#Writephoto – Darkness

A few weeks ago I participated in Sue’s #writephoto prompt, and a story came to me of a darkness that swallowed whole settlements. When I saw this image, the story came back to me, and I realised there was another part I needed to tell. So here it is…

This time, they were ready for the darkness.

The stories had come ahead of the storm, like crows bringing bad tidings on dark featered wings. Of whole settlements ravaged, men, women and children disappearing into a merciless blackness, hardened warriors swallowed up like smoke.

Stories to strike fear into the hearts of all who heard them, enough to make people flee their homes, heading for the one place they hoped would offer sanctuary.

And now they waited, the last ragtag group of stragglers safe behind closed gate and stone wall, the holy island ringed with wards, a circle of light and the hope that it would keep the darkness at bay.

At the heart of the keep, in the circle of ancient stones that formed part of its foundations, the Elders gathered. Despite their name, they weren’t all old. Men and women, some barely out of their teens. But all of them touched with Light. As the first grumble of thunder was heard on the horizon they joined hands and closed their eyes, focusing their wills on strengthening the light that guarded their borders.

There were others, too, waiting on the battlements. Warriors, some marked with a crescent moon, like the goddess, others with the hammer of the god. Sacred, chosen, joined together in a single cause. They watched the darkness gather and, as it drew near, like ink spreading across the landscape, they readied their swords, their spears and their arrows. In the courtyard below, families huddled together, parents clutching their children, strangers and friends coming together to ensure no one was left alone to endure what was to come.

Then the storm was upon them. The screams of the villagers changed to cries of wonder as each warrior on the wall became as a shaft of light, piercing the blackness, revealing the grasping claws and hungry mouths of those who rode the clouds. As the light of the warriors hit the monstrous creatures they dissolved into shreds of dark mist, the winds called up by those who chanted below taking them away as though they had never been.

The circle of light around the sanctuary held strong, the darkness dashing itself against it, again and again, to no avail. And, slowly, the clouds began to break apart, the thunder to lessen in its intensity, the light from the warriors increasing until it flared so bright no man could bear to gaze upon it. The barrier became wider and deeper and stronger, the love and light of all those who stood within the circle of stone reaching out across the landscape, scouring the shadows and dark places for any vestige of horror that might remain.

As dawn broke, painting the landscape with golden fingers, the villagers rejoiced that the long night was over, the storm passed. And all that remained was light.


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#writephoto – Vista

The path wasn’t much. Cut into the hillside, a pale ribbon of chalk against the green. But it represented everything.

The wide landscape stretched before them, fading into a green haze. Summer lay rich upon the land, bees buzzing in the flowers, butterflies dancing among the long grasses. In the fields the crops ripened, blue-green wheat dotted with red poppies, apples ripening on the trees, the deep green shade a pleasant place to sit awhile, perhaps share some bread and cheese.

But there was no stopping. No rest.

Not for them.

The scent of smoke still perfumed the tatters of their clothing, the tangle of their hair. Wafted from the pitifully small bundles of possessions, all they’d been able to gather in the few moments before everything had changed.

But they were here now. The day was bright, the land stretching clear before them.

Behind them was darkness, fire and loss.

Ahead lay hope. Freedom.

As long as they kept moving.

One by one they took the pathway, their gazes resolutely forward, puffs of chalk dust beneath their shuffling feet. They ignored the noises from behind, their focus on the bright horizon.

Ignored the crackling, the thuds. The crunching noises.

The screaming.

It wasn’t getting any louder.

Was it?

This is my response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt, one of my favourite bloggy writing prompts. I’d meant to write something quite positive, but it took a somewhat… morbid turn that I didn’t expect. I find stories tend to have a mind of their own, though, and sometimes you just need to go where they take you. I hope my shuffling band of escapees make it, for what it’s worth…


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Quiet #writephoto

For a moment, the world was quiet,

like a breath inhaled.

There was no hum of traffic, no roar of planes, no rumble of trains

in the valley below. Instead there was birdsong, the buzzing of bees, and

the breeze making music through the branches and long grasses.

