She was written
They keep her locked away
A fortress of prose
In a desert of grammatical sand
But she sings
And flowers grow with petals of flame
As the verse comes forth
She is the muse of night
They keep her locked away
A prisoner of society
She is art and reason
In an unfair world
But I have braved the desert
Have scaled the fortress walls
I have beaten back her captors
And taken for my own the princess of night
The third Wednesday of every month, at least during the summer, was girls night. That’s what my boss said when she left the shop in my care. So, I was expecting to be alone in the old barn surrounded by odds and ends until closing time. I wasn’t expecting a teenage girl in a Day-Glo blue archery camp t-shirt and a woman a few years older than me in a neat blouse and flowered skirt to come walking in through the door within short order of each other. The younger girl spoke first.
“The Huntress says you know.”
The other woman relaxed visibly.
“Oh thank the gods, I was starting to think I’d taken a wrong turn. When my boss said to come to the home of the forgotten things, I never pictured a junk shop. Even if she did give me an address.”
I looked between the two of them, relaxing the grip on the chunk of stygian iron in my pocket.
“Well then… I wish my Lady had told me I’d have company tonight.”
Unceremoniously, I shifted a box of records to the floor and sat at the now-cleared off patio table. With an airy gesture, I motioned for the other two to sit. Names weren’t exchanged, but that was to be expected. The lawyer took a seat but the young archer didn’t, she paced. After a long silence, the lawyer spoke. I was starting to suspect she didn’t like silence.
“Do either of you know why we’re supposed to meet?”
I stayed silent. The archer didn’t. She was dynamic and mobile in a way that the overcrowded barn did not tolerate and it was starting to get on my nerves.
“I would guess,” she started, “that they don’t want us to be alone. We know who they are and that sets us apart. But that makes us kind of like a little group.”
I expected the lawyer to object, even sparing a moment for a mental laugh at the image the thought conjured. But she nodded.
“That makes sense. We’ve seen things that are…hard to explain. Or impossible.”
The archer stopped dead in her tracks, her expressive face closing.
“She…she turned a man into a stag. We ate him. I killed him. I…I didn’t mind. The gun was aimed at my face! And I like venison a lot. He was going to hurt the kids, I think…and…”
She was shaking and I stood, grabbing her by the shoulders.
“Tell it from the beginning.”
My voice sounded like hers for a moment, like my Lady’s. That clear and calm tone that radiated confidence. The girl’s shoulders slumped and she nodded. Slowly, the story came out of her and I nodded.
“He’s been judged and found Punishment. You did the right thing.”
The easy smiles were back on her face now.
“I know, she told me. But I needed to…to talk to someone else, I think. You know?”
The lawyer spoke softly then.
“How did you do that?”
It took me a second to realize she meant me. I knew I was just staring at her like an idiot.
“You pulled the ghost of the memory out of her.”
“I did what?”
Then I looked at my hands and saw the shadows there. With a quiet curse, I pulled it together into a ball and cast it down into the Underworld.
“I…have no idea. But it’s good to know I can.”
I looked back and forth between them for a moment and then sighed.
“I’ll go grab some sodas and a deck of cards. We can all talk and sort this out, alright?”
Octavia was waiting. Waiting for Breccan to return from his hunting trip, waiting for the right words to come to her mind, waiting for the sign she’d prayed for. She knelt before her small shrine and took down the statuette of Juno for the fourth or fifth time that day alone.
“Lucina Juno…What do I do? Please? I need something, advice, a sign, anything. I need to be sure before I tell him.”
Now, she paced again. Periodically glancing towards the horizon. He would be here soon. He’d promised. Last night had been the first night of the full moon and he’d promised to be here. She rested her hand on her stomach, wishing she knew the answer to tell him.
Breccan walked through the door with a string of rabbits in his hand and a smile on his face. He’d missed her so desperately while he’d been gone and now he could hold his Octavia in his arms again. He’d been later than he’d meant to, having had to hunker down for a few hours during a lightning storm, but now he was back. Octavia lay sleeping on their bed, tangled up in the blankets. He hung the rabbits by the hearth to deal with in a bit and sat on the edge of the bed, brushing her curly hair out of her face.
Octavia turned slowly, opening her eyes.
“Brec! You’re home!”
