Of Blood and Stone

In time

the blood and stones

write history.

The comfort of

stone’s cold embrace

allows life’s elixir

to leave its

indelible mark

forever.

Dry now,

with all emotions of the moment

contained within it,

the sanguine secrets

of the day

are imparted, recorded,

remembered, and held

like a pressed flower

between pages.

Dead to history,

vibrant with a story of the past.

Unsearchable.

Unknowable

by any and all,

by all and sundry,

except the stone.

The Secrets in the Wall 2

Chapter 2:  Secret Games

The last brick was laid in for the tombs, and the people came to fill it as they years passed, some with solemn ritual and whispered grieving punctuated by muted sobs, others with mirth and raucous celebration of a life violently lived, and still others seething with quiet anger and not so secret relief that the departed would trouble them no more.
   But he’d been the first.
   The girls were playing hide and seek with the boys, and the forbidden territory of the tombs was too tempting a place to be ignored.
   Karlyn and Essyna had broken away from the rest of the group, going into the shadowed end where the torches wrestled with the perpetual draft that came down the chutes into brackish water.
   There they waited and tittered behind their hands, confident no one would venture this far to find them.
   Essyna said to Karlyn, “I heard Prince Broderic is not the true son of the king.”
   Karlyn gasped. “Then whose son is he? Who’s brother?”
   “I don’t know, but if the king finds out, and it’s true, the Queen will die.”
   As Karlyn turned to look for seekers, Essyna’s braced herself on the wall; she snatched her hand away suddenly, as if something had stuck her.
   Karlyn turned to her. “What happened? Are you all right? Did you hurt your hand?”
   Essyna looked at it, curious. “No. It’s not even cut, but something stuck me.”
   Karlyn ran her hand over the brick, rubbed it with her fingertips, but nothing happened.
   The Secret could see them from inside the wall, their gowns bright but stained at the hems with a slimy wetness that would earn them punishments, and their just-so hair beginning to unravel, Essyna’s red-gold ringlets like a beaded cowl across her shoulders, Karlyn’s the bright yellow of a late morning summer sun.
   Footsteps echoed, and an older boy’s voice called their names.
   Their eyes widened in fright, and they scrambled from their hiding place to make themselves seen.
  “We’re here, Broderic!”
   They stood before him, eyes down.
   He laughed, not kindly. “Your mothers will have your hides for those dresses, and your fathers for coming down here when you knew you were forbidden.”
   “You could not tell them,” Essyna pleaded.
   “No way to explain away those stains.”
   Karlyn swept her right arm downward, and the stains disappeared; her smile held only a veneer of sweetness. “What stains?”
   Broderic swallowed.
   Another Secret joined the first, and the wall visibly shimmered.
  Broderic cried out and turned white.
   The girls turned to look over their shoulders, seeing nothing, and turned back to Broderic, questions and worry replacing their fear.
   “Let’s g-go,” he said. “I-I-I’ll tell them I f-found you in the garden.” The torchlight and the sounds of their footsteps receded, leaving only abject blackness.
   “Wise choice,” Karlyn said, and the dire echo of her veiled threat carried back as the Secrets settled into the stones.

Darkling Water

Down by the river,

she runs through

the night.

 

Shade alabaster.

Shrouded moonlight.

 

Some rich man’s wife.

Some farmer’s daughter.

Some say she haunts

by the

Darkling Water.

 

Some say they’ve

seen her

run through the trees.

 

Some say she cries out

with keening and pleas.

 

Some say her pale hands

are dripping with blood.

Some say she’s lying so still

in the mud.

 

No name is given.

No questions asked.

Sitting on mossy stones,

in moonlight basked.

 

Chills when she looks at you,

grasps at your sleeves.

Crying, she clutches you.

Spectral heart grieves.

 

There’s no escaping now.

With her you go,

caught in the current’s

ethereal flow.

 

Some rich man’s wife.

Some farmer’s daughter.

Some say she haunts

by the Darkling Water.

