The Lore-Binding

1:

Carabelle watched closely, her big brown eyes catching the amber highlights of the hearth fire, as her father put the sword he finished yesterday over yet another flame, an eldritch flame of a magic that could turn out to be good or evil. But where the hearth fire danced with fiery scarves the shades of autumn leaves, this Lorefire, circled in stone, had the shades of a deep winter night when the full moon turned a snowy forest to hues of silvery blue.

She was conflicted. Mother had made him promise never to share the ritual of Lore-binding with her.

***************

“Too much could go wrong. They’ll turn her. They’ll take her, and she won’t be able to stop them. Then what would you do?

Promise me, Pim. Promise!”

He opened his mouth, but hesitated, tried again as she clutched his sleeve, her nails scoring his skin as her body arched slightly. She gasped twice, looking, her eyes hopeful, then widened in panic as she saw that he wouldn’t. She tried to hold on for one more breath but couldn’t. The promise remained unspoken, but Carabelle, standing just outside the door, heard her mother’s plea.

Pim, after a moment or two passed, suddenly turned into a blubbering heap; all Carabelle could do was go inside the cold room, hold him in her small arms, and cry with him.

When she finally looked up, her mother’s eyes were still open, still staring, still waiting…

**************

“The secret to Lore-binding, Carabelle, is a strong funnel. The spirits are contained behind all sorts of things that separate our worlds, and a Binder needs to be careful. They crave to interact with humans, reclaim that which they left behind.

“In the space between realms, if they escape the funnel there’s no telling what they’ll do.

“Some even dream of conquest.”

“Mom told you to promise never to show me this.”

“I know, and I wanted to, but I couldn’t because the times are too perilous. But you’re of an age now, and we had no son that I could pass this down to as a legacy.” He stopped for a second, the sword balanced across his hands, his eyes locked onto hers.

“Carabelle, are you afraid? If so, leave now, and we’ll never attempt it again. I’ll never speak of it again with you, and I’ll find an apprentice.”

Carabelle was tempted, every cautionary instinct shouting, but she finally shook her head. “I’m not afraid, Father.”

Pim nodded. “Good. Bring the funnel.”

It took both hands, slow steps, and great caution, but Carabelle guided the funnel safely into position, encircling the fire, snug against the perimeter stones. Pim nodded approvingly, and she felt a warm glow of satisfaction, tinged with guilt as it was.

“Now turn the hourglass. I have to close my eyes, sweetheart. Keep watch, and call me out of the trance immediately if something goes wrong. Don’t be afraid to wake me. Do you understand?”

Carabelle swallowed as she turned the hourglass, then looked at her father and nodded. “I understand.”

Pim nodded once. “Good girl.”

He sat on the floor, cross legged, and she did likewise next to him, watching in total fascination and not a little dread.

The blue flame popped and sizzled against the funnel glass, and he took a handful of it and encased the hourglass in it so it shared the boundaries, so it couldn’t be knocked over or broken by a sprite.

The flame around the hourglass intensified, grew brighter as if someone was lighting a blue-flamed torch from the inside.

Pim barely registered Carabelle drawing close to his side in fascinated fear, trembling, but she dared not look away.

The first of the spirits came through, blurred and amorphous. It was the color of old parchment, its misty hands casting about like a blind man lost in a strange place. Hovering between the funnel and blade, its empty eye sockets found her, and it smiled, but not in a pleasant way. Finally, it moved into the blade and was lost to sight.

Other spirits followed, their fogged features better defined though they all had no flesh.

There was a disturbance, somewhere out of sight; the blue light in the hourglass flared, and a rush of spirits followed, feeding themselves to the flame to avoid what was coming.

“Father…?”

Pim opened his eyes, saw the flame around the hourglass pulsing, and grew alarmed. “That’s not supposed to happen.”

Inside the funnel, the spirits were gone.

The face of Carabelle’s mother was floating inside now, spectral and fierce, and all the more terrible for the silent recrimination in her eyes.

Pim scrambled back as the glass began to crack.

The lives that will be forfeit now, husband, are on your head. Their blood is on your hands, charged to your immortal soul.

The glass shattered.

Carabelle screamed, drew herself up into a fetal position on the floor, and covered her face with her arms. She felt shards like pins in her sides and on her legs, and a couple of pieces into her bare forearms; there’d be cuts, but nothing life threatening.