She sat up quickly, pulling him into her arms. That got a surprised laugh out of him and he kissed her forehead.
“Sorry I’m later than I planned on.”
“No, no, it’s fine. I have news for you.”
“Oh you do, do you?”
She made more room for him in the bed and impatiently waited for him to get his boots off before snuggling against him. She took his hands in her own and rested them on her stomach.
“I’m pregnant, Breccan. We’re going to have a baby.”
Never let anyone tell you dragons aren’t real. They’re as real as can be, I promise you that. They used to be everywhere back in the Old World, Europe and the like, but you won’t find them there anymore. Knights and dragonslayers moved in and that was that. Like the pilgrims later to come, they left to seek a better life in a new land. It was a long trip across the ocean but they made it, eventually landing in a lush green land. There were humans here too, but they didn’t fear the dragons and they lived in peace together. Time passed as it always does and the great dragons began to fade. But they didn’t leave. They laid down in the forests, letting sleep come upon them. Plants began to grow on their backs, whole forests with trees and teeming with life. You can still see them, if you know where to look, though. And on a cool, clear New England night, you can still see them smoke in their sleep.
The young woman hoisted her pack higher up on her shoulders and she looked further down the road. She would have to leave it soon, or risk being seen. Glancing at the sky, she shielded her eyes and tried to gauge how long it would be before sunset. She knew there was a town nearby and that would be her first chance to get food, but only if she waited until after sunset. It looked like it would be a while, so she ducked off the road and started moving into the woods. Tegwen kept her ears and eyes open, moving as quietly as she could. Every snapping twig was one of the hunters, a village child, one of the soldiers. She heard a rustle and froze, ears straining. There was another, and a snap. She had two choices, run or hide. Then a large hand came down on her shoulder. She was out of options. They turned her around and she found herself staring at the last thing she wanted to see: a quartered tabard over maille in the colors of her uncle’s house.
“So, Lady Tegwen, we’ve finally found you.”
She gulped, trying to swallow past the lump in her throat as fear took hold of her. Slowly, she raised her eyes to his face, afraid of who she would see. His craggy features were so familiar, the scar down his cheek answered all her questions.
She gasped his name and he covered her hand with one leather-gloved hand.
“Quiet, My Lady. The others are in the wood searching for you as well. And it isn’t my intention to let them find you.”
She nodded and tried again, speaking at a bare whisper.
“My parents? Are they alright?”
He was already shaking his head sadly.
“Captured. Duke Garrett executed your father and he’s holding your mother. We have to get you to the capital, to have an audience with the king. It’s the only way.”
She took a deep breath, trying to keep from shaking or crying. She couldn’t afford to mourn yet. Fists clenched tightly, her back stiffened and she nodded once.
“Then we go.”
Toy bear on the shelf,
why are you smiling?
Your tag is marked for sale.
The last of your kind,
a ball of stuffing with glass eyes.
Your companions are plastic and batteries.
Little toy bear
on the markdown shelf,
waiting for a friend.
Your cloth pants are buttoned up neatly
and your paws are clean,
but no one looks at you.
You long to close your little glass eyes,
to cry and close out the world
sitting there alone on the clearance shelf,
but you were not made to cry.
Your little stitched mouth forced in a permanent smile
as you watch the children hugging heartless machines.
Breccan stood there sheepishly, holding a pot of something in his hands. Octavia looked up at him from where she was double-checking the edge on her sword.
“I know you said your lorica would protect you…but…can I?”
She stood slowly, coming over to see what he held. It was a pot of something blue and paint-like. Then she processed the swirling designs painted on his face, chest and arms.
“What is it?”
“Woad. It protects me in battle.”
She smiled up at him and pulled him down into a quick kiss.
“Then of course.”
His fingers were warm against her bare flesh, drawing an echoing warmth deep in her. She resolved then and there that once this battle was over, she was going to bring him back to this house of his, throw him down on the blankets and have her way with him, if just his touch could make her feel like this. His free arm went around her waist and she looked up.
“You were wiggling.”
“Oh, sorry.” She paused then. “What are you drawing, anyway?”
She could hear his smile even if she couldn’t see it.
“The symbols from your shield. The eagle, the spears, the lightning.”
She smiled and sat a bit straighter, letting him get to her lower back.
“You’re wonderful, Breccan. Thank you.”