#Blogbattle – Iridescent – When The Moon Is Full

IMG_1368It’s Tuesday, and time for Rachael Ritchey’s Blog Battle. The rules are simple – each week you get a prompt, a genre and have 1000 words to write a response, which has to be posted on the following Tuesday. This week’s prompt was Iridescent, and the genre was Fairy Tale. Here’s my take:

When The Moon Is Full

Once upon a time, when the world was younger, there lived a boy. Tall and lean he was, his skin nut brown over strong muscles, his clothes as tattered as the leaves among which he lived.

No darkness came to stain his days – he was warm and well-fed, the forest providing all that he needed. He roamed along paths he knew like he knew the feel of his skin, or the sound of his breath as he lay alone at night. And as he roamed he hunted, gathering his crop.

But no nuts cracked between his strong white teeth, no berries stained his lips, no blood flowed across his long fingers. Instead, he gathered memories. Bubble light, floating untethered around sleeping travellers taking their rest beneath tangled branches. They would wake unaware that anything had been taken, only a mild headache marring their day as they travelled on to the road beyond the trees.

And so the boy leapt and ran, graceful as any stag, through glowing leaves and past ancient stones, the precious memories tethered to him, dancing like fireflies in the dark of night. When he reached the tree he called home he would sink down among the roots and close his eyes, savouring the sounds and thoughts as they washed over him, nourishing his soul.

But one night, something changed. The moon was full, a golden globe sailing above the treetops, shining through the branches to pick out white flowers like stars dotted along the path. Around him the forest was lush and green with spring, the scent of flower and foliage strong enough to send a man mad. But he drank it in, the wildness of the night running through his veins. Then he saw her.

Dressed in velvet green as the leaves on which she lay, curled at the edge of a small pond. Her long hair was the dark brown of tree bark, her skin golden as his own. He stopped, entranced by her curves, by the rise and fall of her breast as she slept, one slender hand outflung. A bubble of memory appeared, fragile and feather light, floating around her head.

He reached out to take it, all at once desperate to have one small piece of her beauty. But when he touched the bubble her eyes came open and she stared at him. Green, her eyes were, iridescent in the moonlight like dragonfly wings, the pupils night dark. He heard her voice in his head.

‘You have taken something that belongs to me.’

He said nothing, frozen in place, the bubble floating around him like guilt.

‘It’s not right to steal, you know.’

Still he said nothing. He did not know what to do.

‘What is your name?’ She stared up at him, lips dark crimson.

He found his voice. ‘I don’t know.’ He did not.

She frowned, her head tilting to one side. ‘Do you remember nothing?’

The boy thought for a moment. “I have no memories except for those I steal.’

‘Then let me remind you.’

She stood, like a snake uncoiling, and reached for the bubble tethered to the boy, taking it back. As the tether broke he gasped. And he remembered.

He had been sent here, not so long ago. A gift from another realm. But it was not memories he was supposed to steal. It was pain, easing the path of the weary travellers as they passed through the woods. But in his youth and haste he had forgotten, taking memories instead.

‘Do you see?’ Her voice was the whisper of wind through branches, her perfume apple blossom, earthy and sweet.

He nodded, tears in his eyes. ‘I – I am sorry.’

‘Hush,’ she said, coming close to lay one finger gently on his lips. ‘You were young, and you did not know any better. I should have helped you before.’

‘Who are you?’ he whispered.

She smiled, her face close to his. ‘I am the forest,’ she replied. ‘And you are mine.’

***

It is said that the woods bordering the two lands, where the road passes between the trees, is a place of wonder and beauty, where a man might find rest in the most difficult times. It is also said that a spirit lives among the trees, as beautiful as Spring itself, her companion tall and strong.

And sometimes, on a night when the moon is full, they can be seen dancing in the glades, as close together as two vines twisting, their sighs echoing until dawn.

