The Crier and the Shopkeeper

The following is a short moment set in my universe. It is a fantasy world and this is set near the end of winter.

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The sun gazed dimly down upon a blanket of cloud, unable to see through it to the white world below. If you listened closely perhaps you could hear a far off sigh.
Far below, nestled at the foot of the tallest mountain, sat a city; an old city who some say was the first.
“The Dark Days are approaching!” The crier’s voice rang through an old market square, escaping and echoing down the alley ways between buildings. Bouncing from stone to stone.
In one of the buildings a shopkeeper looked forlornly around her empty shop. A narrow building, dark for lack of windows, but filled with a wonderfully enticing smell. A few bags were displayed, filled with the colourful and tempting sweets, but the bulk of the stock was safe behind the counter. Ella and her assistant Bes had learnt the hard way that people sometimes get too tempted by her wares.
“Be ready for the dark days!” The voice rang out, closer this time, heard through the slightly ajar front door.
“He’s getting closer.” Bes remarked, in a bored sort of way, as she fiddled with a ribbon around a small woven bag.
Ella noted the bell that accompanied the shouting.
“I have an idea.” She swept out from behind the counter and off to the front door.
Ella poked her head out of her shop doorway, eyes scanning to find the source of the proclamation.
“The Dark Days will be here soon!” The bell clanged along with his heavy tread.
“Aha!” Ella stepped a foot out into the the street, thought better of it a moment and went back inside to grab her cloak. “I’ll be back shortly, Bes, keep the shop running.”
Once outside, she struggled to find the crier again,so many people filled the narrow street. She walked in the direction she had last seen him, dodging shoppers. And there he was, walking towards her, a very short man with the largest beard she’d ever seen, it was a deep brown with a variety of metals and stones decorating it. He wore an emerald green woollen hat and tunic. The golden bell was gripped tightly in his hand.
“Good morn, fair crier!” Ella called out to the man, she raised a hand in part greeting and part beckoning.
He stopped and turned to look at Ella.
“And a good morn to you.” He nodded his head to her.
She took a step to close the gap between them, and was almost knocked over by a woman carrying an overflowing basket.
“Watch where you’re going!” The woman bellowed in Ella’s face before she pushed passed and on down the street.
Ella felt her face flush, her hand clenched.
“Never mind her.” Said the crier. “The dark days can bring out the worst in people.” He patted her elbow and they stood off to the side of the pathway.
“Was there something that you needed from me?” He squinted up at her, and she saw a glint in his dark green eyes.
Ella pulled back her shoulders and nodded.
“I have a proposition for you.”
The crier’s eyebrow rose but he didn’t say anything.
“I have a shop. An empty shop, and I wish that it were not.”
“And I can help with that?”
“I’m certain of it.” She pulled from a cloak pocket a bag of her wares. “Whether they realise it or not, everyone listens to you when you shout.”
“I wouldn’t just do this for fun.” The crier’s moustache twitched and his eyes twinkled.
“Hmm, I have met people who do like the sound of their own voice.”
He chuckled and waved his hand for her to continue.
“Well, people need to know what they need, what would make the dark days a little more bearable.” She swung the little bag back and forth.
“Is that something that will help?” He nodded to the little bag.
“It is. A succulent morsel, which will sweeten the long dark hours.” She passed over the bag. “Have a taste, I’m sure you will agree.”
The crier tore open the ribbon and removed a buttercup yellow oval sweet. He placed it in his mouth and pocketed the rest.
“Mmm.” He finished the sweet. “Very nice. An nut in sugar?”
“Yes.” Ella, was impressed. “I visited the great city a number of years ago and encountered this wonderful sweet maker, he taught me a few things. No-one else makes them here.”
“And yet your shop is empty.”
“It’s a busy time, people are getting other things ready, worrying about keeping safe and having family around.”
“Perhaps they should be worrying about bringing over a sweet treat for a special time, hmm?” The crier winked at her.
“Exactly.”
“What’s in it for me?” He eyed the pouch at her waist.
Ella shifted her stance, her cloak fell, covering her money purse.
“For each sale, I’ll give you a penny.”
He narrowed his eyes as he looked up at her. “I think you could do a better than that, hmm?”
“Two pennies?” She asked, not holding on to much hope.
He chuckled. “Five pennies and a few more bags of sweets, I think my family might enjoy them. And five pennies upfront.”
Ella thought for a moment, she sold each bag for ten pennies, losing half was almost too much. But on the other hand if she didn’t sell any she would be much worse off. Looking up into the sky she noticed the lightening, and realised that it would soon by turning to the second half of the day.
“Better hurry, not much light left.” The crier jangled his bell.
“A deal, then.” She stuck out her hand, the crier grasped hers in a firm, warm grip.
She dug into her purse, pulled out five pennies and passed them over to her new business partner.
She told him where her shop was and a few details about her sweets and left. She was excited by this idea, but her expectations were low, it was like nothing else she had ever tried before.
She returned to her shop, the enclosed space was slightly oppressive after the brisk air of the streets. But the sugary smell was a comfort.
“Where did you run off to?” Bes demanded, as she bundled up a selection of sweets, the white confections made a satisfying sound as they tumbled together in the bag.
“To carry out my idea, we shall soon see if it bears fruit.” Ella joined Bes behind the counter once she had removed her cloak.
Outside they could hear the crier, Ella smiled.
“Stock up on your sweet nuts, take a gift of sweets to your dark day sanctuary!”
Bes stopped in her wrapping as she heard the crier’s words.
“You didn’t?” She turned to Ella who was now by her side.
“Maybe.”
They laughed as the door opened and a couple of new customers walked in.

