Donate

Visit Us on Facebook

Facebook Page

Search

Loading...

Spring 2008 Issue

Spring 2008 (Waterhouse's Ophelia)


I am very proud to present the first issue of Mirror Dance fantasy e-zine! In this issue…

• Fiction by James Lecky, Brooke Breazeale, Maia Jacomus and Michael Kechula

• Poetry by Kristine Ong Muslim, John Bucknall, and Thomas Zimmerman

Feel free to leave comments on the individual pieces.

Mirror Dance welcomes letters to the editor! Questions, suggestions for the website, and comments on the stories and poems may be e-mailed to markenberg at yahoo.com.

We are now open for submissions to our summer issue. “Otherworlds: Stories of Change and Discovery” will run from June 1 to August 31, 2008. Please see our Submission Guidelines for details on how to submit.

The Substance of a Dream

The Substance of a Dream
by James Lecky

That summer there was talk of war. The young men sharpened their weapons and drilled from dawn until dusk in the plains beyond the Bright Gates of Amaritsard, sending great dust clouds into the air as their horses thundered back and forth.

For me the talk meant little – there were always rumours of war in those days, ever since the Nazarani had come from the west with fire and sword. Besides, more welcome news had reached me of late, that of my aged uncle Marwan who had been taken to Paradise, leaving me, his favoured nephew, Tulun of Birjand, the sum of one thousand gold sequins. The timing was fortunate. I had recently gambled with and lost the greater part of my personal wealth - in backing a spice caravan which had then been taken by desert raiders - and the knives of my creditors were already being sharpened in anticipation of payment.

And so it was with no regret that I resigned my commission from Amaritsard’s famed light cavalry, took up my sword, shield and lance and rode to Jassala province on the fine chestnut gelding that I had acquired on the fall of three dice the previous spring.

For three leisurely days I rode south through land that became increasingly arid with every passing hour, making camp wherever the fancy took me and mentally preparing to spend my not inconsiderable inheritance.

It was on the fourth day, as I crossed the border into Jassala, that I encountered the raiders and their captive.

The sun, as fierce and unforgiving as the land it shone upon, was high in a cloudless sky, broken only by the wheeling black shapes of carrion birds a mile or so distant. It did not take a soldier’s instincts to realise that their presence meant danger, but equally I was aware that they circled the only waterhole for a hundred miles and to skirt around it would have meant many unwelcome, dry miles.

The potential danger did not trouble me unduly, however. I was in the prime of life then – not yet in my thirtieth year - as strong and ferocious a ghulam warrior as one could hope to meet and mounted upon a steed that could easily outdistance any horse should force of arms prove insufficient. I readied my shield and lance, loosened my sword in its scabbard, and touched my spurs to the gelding’s flank.

The waterhole, little more than a wet scratch in the land, lay in the centre of a small gully and as I crested the ridge that overlooked it I saw what had interested the birds so much.

An unconscious man – a Nazarani judging from his golden hair and pale skin – had been staked to the ground tantalisingly close to the water. He wore nothing except a white loincloth, and the noonday sun had already stamped painful blisters onto his exposed flesh. A short distance away, a group of horses were tied to the stump of a tree and beside them four robed men squatted over a pile of clothing and weapons, squabbling over who should receive the lion’s share. I knew the cast of them at once – desert nomads, doubtless cousins to those who had helped in my recent impoverishment – and already held little love for them.

As soon as they became aware of my presence, the leader – a tall man with a curled beard and a pockmarked face – stood and bowed.

“Peace be upon you,” I said.

“And on you be peace,” he replied. “Welcome to our encampment. Please, friend, dismount and join us.” As he spoke I could see his gaze roving over my weapons and horse, calculating how much they were worth.

“You have a guest already and I would not wish to share in such a welcome.”

“The Nazarani? Shed no tears for him, he is an enemy, his death is well deserved.”

“I was not aware that we were yet at war.”

“My people are always at war.” He smiled - his teeth white against sun-darkened skin - then bowed again, a little deeper his time. “I am Rabiah of the Kasseef.”

“Tulun of Birjand,” I replied, taking a tighter grip on my lance.

“Ride on, friend,” Rabiah said. “Why do you care if this pale dog lives or dies?” As he spoke, his companions took a surreptitious step towards me, reaching down to touch the hilts of their scimitars.

“The Book says, ‘He who forgives and is reconciled with his enemy shall receive his reward from God.’”

Rabiah’s smile slowly turned to a sneer. “It also says ‘Take not my enemies and yours as friends’ – you see, Tulun of Birjand, I know the Book as well as you.”

“Enough talk,” one of the other men barked. “Kill him!” Three swords were drawn with a hiss as the raiders charged towards me.

“Wait!” Rabiah cried, but it was too late.

I spurred the gelding down the slope and met the first with my lance, the point entering his stomach and punching out through his back. I deflected a sword-thrust with my shield and drew my own blade, screaming a wild eastern battle cry. The second man died with his throat torn open and the third with my steel buried deep in his heart.

It was over in an instant, and the three bodies lay before me, staining the sand with their bright blood. Rabiah had not moved during the skirmish and now he stood staring at me, his face impassive.

“Go,” I told him. “Let this be an end to it.”

“Why should you spare me?” he asked.

“You did not raise your hand to me – why should I raise mine to you?”

“As you say, why should you?” He grinned wolfishly as he mounted his horse. ”But if we meet again I will kill you for what you have done today.”

“Perhaps, Rabiah, or perhaps not.”

I watched until he disappeared into the desert, then turned my attention to the Nazarani.

He was an older man, at least twice my age, and there was more grey than gold in his beard and hair. But his body was heavily muscled, criss-crossed with numerous old scars - the body of a warrior. Fortunately, he appeared not to have been too long in the sun and he stirred as I poured a few drops of water into his parched mouth. His eyes, startlingly blue, flicked open.

“An angel,” he whispered through cracked lips. “An angel in the midst of hell.” Then unconsciousness took him again.

* * *


He slept for the rest of that day, awaking only when the sun had set and the desert began to release its heat. Other than a large lump on the back of his head, his wounds were light – and a little healing balm soon took the fire from his skin.

“Peace be upon you,” I said as he opened his eyes.

“And upon you, my heavenly friend – it would seem that God works in mysterious ways after all.” He spoke the trader’s tongue fluently, but with a thick accent that I was unable to place.

“I am no angel,” I told him, “and there are many who would attest to that fact.”

“Not an angel, certainly, but heaven sent for all that.” He stood and extended his hand. “My name is Luicien of Rossilion and you have my deepest thanks for your timely intervention. They caught me unaware when I stopped to drink.” He glanced across to the three bodies that lay on the sand. “Three of them? What of the fourth, the one named Rabiah …?”

“I allowed him his life.” I took the offered hand and found iron in the grip. “Tulun of Birjand at your service.”

“You are a merciful man, Tulun of Birjand - an extraordinary quality in these troubled times.”

“But then I am an extraordinary man.”

He looked quizzically at me for a moment, trying to ascertain if I spoke in jest. Then he grinned.

“I believe that you are, at that.”

* * *


As night fell, we sat by our small camp fire and he told me how he had come to be here, so far away from home and from the camps and cities of the Nazarani.