 

 

#BlogBattle – Coconut – Blast From The Past

IMG_2039It’s that time of week again, when bloggers across the web post their response to Rachael Ritchey’s Blog Battle. This week, the prompt is ‘coconut’, and I had grand dreams and a wisp of a story about being at the beach, with the song ‘She’s Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts’ floating around in my head. However, a snot monster has also taken up residence in my head, leaving me down for the count when it comes to anything imaginative, so the story has come to nothing as yet. But I didn’t want to let another week go by without at least trying to participate, so here’s a passage from my latest book, Hills And Valleys, which in some ways is similar to what I was trying to come up with.

The story so far: Our heroine, Alma, after a tragedy in the otherworld of Ambeth, has come to her grandmother’s house in Wales for the summer, hoping to recuperate and forget all about Ambeth. But Ambeth, it seems, has not forgotten about her, a display at her local library holding an unwelcome surprise…

She shook her head, running her finger across the row of plastic-covered book spines, scanning the titles. Selecting a couple that looked interesting, she tucked them under her arm and moved around to the other side of the shelf, squinting a little in the bright sunlight coming through the long glass window. There wasn’t much there – just some large print books and a selection of encyclopaedias. Oh, well. As she wandered across to the other shelves, her attention was caught by a display on a concertina-style board in the middle of the room. The heading announced ‘150 years of Entertainment’, while underneath in smaller letters it read ‘Courtesy of the Historical Society.’ Intrigued, she stopped to have a look.

Black and white photographs and old concert programs were pinned on the board, along with informative captions typed on small pieces of paper. Alma tilted her head to read the faded playbills, amused by the variety of shows on offer. She was particularly taken by a poster for a visiting circus complete with elephant and the accompanying photo of the animal on the beach with a crowd gathered around, the castle looming high in the background. She moved along to a set of street scenes, amazed to see how similar the town looked then to how it was now. The shingled beach was the same, too, though fashions had changed in the intervening years. Alma shook her head, wondering how anyone could swim in knee-length knickerbockers and a long-sleeved top. On the beach were vendors and sideshows, young men trying to knock coconuts off precarious looking stands and young women lined up for beauty contests, smiling, their eyes creased against the bright sun. There were also photos of the old theatre, the stage hung with velvet curtains, women in corseted gowns and men in striped blazers caught mid-song – Alma could almost hear their voices coming through the years. Walking around to the other side of the board, Alma was taken by a series of photographs showing dances held at the Town Hall. She admired the dresses, the men in their suits. Then she blinked, feeling as though she were going to black out.

For there, smiling in black and white, was Gwenene. The photo showed her arm in arm with a dark-haired man, looking into the camera. Her dark hair was pinned up and she was dressed in a knee-length beaded dress, but nonetheless it was her. Alma would never forget her beautiful face, or the way the Dark Elder had threatened her in the Great Hall. Her vision blurred and she started to shake. Rubbing her eyes, she leaned in to read the small paper tag under the picture. ‘Prof. Llewellyn Davies and friend at the Christmas Social, 1927’ the legend read. Alma gasped. So this was the professor – Caleb had been right about Gwenene as well. Her eyes filled with tears. She dashed them away, studying the picture. Davies was smiling widely, looking at Gwenene as though he couldn’t believe his luck. Alma felt sick. No matter where she turned, no matter what she did, it seemed Ambeth was calling her. First her father, now this. Swallowing hard, she shook so much that she dropped the books tucked under her arm, the thud as they hit the floor jolting her back to reality. As she gathered them up, she looked around and saw the librarian looking at her disapprovingly. She mouthed ‘Sorry,’ before putting them carefully on a nearby table. Then, on legs that were barely holding her upright, she left the library and its photos behind, her mind frantic with the shock of what she had just seen.