A larger piece of the coated glass jetted across the floor and caught Pim in the throat, and his mouth worked fishlike as he tried to draw breath, his neck bathed in a red cascade of blood. Panicked, he only sliced his hands in a pointless attempt to remove it.

Incredulous at the suddenness of the mishap, kneeling as he weakened, he looked at the blue flame. His wife’s face dissolved, and roiling cloud of blue-white spirits poured themselves into the blade which was now turning blue, the runes appearing, but not the ones the Wizard Larin commissioned.

That’s not supposed to happen…

His eyes searched for his daughter, and the sight left to him froze him with dread and profound regret at not speaking the promise.

A single blood red spirit with a jet aura glided over to Carabelle, still cowering and shivering on the ground; it turned and gave a feral smile to Pim as he died, and the last thing he saw was the spirit descending into her.

That’s…not…

The Train of Seasons

The train of seasons goes express

when you get older.

You live through the day,

and maybe make a memory.

 

The leaves turn to snow,

the snow to buds,

the buds to blossoms,

the blossoms to leaves.

 

It is a slowly descending vortex at first,

but it speeds up as it funnels into a

narrowing, whirling free fall

the closer you get to

the end.

 

Its arrival is deceitful.

You think it is a rescuer,

but your grasping hand

is pried from the ledge

and

you

fall.

 

Your scream is a song.

Your death an exclamation point

on bad lyrics,

the notes of your life

a fading echo heard

from a distant hill.

Aven’s Forge and the Lore Binding

It was a sweltering summer night when Aven finished the sword.

The runes would be added later. The wizard Larin, who commissioned Aven’s work, would add the runes himself, for the sword was sacred.

Aven wondered about such things, but not overly much; he was a simple man with an honest trade, and believed he was better for not being too curious. People didn’t come to him for the crafting of arcane weapons, normally, but that was exactly why Larin wanted him: Aven was off the beaten path, and there were certainly those who might have been better at ornamentation, but that wasn’t what mattered.

Larin had made inquiries, and heard from the few who bought from him that Aven’s weapon work was true. He was, unbeknownst to himself, a well-kept secret among his customers. But Larin was a wizard, after all, and news unwelcome and otherwise filtered to him eventually.

He’d invited Aven to see the sacred ritual of Lore-binding, where the sword’s lore would be placed into it. The blacksmith had heard of such things, but didn’t necessarily believe them. He wondered how steel could contain magic properties. It seemed an impossibility, but again, such things were beyond him.

It was nagging him, though, how such things could be, so he accepted the invitation. Tomorrow night he’d deliver the sword to the wizard himself.

Sloshing a bucket of water over himself, washing away the sweaty soot and ashes, and tending the burns the sparks left (though they scarred anyway), he managed to get himself ready for bed.

In a beam of moonlight he lay on his bed and put his hands under his head, contemplating about magic swords until his mind grew tired and his body succumbed to the day’s labors.

***************

There was a presence in the room, radiating a scent of decay.

Aven sat bolt upright to see a presence in his doorway, outlined by a soft red aura.

A nightmare…nothing more.

“You know that to be untrue, Aven. I’m right here, right now, and I can see you as clearly as I know you can see me.”

Aven’s senses were not dulled by sleep, and as much as it frightened him, he had to admit he was awake.

“You know what I’m looking for,” the presence said. “Go get it for me, and see once more that it’s ready for binding. If you hand me an unprepared weapon, the price you’ve set on it will be nothing compared to the one you’ll pay.”

Aven got up, and felt the pull of the spirit’s power sweep over him. He retched as the spirit enclosed his flesh with a dark, cold magic.

“And what shall I tell Wizard Larin, spirit?”

The specter softly laughed, but said nothing in reply.

Aven, his will stripped from him as easily as sundered gossamer, got up, retrieved the sword, and came back with the blade dripping water across his hands. The demon forced him to his knees,  made him raise his hands, presenting the sword as to a rightful king.

The eldritch creature took the blade with the illusion of hands that were young, smooth, and had never shed blood, and inspected the blade with clear eyes that had never seen the corruption of mortal souls.

“You’ve done well, Aven. You may rise.”

Aven stood, his hands balled into impotent fists of defiance.

The spirit came close, looking deep into Aven’s eyes; he could no more look away than if the being had put his own eyes into the smith’s sockets.