Water rippled, silver, clear for the first time in years, like

the sky, no longer gasping with dust and smog and exhaust,

and the world was quiet.

We trod lightly, for the most part, as our ancestors once did, when

The land was our home and we respected it as such. Before

the darkness came, the spreading stain of factory and mill and

blackened tower and we forgot what it was to smell fresh leaves and

sweet flowers and to feel the breeze hum against our skin, the way

water rippled like silver snakes, the sky clear above us.

But now, perhaps, we remember again. We turn away from black tower and

rumbling traffic and clogged skies and we’re reminded

of how it used to be, when the water rippled silver, and the birds sang,

and the world was quiet, once more.

This is my response to Sue Vincent’s weekly #writephoto challenge. Sue’s photo this week helped me to articulate something I’d been thinking about for a little while. We’ve been given a chance to see what the world looks like when we slow down – what will we do with that information going forward?

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#writephoto Flight

Well, it’s definitely Thursday now! And with it comes Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge, one of my favourite bloggy writing prompts. This week, it’s another evocative picture…

Flight

We reach, soaring

Wings wide against the storm that thunders

Deep around us, rumbling in our hearts,

Ruffling our feathers.

Sometimes we catch an updraft, and float, the world beneath us falling away

At other times we plummet

No wind to hold us

 

The old ways gleam

Below us, deep within the landscape

Like twisting veins of precious ore, waiting

To be discovered.

Sometimes we follow, sometimes we’re guided, sometimes we lose our way

But when the wind holds us

Soaring, we reach.


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#writephoto – Beyond The Storm

Another lovely #writephoto prompt from Sue Vincent. Here’s my take on her image – and if you want to give the prompt a go, head over to her site and link your post to hers, or leave a link in the comments:

‘Storm’s a comin’’ Paras spat decisively before turning on his heel, leather boots scraping against rough stone.

‘Our defences will hold,’ Seren replied, hand on the sword belted at her hip, long red hair braided back from her face.

Paras paused, his cloak swirling in the rising wind. He looked back, glint of dark eye above dark beard. ‘They’d better.’

Seren, her gaze on the gathering darkness, nodded, more confident than she felt.

The first heavy drops of rain began to fall, marking her leather armour. And with them, a wrongness, the wind rising to a howl of song, the sky becoming so black she could barely see her hand in front of her. Behind the storm came a deeper dark, a clotted blackness that swarmed up walls and tore great chunks of stone free, swallowing up men, women and children without a sound.

It passed. Light sparked on what remained.

***

‘You ever wonder about what happened at these places?’ Callum, chewing a blade of glass, reclined on the picnic rug. He took another swig of his beer before continuing. ‘Y’know, like who lived here and all that?’

‘It’s on the board,’ said Sarah. She was sitting up, her arms wrapped around her bent knees, red hair whipping around her head as the wind rose. Her sandwich lay discarded beside her and her gaze was troubled as she watched the clouds gather. ‘Over there.’

A notice board with a faded drawing of the castle as it once was stood nearby, a brief history of the place. Archaeology hadn’t been able to establish why it had been abandoned, only that it had happened quickly.

‘Yeah, right,’ said Callum, but he didn’t sound as interested any more. He finished his beer and belched, rubbing his stomach. Sarah made a face, but her eyes were still on the roiling sky. Around them other picknickers were beginning to pack up, folding blankets and gathering children. There was no urgency, though.

Until the rain began to fall.


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#writephoto – Horizon

Gosh, I haven’t done a #writephoto in ages! Not for lack of inspiration – Sue has a knack for capturing stories in her images, which is why it’s one of my favourite writing prompts – rather, a lack of time and brainpower. However, the fog is lifting, and this week’s photo sent me a story. Here it is…

The horizon was empty. For now.

‘They’ll be here soon.’

The campfires were burning low, their pale flames outshone by the bright dawn painting the sky. Sinead, resplendent in leather and fur, nodded. ‘They will.’ Two swords were strapped to her back, the hilts rising above each shoulder. In battle she was a whirlwind, a twin-bladed legend. Songs were sung of her already.

‘If this is our last dawn,’ she continued, ‘then it is a splendid one.’