“This is not the first time I have travelled these lands,” Lucien said. ”As a young man I fought with Baldwin on the Field of Blood and years later with his son at Ascalon. It was there that I received this.” He pulled down the front of his shirt to reveal a long, puckered scar on his upper chest. “An honourable wound from the lance of a ghulam not unlike yourself.” Then he winked to show that he harboured no malice. “Ah, those were the days, Tulun, when men were men and war was war, not like the dirty little scraps they call battles now!”

He paused for a moment, staring out across the desert. When he spoke again his tone had changed.

“I remember it well – the heat and the sand, the blood, the screams of horses and men. And the pain. I shall never forget the pain.” He rubbed absently at the old wound. “They left me for dead when the battle moved on and when I awoke I witnessed something that has remained with me equally as long.” He paused, gathering his thoughts.

“It began as a single, sweet note drifting through the mounds of the dead. And as it rose I could feel it surging through my mind, calling to me. Another joined it, then another and another, merging into a beautiful, unearthly melody that dragged me to my feet despite my wounds.

“And all around me others rose from the masses of dead. Others who, like me, still retained some spark of life within their shattered bodies – I could see it in their pained eyes and twisted faces.

“Step by agonised step I followed the song as it led me towards the horizon. Its words – if words they were – meant nothing to me. I only knew that it called and I must answer.

“How long I walked I cannot say, time meant nothing in that strange half-life, but finally we came to a fog-bound valley that appeared suddenly from the scrub and sand.” Lucien leaned closer to the fire and, for a moment, his eyes were hidden in deep shadows, but I could still see the fierce spark that glowed there.

“And there in the swirling mists, was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen – she had the face of a goddess, or an angel fallen to earth. Her voice rose in greeting and her arms opened in welcome.”

Despite the night’s chill I could see beads of sweat on his deeply lined forehead.

“And yet she did not receive you.” I said.

“No, she did not, Tulun. I watched the others disappear one by one into the mist and saw the joy in their faces. I tried to follow them but could not. I do not know why I was refused. Perhaps there was still too much life left within me, or perhaps I was simply not worthy, but for some reason she turned me away. When her song ended she too vanished and I simply wandered back the way I had come. The next day one of our patrols found me, half dead and delirious from loss of blood, no more than a mile from Ascalon.”

I opened my mouth to speak again but he cut me off.

“It was not a dream, Tulun, I know it was not. I have heard that music echoing through my mind in quiet moments ever since, no matter where I have travelled, no matter where I have fought it calls to me.” He cocked his head to one side, listening to something in the night. “It calls to me still. I have searched long and hard for her and now I am close, I can feel it.” Then, abruptly, his sombre tone left him and he flashed me a dazzling smile.

“Would you believe that there are those who call me Lucien the Mad Knight. Imagine that, Tulun!”

Our laughter rang across the desert sands.

Substance of a Dream


The next day we rode south together. We made a strange pair, Lucien of Rossilion and I–the burly Nazarani with his dusty red tunic and black cloak and the young ghulam in his flowing white robes and turban.

Lucien proved himself an amiable travelling companion, politely curious without being intrusive and I soon found myself warming to this strange, haunted man. As we rode I told him of my childhood in Khursasan province, of how I had been sold to the army of the eastern Caliphs when still a boy, to be trained as a ghulam warrior. I told him of the battles I had fought for my masters – against Daylami rebels, Berber tribesmen and even the Nazarani themselves – and of my eventual release from obligation.

“You have lived a full life for one so young,” Lucien said.

“And with the grace of God I may even live to be as old and fat as you, my friend.”

He swore softly in his own language and then laughed. “I thought that ghulams were still taught manners at least.”

“Most,” I told him. “But not all.”

By mid-afternoon we had reached the trails leading to Jassala town.

“And here we must part, Tulun of Birjand,” Lucien said. “My path does not lie that way.” He offered me his hand and I took it, wrist to wrist as warriors should.

“I hope you find what you seek, Lucien of Rossilion.”

“Who knows, perhaps I will. Or perhaps I am mad after all.”

“Go in the name of God,” I said.

He nodded once and then tugged on the reins of his warhorse. The land swallowed him up in moments.

* * *


As it leaves the desert, the road to Jassala winds slowly towards stark hills and snow capped mountains. But its wild beauty was lost on me that day – Lucien had left me with many troubling questions, and the buoyancy of heart with which I had begun my journey had disappeared.

I thought of the Mad Knight, alone in a hostile land, searching for the fragment of a dream. What had he seen on that night so many years ago and what was the song that had called to him ever since?

I am by nature no more curious than any other man and by rights I should have simply spurred onward to Jassala and the glittering coins that were waiting there, but the mystery nagged at me with every step. Finally, I could stand it no longer and with a flick of the wrist I turned my horse around and galloped back the way I had come.

I had no difficulty in picking up Lucien’s trail and caught up with him in less than an hour. I reined in beside him and we rode for a mile or two in comfortable silence until at last he said:

“Thank you, Tulun.”

“You are an old man,” I said. “And the desert is a dangerous place. What kind of a man would I be to allow you to travel by yourself?”

“A wise one.”

“God grants wisdom to whom He pleases,” I said.

“But the righteous man is cautious in friendship,” he replied with a smile.

“So you too are a man of the Book, Lucien of Rossilion?” The knowledge surprised me.

“A different book, my friend – but perhaps it is the same in God’s eyes.”

Without warning he reined his horse to a halt and stared towards the darkening horizon.

“I have no wish to alarm you, Tulun, but we may have a little more company on our journey.” He indicated a swiftly moving dust cloud a mile or two to the west. Within in it the blood red light of the waning sun picked out the glitter of steel.

I had no doubt who it was. “Rabiah of the Kasseef seeks us out again.”

“And why not, were there ever two more amiable travelling companions than us?” He frowned slightly. “You made a grave mistake in allowing him his life.”

I readied my lance as Lucien drew a great bladed axe and a sword from the scabbards on his saddle. “I seldom make the same mistake twice,” I said. And we rode to meet them.

There were ten of them, scowling Kasseef raiders with hatred burning in their faces. Rabiah halted them a short distance from us.

“You owe me three lives, Tulun of Birjand,” he called. “But I will be merciful if you give us the Nazarani – I will only take your right hand and left eye in payment.” He smiled his wolf’s smile again. “What do you say to that?”

“I say that your mother bore a cowardly bastard.”

The smile vanished from his face. “For that I will take both eyes and both hands before I kill you.”

“This whoreson talks too much,” Lucien said, then with a bellow he spurred his horse forward, swinging sword and axe in a whirl of steel.

I followed him a heartbeat later and together we crashed into the Kasseef horsemen.

My lance snapped as it went through a horse’s neck, sending the screaming animal and its rider to the ground. I smashed a face with my shield, then drew my sword. Beside me Lucien’s blades weaved and slashed, hacking and cutting with a ferocity equalled only by my own. I saw him cleave through a raider’s shoulder and down into his chest, almost splitting the man in two. The Mad Knight’s eyes shone with the glory of battle and his voice rose in barbaric exultation as he fought.