 

Kairi’s Serenade

Kairi comes down

by the

moonlit water

to play for

me

on random  summer evenings

 

Not of this world any longer,

I cannot hear her,

but I can see.

 

Ah, there she is.

Fair and dark are her features,

Dark and fair is her song.

 

Spinning, playing a bright flourish,

she smiles at a memory,

and I feel the press of its

warmth against my molding bones

as if she hugged my spirit.

 

I wonder if she feels

my presence?

 

At times, when she plays,

there are tears.

 

I long to take them away, to

wipe them tenderly

and tell her all is well,

before we kiss,

before we part.

 

I hold onto that moment

that never was,

never will be,

and it will ever have to be

enough.

 

As Kairi turns to go,

the melody is severed,

and the notes are interwoven

with the stars.

I feel what I can only call

a smile pervade my being.

No, there will be no tears tonight,

just the song, dark and fair, it’s plaintive echo

traveling through the lichen covered

headstones of the forgotten, as Kairi, fair and dark,

vanishes into the mist, and over the hill.

Moonlight Mistress

Draw me deeper,

Moonlight Mistress

into your land

of soft shadows,

the blush of your

cheek tinged

in deep blue inks

 

Draw me deeper,

Moonlight Mistress,

into the lemon-pale

playpen of your

midnight lair.

 

 

Draw me deeper,

Moonlight Mistress,

into silver-flecked eyes

that hold

mystery

and key

 

Draw me deeper,

Moonlight Mistress,

behind fragile,

obsidian feathers

hiding tender lips

that kiss

and whisper

and sing

of love

 

Draw me deeper,

Moonlight Mistress,

into the

Essence of you,

real and intangible,

far-off, yet visible,

distant, but reachable.

Incomprehensible.

 

Draw me deeper,

Moonlight Mistress,

and disperse me;

I would be the lunar light

suffused upon your

starlit skin

 

Shining on you

from the outside,

glowing with you

from the inside,

until the

cold, unfeeling dawn

baptizes us with dew,

and the

absolving morning sun

dissolves us

together

 

Drawing us

closer,

and

deeper still.

The Grave Worms

How quietly the grave worms tread

And tunnel through the fertile earth

For now I lie here cold and dead

Devoid of sorrow, done with mirth

 

But yet I hear them whispering

To centipede and fly and ant

That they can hear me breathing still

Did Death consider and recant?

 

“We’ve eaten them alive before,

So even if they haven’t died

We’ll feast on warm flesh bountiful

Before he claims a demon bride.”

 

The wood that forms my coffin creaks

And rodents too join in the fray

But dead blood never, ever leaks

Dead eyes don’t see the light of day

 

And yet I hear them

Scraping, scratching, clawing, whispering

Whispering still

 

I wonder will my hearing stop,

Or will I hear them eat their fill?

 

How quietly the grave worms tread

And tunnel through the fertile earth

For now I lie here, feeling dread

Devoid of sorrow, done with mirth.

De Value

Well, let’s see…

 

We’ve been

 

Categorized as subhuman

 

Documented as inferior

 

Theorized as violent

 

Despised as unintelligent

 

Valued as garbage

 

Discarded as worthless

 

“They’re:

 

Not worth getting to know

but worth keeping out.

 

Not worth hiring

but they only want welfare

 

Not worth educating

but they’re thugs

 

Not worth any money

but we destroyed their

prospering towns

 

Not worth access to power

but they’re violent.”

 

So if you truly believe that,

Let me ask you this:

 

Why, for one second,

would you pretend

to be something so…

 

worthless?

 

Soyala and the Troubadour

The banquet lasted through the night, and Teirtu was exhausted, having played every tune he knew from his extensive repertoire, as well as with his wealthy host’s own musicians, his children, and finally the host himself,

None of them were particularly talented, but they weren’t awful, so he flattered them anyway, as sincere as he could without making his real thoughts obvious, though he suspected they already knew.