This was small comfort to Edric. He swallowed, clutching the pommel of the sword strapped to his waist. He was young, and this was to be his first taste of war. He hoped to see another dawn.

‘How do you do it?’ he asked, turning to her.

Sinead’s fine profile was gilded by light, the scar running down one side of her face accentuating her delicate bone structure, her wavy blonde hair scraped back into a topknot. ‘Do what?’ she said, eyes still on the brilliant sky.

‘This,’ said Edric. He moved his hand, a half-hearted gesture, taking in the bustling camp around them. Horses stamped and snorted, sharpened swords slid into scabbards, voices a low hum, the pad of feet as the lines formed, ready to face what was coming.

‘War?’ Sinead turned to him, now, her eyes, the colour of the sea, narrowing.

Edric nodded.

‘I do it because I have to. Because there is no other path for me. I have no family, so I fight to protect others.’

‘But… how?’

Her expression softened. ‘I got this in my very first battle,’ she said, touching the scar on her face. ‘I was lucky, though.’

‘Lucky?’

‘That I survived it. That I lived to fight another day. And I swore, then, that I would continue to fight for as long as the gods granted it.’

‘What do the gods care for the wars of men?’ The words were out before he could stop them, their taste bitter on his tongue. He braced himself for Sinead’s response. But she just laughed, her hand coming to rest, briefly, on his shoulder.

Emboldened, he pressed on. ‘I cannot see,’ he said, ‘how it matters to the gods that we battle over small patches of land. All the death. All the sorrow. Surely there’s another way.’

Sinead, laughter gone, tilted her head. ‘War is part of us, as is peace.’

‘Yet we use one to gain the other. How is it we are not satisfied with what we have?’

Sinead laughed, low. ‘That, young Edric, is a question for greater minds than ours. All we can do is what is asked of us.’

Edric was silent. In the heart of him he knew something wasn’t right, yet his mind, still half-fogged with sleep, couldn’t grasp it. He really really hoped he would make it through the day.

The horizon stayed empty. For now.


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#Writephoto – All That Remains

 

 

 

 

He came to me after dark, as night lay like soft velvet in the hollows of the hills. The fire burned low, his feathered cape laid over the chair shimmering iridescent blue as the birds stirred and gave their first sleepy chirps, my breath coming fast as he touched me and held me close. He told me his name, and I spoke it as I emerged from the dream.

‘Armand.’

The day dawned bright, my room pale, my bed cold and lonely as it always was. Yet the dream stayed with me throughout the long day, making me blush as I worked behind the counter making coffee, smiling at the customers who ebbed and flowed like the nearby sea, only staying long enough to smile and talk, but not long enough to truly connect.

I felt like the island out in the small bay. Close to, but not part of the small town that bustled along the curving shore. It takes time, I told myself, to make friends. Moving to a new place is a big step for anyone. Just give it time.

But at night feathers enclosed me in a soft embrace, my dreams taking me beyond the lonely confines of my world. Sleep became a refuge from the cold days, the aching feet, my broken heart.

One night, sleep eluded me. I sat at the window, my breath misting the small panes as I watched night leave the hills, black sky fading to blue. Glimmers of light appeared below as the town began to wake, gold in the sky over the nearby sea, flashing from the steeple on the hill opposite, soft gold to white, then fading away. My eyelids became heavy, my head drooping over my hands. A voice whispered to me. ‘Come and find me, beloved. I am waiting for you.’

I didn’t go to work that morning. No coffee scented fingers, hair gone limp from steaming milk, mouth tight from smiling so much. Instead I went across the valley, taking a gravel path past mossy walls to where the ancient church slumbered in a cradle of yew trees. And I found him.

Armand De Courcy, the plaque read, much rubbed by time. And on the marble, next to the bones that marked his resting place, was a single feather. Blue, like the twilit hills, like his eyes, like my heart.