Steel flashed in the dusk as Rabiah’s sword plunged into Lucien’s side and the joyful battle-song was choked off. Twisting in the saddle, Lucien brought his axe around to return the blow and Rabiah screamed as his arm was struck from his body, the force of the blow throwing him from his horse.

I pushed forward, striking left and right until I had won free to the other side of the melee. As I turned to rejoin it a second sword plunged into Lucien, almost unseating him – his sword swung back in reply and the last of the Kasseef died.

Lucien reeled in his saddle and a groan escaped from his blood-spattered lips. Then he slid slowly to the ground and lay there, his massive chest heaving as he fought to breathe.

A few feet away Rabiah knelt on the sand, his life pouring out of him in red torrents. As I dismounted he raised his head and glared at me.

“The prince of hell awaits your coming, Tulun of Birjand,” he snarled through gritted teeth. “And I will wait with him.”

I struck his head from his shoulders with a single blow.

As I approached, Lucien coughed weakly, sending fresh blood onto his lips.

“It was a good fight, Tulun.”

“Yes, old man, it was a good fight.”

A spasm of pain passed through his body and he fought back a groan. His eyes closed and the breath rattled wetly in his throat, too loud in the rapidly closing night.

“May God take you to His side.” I had no other words, no other prayers.

All around us the land was silent and still, even the perpetually shifting sand was motionless now, as if in respect for this dying warrior.

Suddenly, his eyes flicked open.

“Can you hear it, Tulun? Can you hear her song?”

“I hear nothing.”

His hand shot out and gripped my robe. “Help me to my horse,” he gasped. “She is calling to me.”

“There is no song, Lucien.”

“Help me, you heathen bastard!” But there was no hatred in his voice, only an entreaty.

It took a long time to get him into the saddle, but finally we did it. His face was grey with pain and even those incredible eyes had dulled, but when he spoke again his voice was strong and determined.

“Ride with me one last time, Tulun, and I will show you the substance of a dream.” Without waiting for a reply, he touched his spurs to the flanks of the warhorse and trotted into the darkness.

I followed, straining to hear the music that called to him. But there was nothing, nothing but the jingle of our harnesses and the soft fall of hooves on sand. Above us the sky grew dark, the stars themselves had been snuffed out and until a thin sliver of the moon remained to light our way.

And then, from somewhere in the night, I heard it – a single, sweet note drifting toward us. At its coming the moon waxed full and the stars broke through the heavens again.

“Can you see, Tulun?” Lucien whispered. “Can you see?”

We stood on a path that sloped down into a wide, broad-bottomed valley wreathed in mist. On either side its jagged walls rose sharply, as if a gigantic hand had torn this place from the land. And before us, her arms open in welcome, stood the woman that Lucien had sought all these long years.

As we rode towards her the music grew stronger filling my senses until I thought I would weep with joy. Lucien turned to me.

“Farewell, Tulun of Birjand, may God keep you safe until we meet again.” He grinned and winked, his vitality suddenly returning, then spurred his horse forward and was lost from sight.

Abruptly, the music ended. I was alone with this strange, beautiful woman. Her hair was as dark as the night itself, her eyes as luminous as the moon.

“Thank you, Tulun.” When she spoke her voice was sweeter than her song.

“Who are you?”

She smiled. “I have many names – Inanna, Badb, Eshara - which would you prefer?” She stepped closer to me and for the first time I could see that her flesh was pale, almost translucent, her body wavered and shimmered with each word she spoke.

“Inanna,” I said and somehow the name was fitting. “I know you, but from where?”

“You know me better than you think, Tulun of Birjand – I was there at your birth and I shall be there at your death.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will.” She began her song again, slowly and softly, each note like a fragment of crystal.

And I heard. And I saw. And I understood.

Inanna, the goddess of war, whose very existence had been all but taken away by the Book – for what are the gods without belief? – who still dwelt at the edges of the world and called the bravest and the best to her side at the moment of death.

I should have hated her – what was she but the fragile remnant of a time before God opened the eyes of righteous men? – but I could not.

She reached out and touched me with a hand as insubstantial as smoke.

“Do not fear for your friend, Tulun,” she said. “Paradise has many rooms, many gardens – he has found his with me. As will you one day.”

“Not I.” And at my words a flicker of pain passed across her exquisite face and a little more of her form faded away.

“Go then,” she said softly.

I turned my horse and cantered away.

When I looked back I saw only featureless desert and heard nothing but the shifting of the sands.

“Farewell, Lucien of Rossilion,” I said. “May you find the peace you deserve.”

Then I dug my spurs into the flank of my fine chestnut gelding and set off south again, towards Jassala and the thousand sequins that awaited me there.

* * *


James Lecky is a theatre actor and director from Northern Ireland. Most recently, his work has appeared in Everyday Fiction and the Aeon Press anthology Emerald Eye. He lives with his wife, his cat and is sickeningly content.

What do you think is the most important part of a fantasy story?

I think what fantasy tries to do - and for that matter all fiction - is to transport the reader, however briefly, into a different world and it is those different worlds and the characters that inhabit them that attract us to fantasy.

The Homecoming

The Homecoming
by Kristine Ong Muslim

Homecoming


The city of your youth was already gone
before daybreak
taking with it the vestiges
of your cold dark past.
They were strange then,
and most beautiful--
your dead people.
You could still hear the women
weep their songs of farewell and damnation
as you fled
past shadow barges and subterranean caverns
and the stark lonely seas that stretched to infinity around it,
across hillsides lined with footprints of minotaurs
and tiny tracks of benign elves,
between trails of gladiators and pursuing beasts.
You remembered how the invaders burned the children,
and you knew you died with them that day
in the middle of the blood-drenched courtyard.
Mirrored in your eyes was the memory
of these nightmares.
How you wished you could still burn yourself clean
someday, free of your history.
You could hear the sound
of horses’ hooves
behind you.
Soon, the chase would near its end.
Your weary eyes scanned the verdant
mounds that lined the swamp
while you searched for a refuge.
The echo of your approaching doom
filled the world.
The bushes seemed to grow thicker
as the riders hounding you drew closer.
Hopelessly, you ran and ran
while you still could
towards the sunset
away from the smoking chasms of the hinterlands
away from the taunting elementals that would lead you astray
away from the deafening roar of the galloping horses
but with just a few miles to go
before death could finally catch up on you.

* * *


First appeared in the anthology Travel A Time Historic, ed. by Nancy Jackson, RAGE machine Books, 2005.

* * *


More than 500 of Kristine Ong Muslim’s poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in over 200 publications worldwide. Her work has appeared in Aoife's Kiss, Cemetery Moon, Down in the Cellar, Kaleidotrope, Labyrinth Inhabitant Magazine, OG’s Speculative Fiction, and Tales of the Talisman. She is a two-time winner of Sam’s Dot Publishing’s James Award for genre poetry. Her publication history can be found here.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?
The rejection slips.

What do you think is the most important part of a
fantasy story?

The setting.

What advice do you have for other fantasy writers?
Read the entire Dune series!

The Clearing

The Clearing
by Brooke Breazeale

“Are you sure you saw it come this way?" asked Marisa, twisting her white apron with nervous fingers.

I sighed softly, frustrated already with her, though we'd only just started our trek through these woods. "Yes, Marisa, twice I've seen the foretold white fawn enter the Mystic Wood." I stepped over a fallen tree trunk, lifting the hem of my linen skirt.