And, th-th-th that’s all for now, folks! Thanks for reading x

 

#Blogbattle – Vampire

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Yay! It’s nice to be back at BlogBattle, Rachael Ritchey’s weekly writing challenge. If you’d like to join in, visit the site and check out the next prompt. This week’s prompt is ‘Vampire,’ which ties in with one of my current WIPs. Emelia Raven is the daughter of a great house of vampires, and she’s… a little different. She has lived her whole life under guard in her family’s great house, her world defined by the rise and fall of the great shutters, keeping the daylight out. Left to her own devices most of the time, she explores the house, trying new things – one of those things is wine:

I didn’t drink for a few weeks, not wanting another sick stomach and headache. But gradually the memory faded, and all I was left with were glimmers of how it felt to dance, of the world feeling open and full of joy. And I knew I had to try it again. I watched more movies, trying to learn what I could about the process. I even found a book about different kinds of wine and read it. And what I discovered was that I’d had too much, too fast. I needed to go slower next time. So I tried again, more cautiously, and gradually I learned how much I needed to drink to get drunk. I also learned how much it helped, in the long dark nights when I had only myself for company, blasting music through the library as I danced and whirled, singing at the top of my voice. There was one song I loved by Savage Garden, their name taken, ironically, from a popular vampire novel of their time. They were long gone, but their music remained. And I would dance and drink and wonder about cherry cola, and about wanting someone so much you would die.

And now I needed to get drunk again. The shutters had already closed, but I knew I had some wine hidden in the library, last of my stash brought up the previous month. I left my room, trying not to sigh as the inevitable guard fell into step behind me. I mean, I get it. It’s all I’ve ever known. But lately, I find their presence in my life oppressive. Well, all except for one guard, I guess…

Huh.

I huff out a breath. I really, really need a drink. I turn the corner, heading down the staircase. Two more guards, standing in the foyer, bow as I pass. I nod to them, wishing I could scream or make a face. As I take the long hallway to the library, the guard behind me flashes past in a streak of silver and black, pulling the doors open before I get there.

‘Thank you,’ I mutter. He starts to follow me in and I turn, stopping him. ‘I’m going to have the lights on, so I can read.’ Plus it’s the only way I can be alone, though I keep that to myself.

‘Then I must check the room, my lady,’ he says, nodding at me with a smile. He is young. Young-looking, at least. Handsome, as all vampires are. But his hair is light brown, not black, his eyes blue, not silver-grey. I try not to roll my eyes as he moves swiftly around the room, checking the shuttered windows, looking behind the furniture as though someone might be curled up on the floor behind a chair. Honestly. But it’s over in a few seconds and he comes back to me. A doubtful expression crosses his face. ‘You are sure-‘

‘Yes.’ I frown a little, and his eyes widen. He bows, leaving the library and closing the doors behind him. Finally. F*ck. Shaking my head, I flick the light switch, golden light pooling on the wooden floor, the velvet furnishings. I wander over to the bookshelves, stopping in front of one containing large encyclopaedias, running my finger along them. Was it ‘D’ for drunk? Or ‘W’ for wine? I grin, remembering. ‘F,’ for fun.

And forgetting.

Removing the book from the shelf I place it on a nearby table, blue leather binding smooth under my hands. Reaching to the back of the shelf, I retrieve a bottle, glass and bottle opener. Opening the bottle as quietly as I can, glancing at the door several times, I pour myself a glass, ruby liquid glinting in the light from the wall sconces. Then I drink, welcome heat in my throat relaxing.

It’s a start, anyway. But I need something else. A movie. Or music. Or something. Or both. Heading over to the large glass fronted cabinet containing the DVDs, I peruse the selection, glass in hand. Perfect. Choice made, I crack open the fragile plastic case, sliding the disc into the machine and pressing play. The familiar pounding beat gets my feet tapping as the titles appear on the screen. Saturday Night Fever. I love this film. It pre-dates the Rising by quite a few decades, and to me it’s a glimpse into another world. The accents, the clothes, the idea of being human and living in a big city, trying to make something of yourself. Of sex and dancing and a man and a woman trying to connect. Even though they could live in the day, all that was exciting seemed to happen at night. And I lose myself, finally, in the music, imagining lights flashing, a man holding me that way, as I drink and dance and try to forget.