The weight of the purse he received for his night’s labor told him he’d been obsequious enough to please the man.

Some distance from the mansion now, he found himself walking down a smooth and pleasant path, and heard his stomach rumble. He decided to stop and eat some of the food the pretty kitchen girl had set aside for his journey.

In parting she also gave him a deep and tasty kiss, and rubbed the heel of her hand on the front of his pants to give him something to distract him from the fact that it was a cold morning.

Intrigued by her forwardness, he silently vowed to return, knowing deep inside he probably never actually would; kitchen girls were notorious, and he could bring to mind a few, but what good would it do him now.

A pleasant scene of dappled sunlight shining through the high summer leaves got his attention, and there seemed to be an opening that one could pass through.

He ambled through, calm, assessing his surroundings, delighted to see there was a slow moving river with flat rocks on the shore that was bperfect for laying out his small repast.

 A good place to rest and eat.

Leaving his small wineskin alone, his mouth still fuzzy with its taste from last night, he decided he no longer wanted it at all.

Pouring the wine in the river, he rinsed and filled it with the clean running water.

As the skin filled and he tipped it to rinse the residue of the wine out, he saw, just outside the copse of trees, the figure of a young woman in a green, elegant gown not suited for the forest.

Her honey-gold hair spread across her shoulders and spilled down her back in waves that jounced slightly with her steps.

She was smiling at him, and he waved at her, and beckoned her to sit with him.

Her walk was as stately as her dress, but there was something in her eyes that evoked curiosity as well as dread; they were preternaturally bright, just short of glowing.

“Welcome, young bard.”

“Madam.” His eyes slowly roamed her form under the gown.

She noticed, but didn’t take offense, or blush, or give any indication she was uncomfortable with his rudeness; if anything, she seemed amused.

“Are you a long way from home?” he asked.

She smiled. It was a beautiful smile. “This is my home.”

“You live in the woods.”

“We live in each other; there’s an understanding that’s too deep to go into now, and I seem to have interested you, but interrupted your meal.

“I will go.”

“No, oh no, please, don’t.” He scrambled to get in front of her. “I’d like some company.”

“And your own is not up to the task?” she teased.

He chuckled. “I spend enough time alone that I don’t need anymore at the moment.

“Please join me.”

He offered his hand to help her up, and she made herself comfortable beside him, and he noticed that she really did seem quite at home in her bearing; there was no fear of him emanating from her at all.

He considered her enigmatic comment a moment.

“So you live here.”

“I do.”

“How is that possible?”

She didn’t answer him right away, but was looking at the lute he carried.

She reached toward him. “May I?”

“What…? Oh. Oh, yes, by all means.” He unpacked it and handed it to her.

“It’s a fine lute, much used.” With nimble fingers, she plucked a pleasant chord.

“…and much cared for, and loved.”

He shifted, just watching her, noticing how she played, and how beautifully she hummed along.

She stopped, smiling at him. “Eat, troubadour. I will play for you.”

He ate.

As she played, she hummed a perfect harmony, clean and sweet, and he stopped eating and closed his eyes.

His heart seemed to keep time.

Soft wind blew tendrils of her hair across the contours of her smooth face, lifted now to the westering light.

A memory of hi mother’s face, smiling down at him as he sat on her knee, singing as he played…

“That song,” he whispered. “From my childhood. How could you know?”

He looked, but she was no longer beside him.

She’d taken his wineskin and was drinking from it, but not putting her mouth to it.

She finished, and laughing, wiped her lips on the bell of her sleeve.

“Singing is thirsty work. I am Soyala.”

She handed the wineskin to him, and as he drank, he found that it was soemthing fruit flavored, with a hint of honey.

He didn’t know if it was wine, as such but it was heady.

“What are you?” He stoppered the skin.

“I am what you want me to be, my young troubadour.”

The reply opened up for him a world of crude possibilities he could say, but her bearing would not brook such insults, and they died stillborn on his tongue. She had an ineffable quality that intrigued him, even though it slightly annoyed him.