"I don't see why we must leave our homes forever,” she complained.

I clenched my fist tighter around my skirt, as I tried to not let my impatience show. "The land has changed. The disease grows quickly. If we are to survive, we must find a new home. Please, hold your tongue and help the little ones."

Not waiting for an answer, I continued on. Around me the forest had grown quiet. The bugs and birds had flown away or waited patiently for us to pass. From the path behind me, I could hear the low murmur of my traveling companions- four women and six children- and the bleating of one milk goat. An occasional twig would snap and echo through the dense trees. Sunlight speared the dimness as we traveled, giving us enough light to see by. I noticed that the children were lagging behind the goat. Their feet dragged, kicking up puffs of dust, and their shaggy heads hung wearily. I held up my calloused hand. "Let's stop here. Marisa, Ida, pass out something to eat. I'll search for water."

I started away and Marianna followed. We walked in silence for a time before she spoke up. "Liana, do you know where we are going? I only ask because Annetta is almost due. This isn't good for the baby." She pushed her bonnet off her head. Her blonde hair flowed over her shoulders.

I stopped her with a sharp look. The pain of a lost child clouded my vision and once again I watched in slow agonizing memory as Tonio's life slipped away from me.

Marianna's blue eyes widened as she watched my face. "Oh, Liana, I'm sorry! I had forgotten about your boy."

She rushed over to comfort me, almost tripping over a small shrub. I pushed her away and continued on.

"That is the reason we must keep moving. We must follow the fawn," I said harshly over my shoulder. "Our children are dying. The males don't make it three days and the girls only survive a month."

I pushed a tree branch out of my way and was greeted by acidic smell of a fir tree. The white fawn sat expectantly in the clearing beyond. I motioned Marianna to stay behind me and to remain quiet. The sweet sound of birdsong surrounded us once again.

The fawn stood before me, watching me with deep green eyes. Its coat was like the snow on the distant mountains, pure and untouched. Its small ears twitched as we slowly walked into the clearing. Around the fawn, tall wild grass grew. The brown and green colors looked more vivid in the golden sunlight. The fawn ignored the bees that wove in and out of the grasses around it.

"Marianna,” I said in a low whisper. "Go back and gather the others. But go slowly, so we do not startle the creature."

I don't know if she nodded or not, but she slipped away unheard. When she was gone, the fawn dropped its head as though it was going to eat, and then brought its head up without so much as a leaf. Twice it repeated the gesture. I stood there silently not sure what was happening.

The fawn must have been frustrated by my lack of understanding, because I suddenly found myself on my backside with all of my breath knocked out of me. I swear I didn't see it move.

”Thank you for sitting,” it said softly inside my head. The sound was gentle and smooth, like the fur of a bunny after a long winter. The fawn’s voice didn’t startle me, for the fireside stories all said it could talk.

”What else do these stories say about me?” the fawn asked, laughing curiously.

"Well," I said to it out loud. "They say you only appear when a crisis arises with children."

It nodded, confirming that story, swiveling its ear forward.

I held up my hand and started ticking off other traits. "You can fly, you are female, the goddess Damara made flesh, your tears have healing properties and you can make the dead live again."

Amused laughter bounced around inside my head and I stopped to see the fawn sitting on its haunches, like a family cat or dog. I wondered if maybe it was going to clean itself like one, too. I shook that thought off as the fawn's laughter stopped suddenly

“I am not a family pet.” It was not amused anymore.

"I, I'm sorry," I stumbled. "Sometimes I just think odd things. I've learned to not say them out loud."

The fawn nodded. “You have much improved from when you were younger.”

My eyebrows rose, as my eyes grew wide. "How would you know?"

”I know many things.”

"So are you the Goddess Damara?"

”No. And I can neither fly nor bring the dead to life.”

I looked down at my hands. I hadn't noticed the brambles and thorns that clinging to my skirt. I began to pull these nuisances out as the white fawn continued to talk.

”I know you were hoping I could bring your boy, Tonio, back. It's why you originally sought me out. But I cannot.’”

I nodded. I heard the faint sounds of voices and crying from behind me. "That was true, but now I just want safe passage through the Mystic Wood and a place to start again, without fear of the disease that took my son and the other children."

I looked up hesitantly as the rest of my group settled around me. I felt Marisa and Ida lay their hands on my shoulders; their warmth was welcome, as the children crowded around my back. Marianna and Annetta stood behind us all like guardians.

”There is such a place.”

I could hear several gasps in the grassy clearing as the fawn’s voice came to my companions.

"And how far is this place?" Annetta asked, her hand resting on her swollen stomach.

The fawn looked at her, but we all could hear it's reassuring voice. “The babe is fine; strong and healthy.” It tilted its head and paused. “A boy, I see.”

Smiles broke out and cheerful laughter erupted.

”Safe passage is granted for you and all who follow you. Take to the path behind me.” It rose to stand again and swung its head towards the parting grass.

Another gasp arose from my companions, but I just smiled. Everything felt right. More right than it had for a while now.

My companions went by me and started down the path. I turned to the fawn.

”Four days until you reach a safe haven,” the fawn confirmed.

"How did you know what I was going to ask?"

The fawn stamped its hoof. “You will.”

I caught my breath. ”I'll have children again?"

Another nod.

"Do you have a name? As you are not the Goddess Damara, I'd like to know whom it is I address."

The fawn tilted its head again, like a dog giving a curious look. “I am the Mystic Woods”

"May I call you Mystic?"

”That would be acceptable.”

I watched as the goat took up the tail end of the line.

"Liana, are you coming?" Marisa called.

"I'll be right there," I called back. “Thank you...” I turned to finish my sentence, but the clearing was empty. "Mystic?"

The Clearing


Four days and a few hours after sunset, we found a valley lush with fruits and clean water. Other families had made their way through the Mystic Wood and had built their homes here in Salvation Valley.

Annetta gave birth to my godson two days later. He is now six and mischievous as any child could be. Dante was the first born, but not the last child to grace this valley.

”As we gather on restdays, like today, we spend them telling and retelling the story of our trip through the Wood, for the sake of the children. Of why we had to leave our old homes and find a new one.” I reached down and ruffled Dante's shaggy hair. “One day, you will take up the responsibility of telling the tale."

"We won't forget Mystic," Dante said, resting his chin on my knee.

"No." I met my godson's deep green eyes and smiled. "No, we won't."



* * *


When not writing, Brooke Breazeale can usually be found outside her Northwest home gardening or reading by her pond. She was raised in Oregon and has remained there, were she can enjoy the ever-changing weather. With three kids, one dog, one cat and a husband, Brooke keeps very active. Her love for reading has inspired her imagination for writing. Although fantasy is what she writes, it is not the only genre she has written.

What advice do you have for other fantasy writers?
Never stop reading and never stop believing. Anything can happen in the world you create on paper. Never stop imagining; the ordinary came become more if you want it to.

Wayfarers

Wayfarers
by Thomas Zimmerman

Wayfarers


Our underseas remain thus far untamed,
and mostly unexplored. My ocean swarms
with beasts of every size; though I’m self-maimed,
they keep their horrid appetites and forms.