—–

I must have fallen asleep. Wine does that to me, sometimes. The drunken feeling passing, replaced by lethargy. I woke as arms lifted me, glimpsing a flickering screen, the overhead lights turned off. Bertrand, I thought, closing my eyes and relaxing as we moved through the halls to my room. I opened my eyes briefly as he laid me on my bed, catching a glimpse of glossy black hair, a flash of silver in the candlelight. Odd, I thought, Bertrand has grey hair. And then I slept.

 

#blogbattle – A Run In The Dark

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I’ve had a few weeks away from Rachael Ritchey’s #blogbattle, so it’s nice to be back. This week the topic is ‘Voice,’ and my entry is an excerpt from Silver and Black, the vampire novel I’ve been working on this month as my Camp NaNoWriMo project (only a few thousand words to go!)

——-

A Run In The Dark

Let me tell you how it is, to run with a vampire. Both my mother and father have carried me before, especially when I was younger, playing games around the long lawns and rolling fields of our estate. But no one else has, ever. Oh, sure, guards in the past have picked me up when I’ve fallen, taking me to the house and safety in seconds. But never has anyone else taken me for a long run, where you cling close and feel as though you are part of the other person, the wind rushing around you both, cleaving you even closer together.

When my father ran with me, it was part terrifying, part exhilarating, and I used to laugh and scream in turn, tears leaking from my closed eyes. I think it amused him.

When my mother ran with me I felt safe, held in a net of love strong and soft as her long hair, which wrapped tendrils around me as though alive.

But with Kyle, it was different altogether. Of course it was. For despite how stupid I felt, what a disaster the evening had been, he was right. I had enjoyed myself for a while in there. Because of him. And now, with my head pressed against his shoulder, my mouth oh-so-close to his caramel skin, his arms strong around me, I wished the run would last forever, that we could run to the Safe Zone and the distant sea and spend time there together, just the two of us. The night was a blur of velvety dark, stars and moon striping silver around us so it was as if we ran under a giant bowl, the world turning under his feet as he sped me towards the safety of home. I saw the gateposts flash past, darker silhouette of raven statues against the sky, the thud of earth changing to the crunch of gravel as we ran up the long drive towards the main house.

‘Raven claw, blood and stone!’ he called out, as we passed each set of guards stationed at the gate and along the drive, each of them responding in turn with the night’s password. They could see who it was he carried, anyway.

Then it was over. He stopped at the base of the steps, the tall pillars striped paler against the darkness. The front door opened and I could see a faint glow of candlelight, my mother silhouetted against it.

‘Emelia?’

She came down the stairs in a rustle of silk, and I could hear the worry in her voice. I found mine.

‘I’m all right. I was just tired, that’s all.’ I was still clinging to Kyle, but he had moved me slightly away from his body, cool air between us. ‘Uh, sorry. ‘ I let go of his neck, my arm and hand stiff from holding tight, my hair feeling stretched and windblown. I ran my hand through it as Kyle carefully set me down, then staggered. He caught me, his hand against my waist. Then Mother was there, her arms around me, hands stroking my hair.

‘Come, lovely girl. There is tea for you, and you can tell me all about it.’ Then she turned to Kyle. ‘And I have arranged a special meal for you, downstairs.’

He stood to attention, heels together, then bowed. ‘I thank you, my lady.’ Then his glance flicked to me. ‘Sleep well, Emelia.’

‘Thanks.’ But he was gone and I felt all at once cold, despite my mother’s arms around me, as she led me into the warmth of the house.


And that’s all! For more entries, to vote, or add an entry of your own, head over to Rachael’s blog and click the Blog Battle link.

