#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 🙂


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#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


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#writephoto Sanctuary

Sue Vincent’s #writephoto is one of my favourite blog writing prompts. The photos she chooses are always so inspiring, and she gets such a variety of responses to the same image. I don’t always get a story but, when I do, they come immediately. This one appeared when I saw her image for this week:

‘So, this is the place?’

The man grinned, revealing chipped and blackened teeth, his hair blonde against the blood-spattered furs he wore. His similarly-attired companion shrugged.

‘It is.’

‘Some sanctuary. It doesn’t even have a door.’

‘Huh. C’mon. This is where she’ll be.’

They moved towards the small building, their boots crunching against the snow. More flakes swirled around them, catching in their long tangled hair, melting on the iron blades they carried.

***

She watched them approach, fear closing her throat. There was no one left to hear if she screamed, anyway. She closed her eyes, willing herself to stay still, pushing aside her grief. When she got through this, if she got through this, there would be time enough to mourn.

She could hear their breathing as they stepped between the pillars, the clank of their weapons.

They entered the sanctuary.

It seemed as though the forest itself held its breath.

‘What the-‘

From her hiding place she heard a clatter of metal on stone, then a thud. A tear escaped from under her closed eyelids. They had destroyed the offerings, from the sound of it. The bronze bowl she used for scrying now taken as a spoil of war, the stone pillar on which it had rested knocked over.

Anger curled in her stomach, combining with the fear. She felt sick. But there was nothing she could do except wait, and hope.

***

‘She’s gone.’

‘Bitch probably ran into the woods.’

‘Hehe, yeah. She won’t get far.’

‘Let’s go. If the wolves don’t get her, we will.’

They left the small temple, stopping in one final act of desecration to urinate across the threshold, laughing as their piss hit the snow. Then they disappeared among the trees, the crashing of their passage growing fainter until she could hear no more.

***

She took in a deep breath. Uncurled her cramped and cold fingers, shook the snow from her hair. She spoke a word of power, and the branches enclosing her opened, releasing her. She spoke another, and two grey wolves appeared, their soft fur brushing her hands as they circled her, awaiting her command. ‘Go,’ she said, and they bounded away, golden eyes sharp with the thrill of the hunt. She listened as the howling grew louder, thought she heard a distant scream. Then she stepped inside her temple and began the work of cleansing.

She hadn’t been able to save her village.

But she could still avenge them.


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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