The heavens, too, seem cloaked in mystery.
Some say an eldritch evil drapes the stars
and Elder Gods have toyed with history,
destroying minds on Earth and life on Mars.

I’ve read of heroes’ journeys from the tribe
to wilderness, to monsters slain; the quest
for wisdom, unexpected change; the bribe
that buys the mage; the rites of East and West.

I want to learn my fate, if bliss or hell.
I sojourn now. Wayfarers, wish me well.

* * *


Zimmerman


Thomas Zimmerman works as a community-college English teacher and has been publishing his poems in small publications for the past 20 years.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

Reading poetry and interacting with others (especially students).

Empress Regnant

Empress Regnant
by Maia Jacomus

“I still say that runt Padishah Sedha killed Emperor Anil.” Fadir had been saying the same thing for ten years, and always just after praying at the family’s home shrine.

“Yes, dear,” his wife, Lasani, droned, not looking away from her embroidery.

“The sages were probably in on it, too, I bet. Wanted their share.”

Lasani sighed and set her embroidery on her lap. “He died naturally, dear. There were no marks of any kind on him. Now, for the final time, let it be. Whatever the cause, there is nothing to be done about it now.”

A young woman drifted into the room, dark eyes downcast as she entered the shrine. Fadir closed the door for her, then instinctively looked to his wife, awaiting the beginning of another familiar argument.

“We are telling her today,” Lasani said resolutely, picking up her embroidery and focusing as if no more conversation would follow.

“No, not today.”

“As soon as she comes out of there, I am going to tell her.”

He bent down over her to meet her eyes and stress, “Not today.

“She is twenty-six. It is past time she knew.”

* * *


No matter how hard she tried, Kumari couldn’t pray. She would kneel down on the damask pillow and stare into the ruby eyes of the golden idol, trying desperately to explain to herself why it looked so familiar. In her mind, she pictured it three times as big and adorned with colorful silk. And the musk-scented incense, though fulfilling, was thicker and stronger than she thought it should be. She gazed into the idol’s darkly shining eyes until her parents’ argument reached its peak and snapped her from her meditation.

Emerging from the shrine, she halted as the two immediately fell silent and looked at her as though she were a lotus blossom dropping its petals.

“What?” she asked the two in wonder. Although that same look bombarded her every day, it still made her nervously twirl her long black hair between her fingers each time it loomed.

Fadir turned to Lasani, lifting his brow. She opened her mouth, but then clamped it shut and returned the brow raise. Finally, Kumari had had enough.

“For the past five years, you two have been doing that dance,” she said. “This time, please, end your silent duel and say what it is you are thinking; I have no patience anymore!”

Lasani reached for her embroidery, but Fadir swiped the cloth from her, his eyes stern.

“Kumari, dove...” she began. But she could not make the other words follow. As if to gather her courage, she rose from her seat and approached her daughter, taking her hands. “It is nothing important,” she finally said.

Fadir nodded, grinning warmly. “Nothing important.”

“It must be. You both have been mulling over it for years. And it obviously concerns me. What is it?”

Fadir opened his mouth to speak, but his wife interrupted.

“It is about the sari I have been embroidering,” Lasani said, unfurling the gold-colored fabric. “I have been embroidering it all these years. And...what it is...the problem, I mean...Every year, I mean to finish it, but I cannot manage to. Every year, I wonder about telling you that it is for you, you see...It was meant as a gift, a surprise...But it has taken more time to make than I anticipated. Even now, it has yet to be finished.”

Everyone in the household knew how sensitive Lasani was regarding her embroidery. Fadir and Kumari used to tease her about her meticulousness. They would always look over her shoulder as she worked and remark on her slow progress, snickering every time she pulled out a stitch with a fault that neither of them could see. There was no way Kumari could combat her mother’s declaration.

Kumari approached her mother and ran her fingers along the delicate, extravagant gold embroidery, tracing the petal of a flower bud. She smiled in admiration. “It is beautiful, mother. Your best work.”

“You will not chide me for working so slowly?”

“Of course not. The slow pace reaps the best possible quality. It is good that you so take pride in your work, mother.”

Lasani and Fadir exchanged cunning smiles, having eluded their daughter’s prying. And as Kumari left to prepare for bed, the couple decided never to bring up the subject again.

* * *


“Into the stable!”

The unusual greeting jerked Kumari from sleep. Before her eyes could focus, her father gripped her wrist and pulled her out of bed.

“Am I allowed to change first?” she asked.

Fadir didn’t seem hear her, and she knew better than to question him. Stumbling out into a grey morning, she tried to keep up as her father led her to the stable and opened the gate to the cow’s stall.

“Get in,” he commanded.

She did so, approaching the cow. “Do you want me to milk her?”

“No, just sit down in the corner. Do not move, do not make any noise, not until I return.”

Before she could further rebut, he closed and locked the stable gate.

The musty odor of hay and the low moaning of the cattle surrounded Kumari as she sat in the far corner, trying to think of why her father was behaving so strangely. Unable to sort it out, she laid back on the hay and stared at the cracks of light piercing through the roof, trying to find which clusters resembled star constellations. There was one near the apex that reminded her of Ibis Flight.

* * *


The starry Ibis hovered over her. It was her only comfort, her only protection in the empty, silent, trampled rice field she found herself in. The chilling wind hardened the mud which covered her sari and face. She was crying, but she couldn’t remember why. And upon seeing the unfamiliar surroundings, her fear mounted into sobs.

“Hello?” Her voice wavered with uncertainty.

She unstuck herself from the muddy ground and rose to her feet to look around for something--anything--familiar. But the darkness of the night dimmed her view. The only familiarity was that same Ibis above her.

“Help me!” she cried, shouting as loudly as she could in a desperate attempt to reach the ears of the heavenly bird. “Please help me!”

A light flared, small from the distance. She stopped crying and held her breath in anticipation of what the light would bring. She heard a shout, “Who is there?”

Trusting in this miracle from the Ibis, she opened her mouth to reply, only then realizing that she didn’t know her name. “Please help me!” was all she could manage before fear brought tears to her eyes again. She sat in the mud for what seemed like a small eternity; the cold numbering her skin, and the mud drying in heavy clusters on her limbs. At last, someone approached her and said in a kind, sympathetic voice,

“Oh, you poor dear!”


* * *


Kumari shook herself from the memory, suddenly rising.

“There’s one!”

Looking up, she saw a man peering over the stall gate. She rose and looked out to see, sitting on their lawn, a barred wagon full of young women. A handful of armed men stood near it, the royal symbol of a golden tiger on each of their tunics. The one who stood at the gate fumbled to unlock it. She climbed onto the cow’s back, then tried carefully not to step on the hem of her night robe as she slowly stood. The gate swung open, clanging against the stall fence. It was Kumari’s signal to jump from the cow and onto the fence. Before she could lose her balance, she leapt and caught hold of the rafter above. She could feel the soldier trying to grasp the hem of her night robe.

“Come down!” he ordered.

Feeling her grip slipping, she swung herself forward, grabbed the rope that opened the grain chute, and slid down, burning her hands along the way. The soldier who had left the stall to pursue her rushed toward her and slipped on the spilled grain.