#BlogBattle – Leviathan

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This is my entry to Rachael Ritchey’s Blog Battle. This week’s word was ‘Leviathan’, and it took me straight out to sea. I realise I’ve been doing a few of these blog challenges of late, and I think it’s because I need to stretch all my writing muscles before hitting NaNo next month. Plus I’m really enjoying them, and I’m not sure how many I’ll have the chance to do next month.

Leviathan

In the depths it stirred. Great tentacles uncoiled, revealing an eye like a golden lamp, light streaming through the darkness onto fish flickering, quicksilver. It was hungry.

—–

‘So, d’you like it?’

I shrugged. Then, seeing hurt starting to cloud his face, I smiled at him. ‘Yeah, it’s cool! I mean, you must have worked so hard on it.’

‘It’ was a boat. You could call it a yacht, I suppose, if you were being very generous. And he had worked hard. The once encrusted sides were now gleaming, the windows free of caked-on salt, chrome gleaming in the sun.

‘Yeah.’ He grinned, hands on hips as he surveyed his handiwork. ‘It was a slog, that’s for sure. But it will be worth it when we get out there.’

I tried not to grimace. I think I got away with it. But the idea of being at sea for days with him, no matter how much I liked him, filled me with a cold dread I couldn’t explain.

I loved the water. Had lived near it my whole life. Perhaps that was the problem. I’d seen enough to know that its benign blue depths were neither forgiving nor welcoming, stories half-heard coming back to haunt me.

I took a breath in then blew it out. ‘So, when do we leave?’

—–

Rocks crumbled to dust under its bulk as it moved across the ocean floor, black as ink, tentacles curling like smoke, the great beaked mouth opening and closing. It knew it needed to rise to the surface, where the pressure was so light it could move a thousand times more quickly. Ideal when hunting.

—–

Leviathan. That’s an-‘

‘Unusual name? Yeah.’ He laughed. ‘I didn’t name her though. The letters were already there when I cleaned her off.’

‘Huh.’ I nodded, my arms folded across my body.

‘Hey.’ His voice had changed, softer and he came around behind me, his hands resting on my shoulders, fingers kneading the knots there. I melted. He could always do that to me. There was no one else, really. ‘Are you all right?’

‘Hmmm,’ I said. Before I could say anything else there was a shout and he let go of my shoulders, both of us turning to see a black clad figure approaching, one arm raised to wave.

‘Hello!’ He went to greet him, shaking hands and I smiled too. I’d known George Bevan my whole life, pretty much, and he looked no different now than he had when I was a child. Same black knit jumper over baggy trousers, ancient leather boots on his feet. His eyes were ice blue and distant, as though searching for an ever receding horizon. But now they were smiling, tanned skin creasing at the corners, teeth white under his beard.

‘A gift for the new boat,’ he said, holding out a life preserver. It was white, stencilled with the name Leviathan, a small image of a many tentacled creature between the first and last letters. I looked closer, then smiled at George.

‘Your handiwork?’ He grinned again. ‘It’s lovely.’ I ran my finger over the delicate paint lines, marvelling at the detail he’d put in, down to using gold paint for the shimmering eyes. ‘It’s too nice to use, really.’ I laughed, but the smile slid from his face.

‘Don’t you be jokin’ about that now,’ he said, waving a finger at me. ‘And,’ he went on, directing his words at both of us, ‘if you’re heading down south stay as close to the coast as you can manage. ‘Tis not the time of year to be out at open sea too long, least not ‘round here.’

He looked out past the curving harbour wall to where the sea glittered, his brows coming together slightly.

‘Um, okay,’ I said. ‘I mean, I’m sure we won’t.’

‘We’ll be fine,’ my companion said, his voice firm. ‘We know the way.’

—–

It had slept for long periods, deep in its undersea cave. Surfaced so infrequently that it was the stuff of legend, a mystery to be revealed on the last day, according to some. But it was very real, and now it rose through layers of blue, reaching out for what it sought.