This is my response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt, my favourite photo prompt in blogland. For more posts, or to share one of your own, head over to Sue’s blog for more information 🙂


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

#writephoto – Fallen

I do enjoy Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt. Her photos are always so evocative, and sometimes the strangest story fragments come to me. This one is probably a bit odd, but then there are legends of standing stones that ‘walk.’ So, maybe they like to lie down for a rest, as well…

‘I don’t know about you, George, but this seems a rather nice place to lie down.’

‘Hmmph! Yes, it does, I suppose.’

‘A bit of shade, some of that nice bracken and the grass is lovely and soft, isn’t it?’

*creaking noise*

‘Are you comfortable, George?’

‘Yes, very.’

‘It’s nice here, isn’t it, with the insects buzzing, the sun warm on my crevices. Makes a fellow sleepy, so it does.’

‘We’re meant to be on our way to that circle over there.’

‘Oh, I know. But we could just lie here. Just for a few minutes. No one would mind.’

‘I guess they wouldn’t.’

‘There are plenty of other stones, anyway. They’ll take ages to set up. They won’t need us for a bit longer yet.’

‘Hmm, I suppose you’re right. And it is very comfortable here.’

*millennia pass, a thousand civilisations rise and fall*

‘Psst! Hey, George! George! You awake?’

*snoring*

‘George! Wake up! We must have dozed off in the sun, er, whenever it was, um… Anyway, they’ve finished. Without us.’

‘Wh-wha?’

‘They’ve finished, the blighters! Haven’t done too good a job of it either.’

*squinting*

‘No, they haven’t. I mean, half the stones are broken, for starters. And look at those two, leaning like that! And all that grass they’ve left growing up around the rest. Honestly, who’s running this build?’

‘Well, it was that guy. The one with the feathers. And the woman. She seemed nice, the one with the gold necklace. They seem to have sloped off now, though. D-you think we should get up, go and join the others? They seem to have left a couple of spaces for us.’

*grinding noise*

‘Absolutely not.’

*sighing*

‘Fine. What do we do now, then?’

‘Dunno.’

‘Me either.’

*muttering*

‘Should’ve stayed in Wales.’


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#writephoto Arch – Through The Window

It’s Thursday, and time for another #writephoto prompt, courtesy of Sue Vincent. This week’s photo brought a character to mind, and here he is:

He liked to watch the world change. Today it was snowy, the little tree purged of leaves by winter, the land beyond carpeted white.

Some days he saw green grass and flowers, butterflies dancing. At other times wind blew the little tree, bending it so he feared it might break, russet and gold leaves streaming into the air. Lightning crashed, bright across the landscape, and sometimes, if he woke at the right time, the sky was clear and full of stars, silence ringing like a bell.

Around and above him the stones wept dampness, green moss blurring what was once carved precision. The rainbow of glass was long gone, the windows wide and open to whatever the elements brought.

But he was beyond it all as he paced the old pathway, no wind coming to touch him, no water cold upon his neck. He wondered at that, standing with arms wide beneath stormy skies, staring up to where the roof had once arched.

He couldn’t remember his name, anymore. All he knew was that he was stuck there. Sometimes other people came to walk the stones with him, but he couldn’t make them hear his voice, no matter how he cried and called to them. Children seemed more aware, jumping when he touched their faces, or trailed his fingers through their hair. One little girl had cried, telling her mother over and over about ‘the man in black.’ But she had gone, just like everyone else, leaving him alone beneath the stone arches.

Watching the world change.


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#writephoto – Dark

Sue Vincent’s #writephoto is a wonderful source of inspiration, and this week she’s shared this beautiful photo as her prompt. She also shared another post, Breaking the Rules, which featured an interpretation of a Pablo Neruda poem that really spoke to me. The words that came to me were inspired by both of them. And here they are:

Darkness falls

Or does it rise?

From silver lakes

In hollow hills

Cradled in

A giant’s hand

Long fingers reach

Beyond the stars

Leave your cares

Leave work

Leave the slow death behind

Follow the water

As it gleams

I wait for you

To join me here

Where time itself

Slows and stills

Ride with me

Through valleys deep

And let us dance

Beneath the stars

Leave your cares

Leave work

Leave the slow death behind

Follow the water

To your dreams

Darkness rises

And it falls

And nothing is

Quite as it seems


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

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