After briefly trying to shake off the pain of her burnt hands, she ran to the bull’s pen, unlatched the gate, and slapped him on his back. The bull bleated loudly and bolted off into the mass of soldiers, his long, curved horns ahead of him. While the other soldiers scattered, the one who had slipped got back on his feet and threw his arms around her. She shouted and cried, she kicked furiously, but another soldier came to help detain her as the two dragged her to the wagon. The commotion summoned Lasani and Fadir from the house, and the two dashed into the mass of soldiers. Lasani begged with them to release their daughter, and Fadir tried tearing them away, but the other soldiers kept them at bay, having managed to slay the raging bull.


Forced into the wagon and locked inside, Kumari stared out one of the barred windows, reaching her hand out toward her parents. They tried to take it, but the wagon began to wheel away, the soldiers following on their horses. Kumari watched, vision blurry with tears, as the wagon took her from her home. The last thing she saw before she was pulled far from the sight was the once-mighty bull, lying dead on the ground with its glossy black eyes staring back at her.

* * *


Once her sobs calmed, Kumari spoke with some of the other women to learn what she could of the situation. Her hunches were correct: they were being harvested for Padishah Sedha. Since the emperor’s death, and the disappearance of his heir, the only one worthy to rule was Padishah Sedha, the then-young cousin of the emperor. The people of Rudjosai all knew full well about his ambitions to conquer the neighboring realm, Ghadhala, and everyone feared going to war. Fortunately for them, a law existed which dictated that when the royal blood line was exhausted and a new one took over, the first new member of the royal family must be constantly advised by a council of sages, and nothing could be done without their approval. The harvesting of young women was one of the few allowances he had in which the sages had no say, so naturally he employed it whenever possible. Despite how badly her burnt hands stung, she felt somewhat grateful for the scars; having such a physical flaw could save her from being chosen.

Once they arrived at the palace, they were herded inside to a small chamberBa servant’s quarters with only two chairs for thirty women. Some of them talked excitedly about possibly being with a Padishah. Others, like Kumari, stared at the dim torches and the stone walls, praying to every god they knew that they would be home again by the end of the day. They were shut inside the room for three hours until finally the door opened and a soldier instructed them to line up in the hallway. Kumari leaned back against the wall with her head bowed, trying to become invisible.

“His Imperial Highness, Padishah Sedha,” the soldier announced.

There he stood, at the end of the hallway, a magnificent figure: he was bare-chested, wearing a long jacket and pants, both of rich, purple silk and embroidered with gold. His red velvet shoes had soles of real gold, which emitted a commanding, bone-shivering clank as he walked. His long black hair was braided back with a golden ribbon, and though he was fiercely handsome, his dark eyes flared like black flames. Kumari stared at him in fascination until the clank of his shoes twitched her head back down to stare at her bare feet.

Clang. “Too old.” Though his voice was low, it was clear as two swords striking each other. Clang. “Too plain.” Clang. “This one is pregnant, you idiot!” Clang.

Kumari’s heart pounded harder and faster as she heard him approach. She bit her lip and winced at every clank of his shoes.

“Too young.” Clang. “The eyes are too close together.” Clang!

A shadow fell across her feet. Kumari couldn’t move. A hand covered with rings lifted her chin. She stared into Sedha’s eyes, and the Padishah stared back. After a moment, his glance traveled up her face and rested on the mole above her right eyebrow.

“This one,” he said. “Send the rest away.”

A soldier ushered Kumari to another room on the second floor; one of the royal bedchambers, so filled with plush cushions and flamboyant silk drapery that it was like the inside a cloud set in a twilight sky. Three female attendants worked to dress her, groom her, and paint her face. By the time she looked in the glass, she could hardly recognize herself; dressed in a deep red sari with golden sandals, dripping with gold necklaces and jeweled rings. A ruby pin held up her finely-combed hair, kohl outlined her eyes, and her face glowed with blush and carmine lip color. She felt so weighed down by fabric and jewelry that she could sink into the ground. A doctor then entered to spread salve on her hands and wrap them in soft, white linen. No sooner was she made ready than Sedha came into the room, all five of the sages in tow. Seeing her, he smiled triumphantly.

“Just as I thought.” He approached her and took her hand. Something about his touch made her jump. He then turned to the sages and declared, “Behold: Princess Nadi, daughter of former emperor Anil, and heir to the Rudjosai Empire.” Then, turning back to her, he added, “And my betrothed.”

Kumari dropped his hand and backed away in alarm. The sages crowded around her, examining her face, many of them pointing out the definitive mole above her eyebrow and also stating the resemblance of the nose and the posture. They smiled and remarked how happy they were to see her alive and well, how much she had grown, how they had worried about her.

“Stop! Please, stop!” she cried. Though she had always had difficulty remembering her childhood, she had no suspicion of having ever been royalty.

“Where have you been, Your Highness?” one sage asked. “Were you abducted? By whom?”

“No, I...”

“Were you in hiding from your father’s assassin?”

“No.”

“Did you run away?”

“Stop! No, I am not who you think I am! I come from Rishti Village. My father is a cattle farmer.”

The sages murmured among themselves. “That settles it,” one concluded. “Loss of memory.”

“Maybe even hypnosis,” suggested another.

Sedha looked at her with a furrowed brow. “Do you not know yourself? Do you not know me?”

She was afraid to answer at first, but something in his eyes calmed her. “I know I am a farmer’s daughter, and that you are the Padishah.”

He shook his head. “When you were born, your parents and my parents agreed that we
would marry once we became of age. You were Princess Nadi then. And whatever you have been these past ten years, you are Princess Nadi once again.”

Kumari’s eyes passed from one person to the next until she sank onto her round bed.
“But it cannot be,” she whispered. “How can that be? How—when I cannot remember anything of it at all, when nothing looks familiar?”

His voice calm, Sedha offered his hand to her again. “Come with me. Do not be afraid.”

Hesitantly, she accepted his hand and let him lead her out of the room. A few doors away, the hallway opened up into a larger hall where generations of family portraits were carved into a large fresco. The family line was traced through a forest with leaping tigers separating one generation from another. At the very end was a portrait of Emperor Anil, Empress Consort Pagni, and the Princess. Although the Princess was a child, Kumari had the chilling feeling that she was looking into a mirror. And, sure enough, the Princess had the same mole above her right eyebrow.

Above all, looking at the late emperor’s face, she felt a twinge of recognition.

Empress Regnant


Kumari and Sedha were married that night. In spite of how everything still felt awkward to her, seeing that portrait convinced her that it was the life she was meant to have. Sedha behaved nothing like Fadir described: he was caring, attentive, and charming. And every time she was near him, she felt a rush of feeling that could not be denied.

For many days, she would go to the portrait fresco after the midday meal, sit across from the portrait of her family, and stare for hours into the eyes of her father, waiting for her past to catch up with her. And though no recollections surfaced, it gave her time to think. On the seventh day, she had an epiphany.

Of course, she thought. I was kidnapped by Fadir; it makes absolute sense. For years, they always acted so strangely, as if they were hiding some secret. And they always spoke so badly of the Padishah, the one person alive who could identify me!