—–

‘I think that’s it,’ he said, stowing the last of the bags in a cupboard. It was early, dawn just golden above the waves as we loaded the boat with provisions and clothing for the journey ahead. The small cabin space was ready, the tiny bed made up. The deck timbers were polished, ropes crisp and new. It should have been a dream, setting off on a trip like this, with a man like him, and in many ways it was. But I still couldn’t shake the dread that choked my throat, sliding across my skin like a shadow.

‘Are you ready?’ He smiled at me. I nodded.

‘Yes.’

 

 

To be continued at some point…

#BlogBattle – One Year Anniversary Edition

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I’m fairly new to Rachael Ritchey’s Blog Battle, but am really enjoying the challenges so far. And, guess what, I won one! My entry Behind The Mask, for the theme word ‘Hair,’ was voted last week’s winner, so thank you very much to everyone who read and voted for the story.

This week’s theme is a little different. As it’s the one year anniversary of BlogBattle, Rachael has asked us to re-post one of our entries from the past year. As mentioned, I haven’t been doing this too long so don’t have a massive back catalogue of stories to choose from. However, I’ve decided to re-post the first one I wrote, which was for the theme word ‘Forest.’

It’s a vampire story, which now seems to be growing into a full length novel – in fact, I’ll be heading into the virtual woods at Camp NaNoWriMo next month in the hopes of writing a good chunk of it. I only shared this story a few weeks ago, so apologies to those of you who’ve read it already – however, for those of you who haven’t, I hope you enjoy it.

Silver And Black

‘C’mon.’

He held out his hand, a darker silhouette against trees silvered by the moon. I knew his eyes were a similar shade, but I couldn’t see them. I couldn’t see a damn thing, really, other than faint lines of pale branches against a clotted blackness.

‘You know I can’t-‘

‘Can’t?’ The silhouette tilted his head. I knew he was smiling, could hear it in his voice. But I couldn’t hear as well as he could. Another thing that pissed me off.

And I had to be so careful how I moved, what expression showed on my face. I smoothed down my skirt with damp hands. This was stupid. I should just go home.

All at once he was in front of me, and I glimpsed a faint gleam in his silvery eyes before he bent his head to kiss me, sharp teeth grazing my lips, hot/cold breath turning my insides to honey. Okay, maybe I could do this, I thought as I clung to him, my hands sliding inside his jacket.

Then he was gone, just as fast, leaving me alone in the clearing. I froze.

‘Kyle?’

No answer. I tried to control my breathing, but I was starting to panic. Was this a trap? I strained my ears, listening, eyes wide against the darkness under the trees. Was something moving there?

Okay. Screw this.

I kept my face smooth, just in case he was somewhere, watching me. The branches creaked, eerie in the cold night. I unzipped the pocket of my leather jacket, pulling out my phone. My mouth twisted a bit then, I couldn’t help it. But I had no choice. I had to call my mother.

The screen came to life under my fingers and I scrolled through. Not that there were many contacts on my phone. But before I could make the call arms came around me, and I felt teeth grazing my ear.

I jerked involuntarily and the arms softened, letting go. Then Kyle was in front of me, one hand coming up to touch my cheek, smoothing away a tear that had snuck out, despite my best efforts.

‘Hey,’ he said. His voice was soft, all the teasing gone. ‘I’m sorry. I forget.’

I couldn’t say anything for a moment, mingled relief and anger choking me. I shook my head, tucking my phone back in my pocket then swallowed, clearing my throat. ‘I want to go home,’ I said, my voice higher than normal.

‘No.’ He breathed the word, his arms coming around my waist, his body close to mine. ‘I really am sorry. Will you stay with me, a while longer? There’s somewhere I’d like to show you. And then I’ll take you home, I promise.’

I purposely didn’t look at him. I didn’t need him trying to glamour me. Did I want to stay with him? My body was screaming, yes, Ohmygod, are you crazy, staystaystay. Then my mind joined in. Damn.