“When this battle is done, Aven the Blacksmith will no longer be an obscure peasant tucked away in an unknown valley in the middle of nowhere; he will be a rich man beyond his wildest dreams, making weapons for the likes of high kings until his heart stops, and his name will be on the tongues of bards for centuries to come.

“Rest now, Aven, there will be no ceremony of Lore- binding for you to attend, but rather, the barely attended. funeral of a wizard who crossed me. You’ll know him by the coffin leaking his blood. We will be the only two that see his departure from this world.

“Farewell.”

The spirit faded, and as its power receded with it, setting Aven free, he wasn’t sure if his cry of anguish was from pain, sorrow, fear, or a swirling combination that made him piss himself as he passed out on the floor.

 

 

Deafening

They call the silence deafening, here in these winter hills. It is quite a profound and abject stillness.

The cold has even bid the night creatures to ban their hunts; there will be no prey, and the hunters themselves risk death. Better then, to go hungry and feast in the times of thaw, where the ice and snow become fresh water.

I pull my hood close to keep what fleeting warmth remains.

But in the starry darkness I wonder if it’s the silence that’s deafening, or the world deaf to the cries of my heart.

Am I just a child tugging on the hem of a guardian angel too tall to see me?

Do these snowy mountains hide me from celestial view?

Does the silence shroud me as it smothers the longing of my soul?

This silence, this wintry, bitter silence is far more active than being deaf.

It crushes.

It kills.

It’s indifference to me makes it all the colder.

Useless then, to go on.

Soon I too will lie under a blanket of snow, and become one with the silence.

A Father’s Day Memory (2018)

My father’s love of music got to me at an early age. In his apartment he had a ‘music room’ with a reproduction of Picasso’s Three Musicians (Musicians with Masks) painting.

There was always something on the turntable, a ‘featured artist,’ and stuff I played just out of curiosity. I would get lost in the sheer variety, the crafting of the cover art, the liner notes, which I’d read while the music played. It opened the jazz and classical worlds for me, two genres that your average kid growing up in the South Bronx didn’t really have access to.

He had a particular fondness for the jazz organ of Jimmy Smith, the flute of Herbie Mann, the percussive mastery of Mongo Santamaria, and the radical balladry of Nina Simone.

What impressed me the most about my dad regarding this was his prodigious memory.

During my high school years he’d moved out to Teaneck, NJ, and I spent summers there house sitting while he was at work. There wasn’t much in the way of chores except on the weekends where I’d help with the gardening and woodworking projects, but during the week I was free to dive into the bookshelves and records most of the day.

One day I was playing Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (Solemn Mass) because I’d never heard it before, and didn’t even know he’d written a Mass. My father walked in, listened to a few seconds of it, and identified it somewhere in the middle of the first movement.

I was impressed. To this day, I wouldn’t be able to identify that if I heard it; it’s not the sort of thing one often plays outside of those who are Beethoven aficionados, or hears played even on classical music stations. It’s a long, serious piece of music, to put it mildly, and I couldn’t say then (1977) how many times he listened to it himself, but it was often enough that he recognized it from a tiny section of audio.

As deep as his love of music was, I don’t know why he never became a musician himself; he was pretty much the kind of man who could do anything he set his mind to. But as far as I know, he never did.

The passion with which he did love it yet remains, and became a permanent part of my life. It provided an escape from the streets, a release for expressing myself, and a legacy my sons continue.

I now have most of my dad’s collection now, Missa Solemnis among them. I haven’t played it yet, but summer’s just starting…

Early on the Bay

The water between the rocks

sounds like the giggles

of an alien child.

The silence is

pierced

by birdsong.

And I am all too aware

of the time passing,

but it’s time

well spent.

I am solitary,

but not alone.

The difference is telling,

but I’m used to it now.

The sun feels so good,

like a hug by the fire

after a stormy winter day.

Small waves make

white gold sparkles of sunlight,

blinding even as they beckon,

but I’m not ready

to go.

Slow Down, the End is Near

Every autumn gathers summer to itself,

and takes it underground.

So it is with humanity,

gathered at the end,

knit together by bone, if not blood,

in guts, if not glory.

The maggots ingest our spirits.

The worms gnaw on our flesh.

We are bound to sin in our flesh,

and bound for someone to share

life eternal in our spirits.

There is, in the end, only one question that matters:

Where?