Although it fit with her theory, she refused to believe that Fadir or Lasani could have assassinated Emperor Anil. At dinner that night, when Sedha asked his usual question about her progress in recovering her memories, she answered her usual reply, “Nothing yet,” for fear that mentioning her foster parents’ names would lead to them being punished.

* * *


A week after their marriage, Kumari and Sedha had to endure the formality of a crowning ceremony. Since they were married, they were eligible for their full titles: Emperor Sedha and Empress Consort Nadi. In celebration of the Princess’s return, their marriage, and their crowning, the sages arranged for them to throw a large party, inviting all the nobility of Rudjosai to attend.

The party was hosted in the imperial gardens at night, among the orange trees, the plumeria blooms, and the crystal teal fountains. Sedha took her by the arm and introduced her to every guest, each exclaiming how good it was to see her again.

But no matter how much they seemed to know her, not one of them had a place in her memory. She separated from the party at her first opportunity, ran into another part of the garden, laid on a stone bench, and found Ibis Flight in the night sky.

She felt, just for a moment, that she was Kumari, a cattle farmer’s daughter, lying in the hay loft.

“I am sorry if you have been overwhelmed.”

Sitting up, she saw Sedha walking toward her, his soles like chimes singing against the stone pathway. He sat on the opposite end of the bench, allowing some distance between them.

“I have been anxious for you to remember everything, but perhaps I have been pushing you too hard,” he continued.

She nodded. “It is a lot to take in, but...I have been anxious, too. I thought of praying to the gods for help, but...” She chuckled slightly. “This palace is so large, that I have yet to find the shrine.”

For a moment, silence fell between them. They listened to the dull roar of the party guests and the faint musical hum of the drums and the stringed veena. In the midst of it, she dared to move closer to him and lean her head on his shoulder. He wrapped his arm around her. A tear fell down her cheek.

“I still cannot remember you,” she said. “Yet I do remember loving you.”

* * *


Two days after the party, Kumari assumed her usual position in front of her family portrait. She was slowly beginning to remember her father--the way he smiled, the way he laughed, the way he scolded her--but nothing more. When her eyes became tired, she decided to wander the palace again, to explore undiscovered rooms. There was one room tucked away next to the library with a door displaying the image of a god. Finally, she had found the shrine. She opened the door and walked onto a floor tiled with ivory. The walls were covered with pure white tapestries. Sitting in the middle of the shrine was a stand on which the golden idol was displayed; three times larger than the one at her previous home, and adorned with colorful silk. She knelt down on the silk pillow, kissing the floor in reverence.

“Please forgive me,” she whispered. As soon as she had said it, she wondered why.

Slowly raising her head, she spied a gilded incense stand with an unlit stick, and her heart leapt in alarm at the sight of it. Fighting the inexplicable urge to leave, she breathed deeply to calm herself enough to begin prayer. She focused on the ruby gaze of the idol and opened her mouth to pray, when a flash across the jeweled eyes suddenly struck her, and she became engulfed in a memory.

“I cannot do it,” Princess Nadi said. She clutched a gilded incense stand in which Sedha had lodged an incense stick.

“He threatened to break the betrothal,” Sedha said. “If you do not do this, then we have no chance of happiness. The apothecary promised me that it will be entirely painless.”

Trembling and holding back tears, Nadi walked down the hall to the shrine and switched its incense with hers.

She sat up in her room, watching the sun from her window to determine the time. Mere minutes passed until she burst out of her bedchamber and ran down the stairs to the shrine. Opening the door, she found her father lying lifeless on the floor in a cloud of incense smoke. She cried out in anguish, collapsing to the floor in tears.


* * *


A number of soldiers immediately dashed through the halls, searching for the source of the loud cry. Turning the corner toward the shrine, they found Kumari on the ground, sobbing uncontrollably. They asked her what was wrong, but she couldn’t speak through the tears. Moments later, Sedha appeared. Seeing her kneeling down just outside the shrine, he immediately knew what was wrong. He helped her to her feet and hurried her away from the soldiers before she could speak. Sitting her down in a private study, he embraced her and spoke soothingly.

“It was for the best, Nadi,” he said. “We had no choice.”

“I killed him,” she gasped. “I remember everything now. After I put the sudaj incense in the shrine, I walked away, but I realized that I just could not allow it to happen. I tried to go back and retrieve the incense, but it was too late.” Nadi wiped her falling tears on her linen-wrapped hands. “I was so scared and ashamed that I just started running. When I got tired of running, I fell asleep. And when I woke, I found myself in a rice field and had forgotten everything. I killed him; I killed my father.”

“But we are together now, just as we wanted.”

“Yes; of course I wanted it. But not that way.”

* * *


Lasani continued her embroidery in silence. Fadir sat in his chair in the corner of the room, rocking uneasily and staring at the fire. Just as his eyes began to burn from the fire's heat, he leapt to his feet.

“It has been too long,” he decided. “I have to go after her.”

“If you try, you will not even make it into the courtyard. I already lost a daughter; I do not want to also lose a husband.”

“I have to at least try! She was taken to Sedha; she could be in danger!”

“What makes you think ill the Padishah?”

“You mean besides the way he abducts our daughters for his own pleasure?” Trying to calm himself, he pulled his chair over near his wife and sat down. “There is something I have never told either of you, because I did not want to frighten you. Well...beyond the things I would already say.”

“About the Padishah?”

“I was herding a number of cattle to the city market. This was ten years ago. The Padisha was shopping with his guards as I was there. I was surprised to see the Padishah doing his own shopping, but did not think much of it at the time. He bought one of the cattle for beef, and ordered that I take it to the palace. And as I waited for someone to receive my knock at the back gate, someone else joined me in waiting.

“‘Delivery for the Padishah?’ I asked.

“‘Yes, in fact,’ he said.

“‘What is your trade?’ I asked. I was only trying to make friendly conversation.

“‘Apothecary,’ he said.

“‘Oh, interesting,’ I said, though I did not actually think it was interesting. ‘What are you delivering, then?’

“‘Incense,’ he said. I thought it was strange that an apothecary would sell incense.

“‘What kind?’ I asked. He did not say anything, just knocked on the door again. I thought he was getting irritated with my small talk, so I stopped.”

“I wish you would stop,” Lasani interrupted. “What does this have to do with anything?”

“As he knocked on the door, something fell out of his sleeve; a packet of incense sticks. And there was an ink emblem on the packet...”

* * *


Since Nadi had recovered her memories and her self, the sages were no longer necessary as a council. They were merely advisors, and so Sedha and Nadi had regained full power. Sedha’s first action as full Emperor was to prepare the army to conquer Ghadhala. But Nadi rebutted him.

“Not only is this unnecessary,” she said, “but our people have no desire to go to war. To force them to do so would cost us their loyalty.”

Sedha shook his head. “I respect your feelings for our people, Nadi. But I think living as a farmer’s daughter for ten years has made you too attached to them. Think of how much stronger we will be when we expand our empire and rule it side-by-side.”
“Why wait for an expansion?” she asked. “Let us start now; ruling side-by-side. And let us start by discussing action besides war.”

“I want to give you the world,” he protested.

“The world is too costly, even for an emperor. Even if we win, we will still lose our people in the fight. If we lose, our entire kingdom will be lost. Be happy with what you have; I am.”

