at carefully with those kindly blue eyes of his, and asked if Rickard was prepared for the perils that lay ahead.

"I will sacrifice body and spirit, sir, to honor the queen!"

The kindly old eyes bored deep in his soul, and he light harrumphed. "Yes, perhaps you might. We shall see." Then the elder of the Chaste held up his right hand, and burning there on the fourth finger was a ring, a plain band of steel. "Know you young Rickard, that these rings are the symbol and the virtue of our order; they protect only the pure of heart - and in turn, they help keep our hearts pure, burning with cold fire when we threaten our solemn oaths. So long as we wear them, we are mighty in battle. Yet we are not invincible," and the older main pointed at the scroll of the fallen, chiseled in stone upon the altar.

"Brave Sir Alice fell defending the queen's honor - in which there is not shame - but her ring was never recovered. Return it to us, Rickard, and we will welcome you as our brother-in-arms, as one of the Chaste."

From Evilbane ran a road of the old Empire, still in good repair, the white stones shone in the dawning sun; Rickard could follow that road to the town of Beauville, and beyond that the great city of Isle-of-God, and beyond that the road went along the coast and over mountains to the heart of the old Empire itself. Yet Rickard took not this road, but after some miles he turned off on a path obviously little-used, for the paved stones gave way at last to packed earth, and then creeping grass covered that, and only a pair of rutted tracks gave evidence of the road as he entered the Red Forest.

The Red Forest was a second-growth wood, Rickard knew. The trees were spindly pines, the tallest no more than twelve or thirteen feet tall, the undergrowth still filled with smaller trees, and beneath the layer of red and brown needles would be the black and gray of ashes and charred wood. Once, all this had been cultivated fields, fruit trees, and hedges; four small thorps had sheltered in the valley, and a stream had run through it. Then had come the terrible fire, which burned the trees and buildings and crops to the ground, a flame so intense that the stream had dried in its bed and stones had cracked and turned glassy. In the aftermath of that blaze, a new growth had taken root...

Rickard marked the shadowy mounds which marked the stone foundations of house and barn, now covered with ruddy moss and the creeping thorns of rose vines. Scarlet squirrels chittered and leaped from branch to branch, and once a great cat crossed the path ahead of him, its orange fur untouched by white, pausing warily to look at him with yellow eyes before it dashed once more through the spindly bush.

At noon, he reached the Red Creek, so named because the clear water showed the reddish stains of iron its rock. He stopped to let Alfbert drink his fill, and then drank himself. As a boy, he had heard the water praised, and that its ultimate source was a spring up the mountain; his father had talked of a mine that was to be dug there...but all such talk had gone off years ago.

"Ho, fair knight," a breathy voice called, and Rickard looked up from his knees. A peasant woman stood on the far side of the stream - a face anywhere between thirty and forty, long copper hair tied back in a plait, freckled arms, well-muscled bare to the sun. She wore a leather tabard, cinched at the waist by a thick belt, and pale freckled hip and thigh poked out from the sides, her legs disappearing into high boots. Yet what took his attention was the long messer in her hands.

"Good day," Rickard said, carefully shaking his hands to dry them. "Forgive me, but I find myself unsure how to address you. I am Sir Rickard of Evilbane."

The swordwoman laughed. "A knight in the Red Forest! It has been some time since one of your kind came through here. She was a pretty thing, like you, though not so young I think. You may call me Foxwife. The Red Forest is mine, and I take a toll from all who come through it."

Rickard's brow creased. "By what right do you charge a toll? This is not your land, Foxwife. There are rightful heirs to this fief."

"Rightful? What is rightful in sitting by while this place burned, while the forest grew up without them? My right is the right of arms, poorchick. Pay me in silver or pay me in blood, whitemail or redmail, I will have my due." So saying she raised her sword vertically in both hands, the right near the guard, the bottom gripping the pommel, and her pink lips twisted into a smile.

Rickard's hand fell to the hilt of his own blade. The creek at this point was a ford of loose, smooth stones, narrowed to perhaps ten feet across and five or six inches deep. Once, there had been a bridge; but the fire had seen to that.

"Poor footing for a duel," he noted.