Presenting: Furlands

Furlands is my spin on an old idea – namely that there exists a world of roughly middle ages/renaissance technology level; with all the politics, religious fervour and personal strife which this might entail, but all the people are rodents. This idea was inspired by works like Redwall and Wind In The Willows, both of which I love, but I wanted to take a more strict take on the idea in terms of worldbuildng – really, this is more of a worldbuilding task than anything else; I really wanted to explore the idea of this kind of world, where different species of humanoid rodent vie for supremacy in the same way that humans might.

This presents a number of challenges, which, the more I thought about them, the more they intrigued me. Conisder, for instance, what it means for things like the idea of xenophobia or racism; in a world where there are many distinct species which cannot interbreed. There would be more of a focus on ones own culture, because cultures would be heavily influenced by the species’ habits; mice are nocturnal whereas rats are not, so mouse society would be more active at night and every different species would be faced with the idea that you cannot simply merge your culture with another, because even if rats wanted to integrate mice, both species still need only themselves to procreate, which changes politics dramatically over generations.

One thing I wanted to maintain is to code each species that I presented in my world with the sort of cultures from which they come geographically on earth; so my rats are scandanavian/western european, voles present as japanese, there are also Tanuki, which present as huge, 12 foot tall mountain people and many many more. There are lots of little rules that I want to figure out and maintain as a nod to all the little habits and features of those species, with some being vegetarian and others obligate carnivores, so their cultures reflect these virtues.

It is an interesting challenge, also in part because I don’t want this to innately be a young adult or children’s setting – I want it to be gritty and full of intrigue.

I have already published two parts of a short piece inspired by one of Emma’s ideas; The Fall Of The Hamurai – the story of the last days of a society started to unite many different species on an island which is my analogue of Japan. I also think my entry into NaNoWriMo will be based in this world.

Stay tuned as I dive deeper into this setting, hopefully I’ll get the time to build the central myths and go more into the unique politics of the various regions and species.

Thanks for reading!

John.

P.S. Here is the link to part 1 of the piece mentioned above:

https://steadmansociety.com/2019/08/05/the-fall-of-the-hamurai-part-1-blossoms-in-the-wind/

The Observer

Banner looked up at the wall before him, shifting his bag to a better position on his back. He held a hand over his eyes to stop the rising sun from blinding him as he tried to find the handholds he had been told about. The wall around the park was three times his height, made of yellowing white stone. The gate would have been the easier way in, as shown by the stream of well dressed people heading through them. But, for that you would have had to been invited to the event. And Banner would never be invited to such a thing.
After moments he saw the protrusions of the holds, it would be a tough climb, but he wanted on top of the wall. He glanced around him, noting that no one even bothered to look around, not even the guards stationed at the gates. One even looked like he was nodding off, leaning upon his spear, the warming air of the summer morning lulling him to sleep.
Good, thought Banner as he leapt to grab the first handhold, this should be easy.
He scampered up the wall, hands only slipping twice, each time sending his heart galloping inside his chest. It was only the work of moments but the strain created buckets of sweat and his muddied shirt clung to him, his long hair sticking to the sides of his face. But he was up! He took a moment to admire the view.
Tall, bushy trees lined smooth stone paths winding in many directions. A large softly undulating lawn stretched out near the gate, people were spreading blankets on the grass, jostling for good positions in front of a low wooden stage.
Banner walked carefully further around the wall so that he had a better view of the stage, then he sat down, legs dangling over the edge. He placed the bag on his back next to him and rooted around in it. He brought out a flask of water and a hunk of cheese.
Down below things were getting started. The sea of brightly coloured clothes calmed and a figure walked on to the stage.
The long figure was dressed in all black, a tall hat rested between two long sharp horns.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, and the random man on the wall.” They bowed, swiping the hat and almost folding in two, long brown hair falling forward.
Banner dribbled water down his front as the figure mentioned him. He scanned the crowd, looking for the guards. But the crowd was laughing, no one looked up, the guards were not even inside the park. He leaned back and peeked at the gate, no one was near. His heart slowed back down.
“My name is Trimble and today, I have something special for you.”
Trimble straightened and threw out their arms and flower petals poured from the sky. Banner watched as below him the crowd was covered in red petals. Then something tickled his head and he noticed that petals were falling on him. He picked up one that had fallen on his knee. It was soft and smelled wonderfully of berries.
“Let’s get on with the show!” Trimble spun and the black clothes changed to bright green.
It’s going to be a wonderful day, Banner thought to himself, and took a large bite out of his cheese.