‘Fine,’ I said. Possibly a little ungracious but then, hey, he was the one who’d left me out here alone. ‘But,’ I went on, looking at him. ‘Don’t leave me again, or I am going.’

‘I promise,’ he said, taking my hand and bringing it to his mouth. I tensed. He smiled, his tongue flicking out against my fingers before he kissed them and let go. I took in a shaking breath.

‘So, where are we going?’

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And that’s all, folks! Visit Rachael’s page to vote, read more entries or even add your own.

#BlogBattle – Hair: Behind The Mask

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This week, Rachael Ritchey’s blog battle theme is Hair, and this is my entry. It seems to be Historical Fiction:

Behind The Mask

She had cried when they cut her hair. At least, that was what he had heard. But stories told from behind prison walls grow in legend or ridicule, depending upon who is doing the telling.

He had also heard that it was the only emotion she had shown. No other tears, not even when they passed down her sentence, when she was led to the stone tower where she would spend her final days, shut into darkness alone.

It had been her great beauty, apparently. Hair like pale sun on wheat, long enough to sit on. Add to that her youth and her lustrous grey eyes, set against the gilded halls she frequented, enough to make her stand out even in the most illustrious company.

But youth and beauty are no match for age and power, and the man she murdered had been powerful indeed. Never mind that he had been her father. Never mind the rumours of what he had done to her for years, had let his friends do to her, hidden behind privilege and the high walls of their palazzo.

He thought of his own daughter and his heart clenched, his being shying away from the idea of visiting such desecration on her tender flesh. He shifted, wood creaking beneath his feet, his hands tightening on the timber he held, worn smooth with use.

He could see her coming, now. Hear the calls and jeers of the crowd. Yet even they seemed more subdued than usual. Word had travelled, and she had more than the usual amount of sympathy. Including his own. He shook his head slightly, as if to dislodge the thought. He wondered, not for the first time, whether this had been the right path, the right choice, for him.

His job conferred privilege, though his family knew not what he did. Though he thought his wife might suspect, the nightmares that brought him screaming from sleep perhaps more than would trouble a captain of guards, as she thought him to be. He clenched his jaw, tilting his head to one side and stretching his neck, which had grown tight.

The cart drew to a stop at the base of the stairs. The crowd grew silent as the guards opened the back of the cart and helped her down, even their hands on her slender arms more of a courtesy than to stop her from escaping. She stumbled, her bare foot catching on the timber frame and several women cried out, the guards stopping her from falling.

He had seen so many come to the scaffold. Crying, screaming, others numb with shock, still others pleading and begging, protesting to the very end. But she was none of these. She stood, looking at each guard until they let go of her arms. They did, finally, stepping aside. One of them bowed his head. She nodded in return. Then, taking the rough brown cloth of her skirt in her hand, she held it as though it were the finest silk, so as to ascend the stairs without tripping on the ragged hem.

He was glad to be wearing a mask. The official story was that it was to protect his identity, so that the relatives of the dead could not seek their revenge. But it was more than that. There was no room for sympathy, not in his job. He was merely a tool, delivering punishment meted out by the will of the people.

And yet, it was hard not to be moved when a girl of only sixteen summers made her careful way across the creaking timbers, her head held high. The cropped hair only served to heighten her youth, the fine bones of her face standing out against her pale skin. She stopped, looking at him with her head slightly tilted to one side. She seemed to be looking through the mask, to the very heart of him. He tensed. Then a ghost of a smile crossed her features and she moved closer still.

‘It is all right.’

She knelt, placing her hands carefully on the block and bending her head forward. Her exposed neck was slender like the stem of a flower, skin pale against the tattered edges of her shorn hair. The sun came through, briefly, gilding the ragged strands. Pale sun on wheat, just as the stories told.

He swallowed. Then swung the axe.

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To read more Blog Battle entries, or to add one of your own, visit Rachael’s blog, The Chronicles of the Twelve Realms. See you there!