"Only for the one who crosses the stream."

"I could be on my horse and away."

"Oh sir knight, I did not think you one to flee a woman's challenge!" She sneered.

"I thought only of avoiding needless violence," he drew his own sword - shorter in the hilt, and in the blade than her own weapon, but doubled-edged - and from his saddle he took off the small buckler tied to Alfbert, gripping it tightly in his left hand.

Holding his blade low, and shield high, he advanced cautiously into the stream.

"I will say this, poorchick." The Foxwife's eyes narrowed. "What you lack in years, you do not lack in courage."

The rocks of the ford were slippery under his feet, and Rickard's brow was creased in concentration. The Foxwife stood on dry ground, and had in addition the longer blade, though she would have to contend with his buckler, her mail, and his helmet; that would mean a thrust - maybe not enough to kill, but enough to injure, or to keep him off the bank, since without armor reach and better footer were her greatest assets. And Rickard knew that he could get half-way, then suddenly jump, but she would expect that...no, better to proceed straight, and trust in his skill with the buckler to fend off the worst of her attacks.

All this the knight thought to himself as he edged nearer the bank, where the Foxwife was waiting expectantly...and when he was almost within a stride and a stab of the far side of the river, Alfbert gave a kind of snort, and Rickard spared a glance behind him...to see another woman with red hair rifling his saddle.

A blade tapped his buckler.

"You are too honest," said the Foxwife, who had come forward in the moment of his distraction, blade held before his unarmored face. "I wish you well on your quest, poorchick. But no-one goes through the Red Forest without paying the toll."

###

Friday, May 12, 2017

Brothers in Jotunheim

Brothers in Jotunheim
by
Bobby Derie

Snow fell in Jotunheim. Fat wet flakes came from the west, blowing in off the sea. Somewhere in the darkness grey waves broke on jagged rocks, and sailors prayed as serpents uncoiled from the depths.

"Loki! Come, sit by the fire." One-Eye called.

"The cold does not bother me, brother." Loki said. "My people were born of it."

"We of the Æsir do not mind the cold either," he handed a brimming horn to the little giant, "yet we do not like ice in our mead." That brought a smile to Loki's face.

"It cuts the sweetness." The little giant said, and sipped at the horn.

Standing next to him, One-Eye cast his gaze at the shapes in the darkness - the blinded moon, hidden by cloud and craggy peak, the dark things that fly by night. Hie eye was as a piece of the darkness.

"You see much," Loki noted.

"But not all. What ails you, brother? If there is a burden on your heart, let us share it."

"It is no light weight." The little giant sighed. "I am cast out among my own kind, a bastard child of a bastard race. Welcome neither among gods or jotunn. Can you know what that means, One-Eye?"

"I, too, have been counted an outsider among my people. The hanged man, learned in woman's magic. You are not alone, brother."

"For now," the little giant stared out into the night. "Yet I know my heart, and the joy I get in the suffering of things, and my own cleverness, grows. One day I know my mischief will turn too dark for the Æsir and Vanir. One day I will sleep with the wrong wife, or insult a god past amends; I may slay one of your own sons in a duel over some petty affair. Then what shall be my lot? We have been heroes of many stories together, brother - but what then when I am a villain? Shall I be any less the villain than the hero? And worse, shall I enjoy it more."

One-Eye drank deep of his mead, and he turned that terrible eye on Loki. The little giant felt the weight of his gaze, and sipped from his own horn.

"Many brothers have turned against each other. It is the nature of family to gather together in defense of each other, and yet familiarity and strong wills lead to struggle. Well do I know this, for I have wrestled with my own kin, aye an drawn steel against them in anger. Yet I call you my brother, and when I made that bond with you I did it not as a child does, who knows only his mother's belly grows and then he has a new playmate. I made you my brother knowing how much we are different and alike, that you may heal my heart or break it, that you would ever have my back as I would have yours - and if one day we come to enmity and blows, I will yet always treasure that kinship between us, and hold it as the jewel of my treasured memories. For there is no-one else in this world I would have as my brother. Now come!" He offered his hand. "The mead grows cold - and as I said, we Æsir care not for ice in our mead."

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