***

I have no idea if this makes sense! I had an idea and then I’ve had a bad headache for the last two days. But my schedule must be upheld, so I hope this was at least readable!

A Mysterious Egg – Part Three

Rain battered on the windows and thatched roof of Rafie’s cottage as she pondered the egg. The fire roared next to them, throwing out warmth into the room. She ran her a finger over the split in the yellow shell, hesitantly touching the green shoot. Its waxy bud cold to the touch. Peering inside she could see a web of roots and dark soil.
“Am I supposed to plant you? Or will you change yet again?” Rafie spoke aloud to the egg but directing her thoughts to Lady Time, however she knew she was much too far away for an answer. “I think we need to head back out.”
She leapt to her feet, quickly changed into dry clothes, grabbed her cloak and gloves, and got the basket ready for the egg. She grabbed an oil cloth to protect the delicate shoot. Once the egg was safely bundled and protected she stepped outside.
Rain battered the ground, it bounced off leaves and her hood. The night was dark but Rafie knew the way, she hurried into the forest, weaving her way through the trees, keeping a grip on the basket and the edges of her cloak.
Dark shapes in the darker shadows drifted about, hunting, fleeing, enjoying the night. There was an odd note in the chorus of the night, something off. Rafie slowed her pace, unable to pin down the cause. She toyed with the ends of her gloves, but decided against dawdling, Lady Time would know what was wrong.
She arrived at the clearing and stopped in her tracks. Lady Time was drooping, her bark was much lighter and leaves were piled up around her trunk. Rafie rushed over, stripping of her gloves and placing both hands on her trunk, the basket swinging in the crook of her elbow.
“Lady Time, what’s going on?” Her words rushed out, eyes tight shut in concentration.
“This is my forest now.” The voice came from behind.
Rafie turned her head, without moving her hands from the struggling tree. Stood between trees was a towering, slimy creature with a huge horned lizard-like head above a morphing shadowy body. Blue eyes burned in its dark grey face.
Her stomach recoiled at the smell of the creature, it was death, stinking and sweet.
“You can’t help her. She will submit to me or die.” The creature blinked slowly, “As will all the trees.”
“What do you want?” Rafie probed Lady Time, trying to find her, her presence was so faint but she was somewhere.
“This forest.” The creature turned and began to move away before adding, over it’s shoulder, “Please leave my forest, I have no need for a gardener.”
“You can’t-“
Stop Rafie, Lady Time shouted in her mind.
The creature didn’t stop, it disappeared into the shadows. “I can.”
“What can I do?” Rafie focused back on Lady Time.
Images flooded her mind, the egg, a large tree in the middle of many saplings, Rafie watching over the growth, Lady Time dying and the egg again.
“Is this egg a new tree?”
You must leave, move far away and plant the next Lady Time, she must be safe. This is the task for which I brought you here. Lady Time had never spoken this directly, and it was clear it was the end for this millennia old tree.
“I’m sorry I can’t save you.”
The images of green shoots and withered plants.
“Still, I will miss you.”
And I will miss you, my child. But the next Lady Time will be lucky to have you. Leave now, before the creature senses the sapling.
Rafie reluctantly removed her hands, tears pooling in her eyes, the death of this forest was a tragedy, it would change the whole plain. She had to tell the village, they might be able to get a Servant, or maybe even Mavel herself, to deal with the creature. But Rafie had her task, Lady Time could not be saved so she must make sure that the next generation would prosper, the beautiful tree would have her dying wish. Rafie left that very night, stole away with what little she needed for the journey, the quest to find a new home for her and her sapling.