He ventured a smile. “How about my patron?”

She laughed, not at him, but clearly amused by the remark.

“Anything but that, good sir. The rifts between friends when such things are undertaken are the stuff of legend.”

He laughed as well. “I would have to agree. Soyala, you sing and play beautifully.”

“Thank you.”

He took another pull of the exotic elixir, looked out at the river flecked with sparks of sunlight.

“You have questions,” she said.

He nodded. “Many.”

“I could answer, but you have not understood even the simplest of them.”

“That you and the woods live in each other.”

She smiled approvingly. “Your memory’s good.”

“It would have to be to do what I do. That was the simplest? You don’t just mean that you live here, and are familiar with your surroundings, you mean they’re somehow a part of you.”

“Yes.”

“I won’t pretend I understand, and I’ll probe no deeper for today, but I’d like to return sometime to talk with you.”

“You are welcome here. Tell me your name.”

“Teirtu.”

She laughed, and he smiled, knowing why.

“That is what you are called, but not your name.”

“You have the right of it.”

“Does it pertain to you, or your profession?”

“All stories are essentially lies, Soyala.”

“In their essence perhaps, but at their core, there is always a seed of truth.

“You intrigue me, Teirtu; your name is a riddle.”

“Do you like riddles?” He handed her back the wineskin.

“I do.” She drank and gave it back.

He smiled again. “We’ve essentially kissed.”

“But at the core, we haven’t.”

He laughed. “We could make it true.”

She tilted her head, her eyes amused.

“You’ve had your meal, and song, and wine; there is no need for you to linger.”

“The trio’s not complete.”

“Trio?”

“Wine, song…woman.”

“Ah. That trio. A bard’s love is plural.”

“I’m not interested in plural.”

She walked up close to him.

“I’ll not kiss you, Teirtu. You’ll need a reason to return, and if I give you what you desire, you may not.”

“What if I promised?”

“The promises of men are breath, nothing more, and the promise of a troubadour…”

“Less so. Yes, we do have a bad reputation, and not undeserved.”

He stepped away.

“I’ll walk with you to the road.”

“I’d like that, Soyala.”

She reached for his hand.

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

“I will write a song for you.”

“I will hear it when you sing.”

“Kiss me, Soyala.”

She touched his cheek, and leaned in, and he closed his eyes, but the kiss never landed.

When he opened his eyes, she was gone.

He chuckled and shook his head.

“You are a riddle of your own, Soyala.

“I will return to solve it.”

 

 

Apocrypha

Lost in the mist, she came to my rescue.

Follow me.

It was the voice of a being

far above angels, and deep as the grave.

To where?

I followed, not knowing, but willing.

To love. To life.

The mist thickened around us.

But I’m lost. Do we go to my destination?

She turned to look at me with silver eyes.

We go, my love, to where you need to be.

I followed, not blindly, but knowingly.

I wish to leave. I’m frightened.

The mist hid her from view.

Follow, and I will comfort you.

I followed blindly.

Give me your hand.

I took her hand, and she led me…

 

Do you love me?

I followed.

How can I?

She stopped.

You simply decide.

She kissed me.

I’m lost.

 

Happy Valentine’s Dead (3)

Too early to go home, too late to go back to the office.

I’d put something maudlin on the stereo, and grieve with an expensive bottle of single malt; the picture of that in my head was too pathetic, even for me.

I went to the Full Moon Saloon instead; it was everything it promised.

My favorite barmaid, Sandy, was there; she didn’t like the term though. She preferred bartender, because she had her reasons, which oddly enough, were pretty valid.

“Hey, Kent.”

“Hey Sandy.”

“I heard.”

“Who hasn’t?”

She leaned forward, searching my face, all compassion. “What can I get you?”

“The usual, stronger than usual.”

She gave a little smile, but there was concern as she pulled back. “You sure you want to…?”