The End (for now).

Thank you so much for reading along with this story. What started as practise has become a story of which I am very proud, which fits into my world and has left me with a characters I can’t wait to include in other stories. I would like to continue Rafie’s adventures but I think a break is needed. However, there will be plenty of other stories and writings in the meantime. Have a great day!

Full Moon Ritual

“It’s time.” said Denay with a smile. Her eyes grazed the rising moon, full and watchful; the lake, still and deep. She slid into the water, its icy chill harsh against her naked skin. She stopped as the water crept up to her waist and turned to her friend.
“I cannot believe that you’re trying this.” Atter shook his head. He tightened his grip on the blanket around his slight shoulders, scooting his bum closer to the small fire they had built in their makeshift camp. “You are going to freeze!”
“I won’t. Gerargis will protect me.”
Atter shook his head again but passed her the bag of supplies. Denay knew his feelings on her experimentation, even if she did not understand them.
Slowly Denay made her way further into the lake, towing the bag alongside. Once her feet could not longer feel the bottom and she felt nothing but water around her Denay set about creating her altar. Carefully she opened the bag, spread it out over the water, moving the items within as to allow it still to float. A box of salt, a shard of red glass, a green leaf and an apple.
Once everthing was steady on the oil cloth Denay eased herself back, giving her room to swim and float.
She felt the giddy bubbling of success in her stomach, but damped it down, this was only the beginning. The altar bobbed as she shifted in the water, floating on her back and staring at the black sky. The moon was almost directly above her, time enough to ready herself.
Denay’s breath came slower, deepened, eyes drooped half closed, sounds grew louder, water became warmer. Her gaze turned inwards, seeking the barriers within, seeking with eager hands to unlock them. Through practise she had become a locksmith of herself and it took the work of mere moments to open herself to the magic of the world. The sounds and feelings of the physical world were dulled, Denay now felt the magic pouring from all around her, the water was a tingle, the air as painless sharp pins. The moon a loud roar above her. The items on her altar called to her, aiding and urging her on with her purpose. The brightness of the full moon dazzled her, filling her with importance. She righted herself in the water, easing to tread water in front of the altar.
“My intent is to change this apple into glass.” She held up the apple in both hands, raising it into the light of the moon. She returned the apple to the altar, picked up the glass in her right hand, and stared into the shard. More deep breaths, pulling magic through her and forging it in her intent. With her left hand she sprinkled a pinch of salt over the leaf and returned to lay her hand over the apple.
For a long moment she concentrated, focusing the magic and her intent. The leaf shrivelled, the salt bubbled upon its surface, the shard began to glow and become hot. The apple was becoming as ice beneath her palm, and all through she kept the glass apple in her mind, forcing the magic into the shape she desired.
With a last searingly bright burst the glass was gone, Denay lifted her left hand unveiling the newly made glass apple. It was more beautiful that she had imagined. Transparant red glass, with several black seeds hovering in the centre, it cast a sparkling shadow upon the altar; it had a small glass stem, complete with a delicate green leaf. She whooped and spun in the water, causing the altar to almost upturn. She grabbed her apple in time, calming herself.
“Thank you, Moon.” A nod to the bright white orb. “Thank you for your guidance Gerargis. Even though this is not your ocean I sense your care and your power.” She took the time to close the barriers within her, sending what magic remained to her Guardian in respect and graciousness.
Once she was grounded again, the physical world came back, she was safe to pack her things and head back to shore, to show Atter the fruit of her labour as he merely looked on, his eyes as wide and bright as the moon above.

**

This small snippet is set in my world. A little insight to show a bit about my magic and how things in the world work. It was a lot of fun to write! I hope you enjoyed and stay tuned, I’m sure there will be many such pieces in the future.

Fall of The Hamurai – Part 2 – The Empress

Silence pervaded the hidden chamber of the sacred city of pearls. Vole servants paced silently back and forth, their anxiety was written plainly on their silent faces. It was not permitted to pass a word within the chamber without the empress present and although they traditionally adopted a system of signals to communicate, the atmosphere that hung over this place reduced the impulse to gossip to a few furtive glances.

The servants started as they heard a door slam beyond the chamber they were in, more glances were exchanged and their souls tensed. The empress was angry, which could easily lead to one of their heads being served on a plate. Before long, the regular striking step of her majesty could be heard approaching them, so the production went into frantic effect.