I sighed. “Sandy, I’ve been second guessing myself since I heard about Valentine. I just had a young cop get in my face and second guess me too. I consider this place a refuge, and a haven, which may be the same thing, but I don’t care right now, and I’d like to think I know my own mind, at least here.

“So yeah, I’m sure.”

“Hey,” she said, leaning back over. “This place is a refuge for you?”

“Yeah.”

She smiled. “Does that make me your refugee?”

I groaned, smiling in spite of the fact my heart felt like a sledgehammer hit it.

“Really? Is that the best you got?”

“Ha! I got a million more like ‘em.”

“That’s why you’re here.”

She stroked my cheek, then gave it a little slap.

“Fuck you, big man.” She went down the bar to make my drink.

“When I watch you walk away, anything’s possible.”

She looked over her shoulder, then it registered, and her mouth dropped.

I started laughing, then she joined in.

We actually did have a thing once, but she wasn’t going to walk the path I chose, and truth be told, I didn’t want her to do it either; she had an innate sweetness, despite the jadedness of the surroundings she worked in.

The place was a dive, but it was ‘our dive.’

She came back with the drink, and poured a shot for herself.

“To Valentine,” she said. We dribbled some of our drinks on the bar; she let it run down a bit, and the scent wafted up like sinful incense.

“So what happens now?”

“Word’s getting around; by tomorrow there’ll be a manhunt.”

“You in it?”

I sighed.
“No, Kent. C’mon. Those jackals that do this stuff for real are great at it, way better than guys like you.”

“I’m motivated.”

“By what? Were you…?”

“No. She was like a daughter to me. Sort of.”

 You didn’t admire your daughter’s legs. or let her roam the world in short, tight dresses killing people for obscene amounts of cash.

“You, and other guys like you. C’mon, Kent! She’s played the role on stage a million times to guys like you.”

“You keep saying that, Sandy. What do you mean by that?”

“Careworn, world-weary. Guys like you, carrying weight you no longer need to carry, having problems that should have gone away by middle age. Guys like you, trapped by money and no way to get out ‘cept through the morgue.”

She put her hand across my folded forearms.

“It was never going to be enough, Kent. Don’t you see that? You’ve got blood on your hands, your conscience, and no one to inherit anything good, because nothing good came out of it.”

She dug her nails in a bit.

“All you have to show, for all you’ve done, for all the years you’ve been supposedly cleaning up the streets and changing things for others, and profiting from it, is an onset of cirrhosis, and a dead young girl with her guts steaming in the rain.”

Her words felt like someone jammed a double-barrel to my head and pulled both triggers.

I felt myself convulse, and she took her hand away.

There was such a rush of mixed emotions, I wound up acting on none of them: I wanted to slap her, I wanted to throw the glass as hard as I could and watch it shatter, the way Valentine shattered when the bomb went off. I wanted to shoot something or someone, I wanted to scream, and I wanted to die.

I was out of tears, but my face must’ve gone rumply like I was going to cry again.

“Sorry, Kent. I care about you; I don’t want you to do this.”

“You’re really saying you don’t know if I can.”

She turned that over, took a sip of her drink, then focused back on me.

“Yeah, at the core of it, that’s what I’m saying. Let the hounds loose, and they’ll find him. Swoop in then, and take him away and butcher him all night when they do, but don’t join the chase.

“Please, Kent. Don’t do it.”

I took a sip of the malt.

“You had me at ‘butcher’….”

“Kent?”

I took another sip.

“Ahhh, dammit, Sandy…”

She beamed, leaned over, kissed me quick.

“That’s my man…”

We had another round, and I caught a cab home, and watched the rain run down the window, and the red neon lights colored it, and it was Valentine’s blood again, running down the window, down the gutters, down the drain, down to wherever the damned souls go, crying for peace.

 

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

 

When I got in, I booked a mid morning flight to Valentine’s hometown.

I hung up, feeling a bit guilty, remembering everything Sandy said, but there was one thing more important than anything else that stood out.

“Sorry, love.

“You really did have me at ‘butcher.’ ”