They worked silently and automatically; taking from many small cabinets a selection of cordials, perfumes and dainties that they knew the empress expected to be on hand, all the while keeping a portion of their attention to the raised voices that were coming closer to them with every second. After a minute or two, they had furnished the small tables that lined the receiving chamber with a plethora of beautiful and exquisitely crafted platters and bottles, arranged in traditional ways as to please her majesty.

Not a moment sooner than the last servant had placed the last marinated slug roll upon a pyramid of its contemporaries, did the beautifully worked lacquered door of the chamber burst open as if kicked, and a short, rotund female Vole marched into the center of the room: She was Empress Kinato, leader of the dawn empire; an archipelago of one hundred islands that stretched over a thousand miles in the shining sea. She ruled over many peoples: from the giant Tanuki that tended to the high mountain passes to the diminutive field mice that tended to vast swaths of rice and wheat all over the empire.

The Empress stood expectantly, dressed in a voluminous plum coloured kimono. Its silks were of the finest weave and the print; the dawn sun rising over little fishing boats, was painstakingly detailed in gold and red thread. Trailing behind her was a gaggle of functionaries and politicians whose never ending stream of consciousness filled the chamber. The servants looked on as they placed treats into the Empress’s oustretched hand, her bored expression quickly turned to anger as she listened to Lord Hakana; A vole of the most aristocratic class, talk of a subject about which he was most passionate:

“I talked to you last time, my empress, of a small commune situated in the slate valley, now the blossom valley, upon the hill of Tanagara which I am sure you know was the most holy of places under the old religion. I have since sent diplomats to treat with their noble and well respected elder, Lord Gutoa; a hamster of some military renown.”

Hakana said this as he always did, speculatively, in the hope that others would ask him questions and so he would be at liberty to talk at great length about himself. Rather than this however, the empress rounded on him, the fur on her cheeks standing on end, her mouth still full of slug, she chewed slowly. She stared at the tall vole for a solid minute while everyone else, who had previously been chattering away about one petty matter of state or another, quickly passed into silence; some even took a step away from Hakana, for they anticipated fit of the Empress’s rage. Eventually she spoke in a tone of vicious certainty.

“Yes, lord Hakana, you did indeed speak to me of these brigands you now seem so deferent to. A ‘commune’ you call a rebel lord establishing an independent territory upon my very doorstep. A hamster no less; vile creatures not native to our archipelago and who, instead of instructing them in the appropriate way to conduct themselves as rightful subjects of their divine empress, you condescended to send diplomats, as if this Gutoa were emperor in his own right. Have I appraised your report correctly, lord?”

Hakana’s ears lay flat against his head, nose twitching and eyes darting back and forth between his colleagues; nobody offered even a shade of sympathy and all assembled would not even meet his gaze, but Hakana, being a prideful old Vole, saw this as not a rebuke, but an opportunity to convince his most beloved majesty.

“Now, be fair majesty, the slate valley has long been under the sway of true brigands like the notorious Kai Lang, who have terrorized the common populace for many years. Your father tried and failed for to tame that part of the mainland and it seems that this Gutoa, through his organisational prowess or military might has brought that part of our country into civilisation. my point was not only that we should gently bring him into the fold for the good of the empire, but that he may be a valuable asset to use in the future.”

Hakana puffed out his chest and refused to wither under the glare of the empress who squinted as she chewed, her hackles still raised. Slowly she retorted after stuffing another dainty into her mouth.

“Now you speak of my father’s apparent failings and this Hamster’s superiority over the divine and everlasting emperor’s memory in such a distasteful way! This Gutoa has surely poisoned your mind with his revolutionary thinking. The bandits of the south, while wholly disregarding our laws, atleast paid tribute and deference. No, my dear Lord Hakana, this cannot stand. As remedy, I will send you with my most beautiful army to take down these usurpers to my name. Go now and dismantle this cult. That is my final word on the matter.”

With that, the empress turned away. Lord Hakana paled and shrank as he realised the gravity of what had just taken place.

“No, please my empress.”

She carried on without regarding his words.

“Lady Nitato, come and look over the sunset with me, I wish to feel nostalgic.”

A tall and beautiful weasel strode forwards, her eyes fluttering with a patronising look as she passed the old vole, whose world had closed in on him. General Akahashi clapped him upon the shoulder.

“Come now my lord, I shall instruct you on the proper use of my soldiers.”

                                 **********

In the valley of blossoms, Kusai, having wiped away the tears she had momentarily shed, looked out to the mouth of the valley where the winding river Bokke turned, she saw a flash of glittering steel and a shadow pass over the land. A column of soldiers was emerging. She sheathed her sword and bounded up the steps to the temple; her sadness turning into grim determination with every step.