But he still would not back down. After days of debating the subject, Nadi decided to include the problem in her prayers as she made her daily visit to the shrine. Though it took some time to return to the scene of her sin, she was determined to meditate there every day and to pray for forgiveness for what she had done to her father.

While she prayed, she inhaled the soft, sweet scent of sandalwood and frangipani that burned from the incense stick. It smelled different--there was an extra scent that she couldn’t quite place. And the more she thought about it, the dizzier and foggier her mind became. The ruby eyes of the idol flashed, drawing her from the spell.

Now she recognized the smell.

She tried to stand, but her legs gave out beneath her. Falling to her stomach, she tried to crawl across the slick, ivory floor. In one desperate reach, she grasped the door handle and pulled it open. She laid across the threshold and tried to inhale the clean air. Her breath came sharply at first, then slowly began to ease.

Clang. Clang. Clang. Looking up from the ground, she saw Sedha kneeling before her. He lifted her chin, his eyes full of remorse. She reached up and grasped his hand, quirking a half-smile.

“You came back,” she said. “You could not go through with it.”

He kissed her and stroked her hair. “Yes, I came back.” Then he grabbed her by the arm, pulled her to her feet, thrust her back into the shrine, and held the door shut. “I knew you would escape,” he added.

Nadi flung herself at the door, but it wouldn’t budge. “Why are you doing this?”
“For the good of the empire, Nadi. You will not allow it to grow.”

Having no luck with the door, she turned around, tore the incense stick from its mount, and crushed it beneath her sandal. Still, the existing smoke that shrouded the room began to cloud her mind again. She continued talking, trying to stay concious. “That was all you ever wanted from the start; you wanted to kill...my father to assume power, and...you needed me to grant you full power. Now...that you have it, you can be rid...of me.”

“You must understand, Nadi, that I do love you, and always have.”

“But not enough!”

When Sedha opened the door, Nadi was motionless on the floor. He bent down and kissed her forehead, then slipped out of the room, sure that someone would find her by the time he woke the next morning.

* * *


The morning sunlight streamed into the room as the servant drew the curtains open. The sudden light woke Sedha from his uneasy sleep. What he saw upon opening his eyes made him jump: his bed was surrounded by soldiers, all brandishing their scimitars.

“What are you doing?” he demanded.

The assembly parted, and Nadi approached his bed, dressed in a gold sari with golden embroidery. “Arrest him,” she ordered.

“I am your Emperor,” Sedha protested. “She is just a woman.”

“You are charged with the murder of Emperor Anil and attempted murder of the Empress.”

You murdered the emperor!”

You did! It was your doing! And I have the proof of it!”

“What proof?”

A handful of soldiers brought forth an elderly man wearing a plain tunic and apron.

“This man has confessed to selling sudaj incense to you,” Nadi said. “That same incense was in the shrine where the Emperor was found dead and where I was found unconscious.”

Their eyes pierced one another. Finally, Sedha presented his hands to be shackled by the nearest soldier, who immediately took him and the apothecary away. But before he was out of sight, Nadi added, “And this is for the good of the kingdomBall for the best.”

“Is he to be executed?” one of the soldiers asked as Sedha was being taken away.

“He will serve a life sentence, in a dungeon cell,” Nadi replied. “I have no desire to be a murderer.”

The hall cleared as the guards escorted the prisoners along. Nadi was left alone until she beckoned to two people who had been hidden in the room next door; Fadir and Lasani. The three embraced each other with all their collective strength.
“I knew I could trust you,” Nadi said. “I knew the second I returned home.”

“When you walked through the door,” Lasani began, “dressed as you were, I thought I would faint!”

“I hardly recognized you with all that paint on your face,” Fadir added.

“Thank you both so much,” Nadi said. “And thank you for the sari; it was worth the wait.”

“You wear it so well, dove.”

Nadi smiled, feeling truly at home in the palace at last. “I want you both to stay here with me. You took me in and gave me a home, and now, I wish to do the same for you.”

The couple looked around at their grand surroundings with uncertainty. “You are the Empress now,” Lasani said. “We do not fit together anymore.”

“I am still Kumari,” Nadi said. “I was then, I am now, and I will always be. And I would still like to be a part of your family.”

The couple had no reply but to once again embrace their foster daughter.

* * *


Once again, Nadi sat across from her family portrait. She looked on the mother she never knew, the father she had murdered, and her child self she had once forgotten.

A new portrait had been carved on the wall next to her family; it was of a young woman, and no one else: a young woman with the red mark of marriage on her forehead, with her father’s seal ring on her healed hands, with her mother’s bold, beautiful eyes, and with a golden sari. The portrait was captioned by a gold engraving below:

Empress Regnant Nadi


Jacomus


Maia Jacomus is 23 years old, and recently graduated with a BFA in English (Professional Writing emphasis). She enjoys writing poetry, short stories, novellas, novels and plays. Some of her favorite authors are Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Gail Carson Levine, Tamora Pierce, and William Shakespeare. Aside from reading and writing, her hobbies include painting, playing Nintendo and World of Warcraft, and theatre.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

Ideas for my stories come from everywhere, and most of the time, when I’m not looking for them. My inspiration for “Empress Regnant,” for example, came from watching the smoke rise from my incense burner. Sometimes, I also like to listen to instrumental music and conjure a story from the mood and rhythm of the music.

Seekers

Seekers
by John Bucknall

Seekers


Through this forest of dreams bathed in leaf -dappled light,
we seek the Dreamweaver for his help with our plight.
We follow the herald, proud stag of pure white,
and pray that we find the Dreamweaver tonight.

Dreamweaver, Dreamweaver, weave starlight for us
into bright dreams of silver, wrought out of love.

Since the flame of the Guardian has diminished in power
our dreams too have darkened, doom laden and sour.
May the stag guide us true to your magical tower,
and your light melt the shadows from our darkening hour.

Dreamweaver, Dreamweaver, shield our troubled minds
from his arrows of fear and his darkness that binds.
Before nightmares stampede through the gates of our minds,
weave your spell of protection ‘til your tower we find.

Hold back the dark one and grant us the time
to come to that haven where beacons still shine.
Dreamweaver, Dreamweaver, we at last see your light;
until dawn’s new awakening, please guard us this night.

* * *


John Bucknall is a 54 year old civil servant working in the historical and sometimes hysterical city of Coventry. He's very married with two daughters who are meant to be grown up. He says he should have named his youngest daughter "Boomerang" because no matter how many times he throws her out she keeps coming back and emptying his fridge.

John maintains he has the mental age of a twenty-year-old but unfortunately his body is closer to a seventy-year-old’s, mainly because he still behaves like a twenty-year-old when his wife lets him get away with it.

A confirmed Terry Pratchett fan, John is a mine of useless Discworld trivia and if he ever gets onto "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" would like the million pound question to be something like "What's the name of Death’s horse?" Obviously all the preceding questions would need to be on the Discworld as well.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

My inspiration comes from writing. Faced with a blank page, I start to write. I never know where the journey will take me. Stephen King said it best; "The only way to write is to write and hope you fall through the hole in the page."

The Chintzy Carpet

The Chintzy Carpet
by Michael A. Kechula

Chintzy Carpet


One evening in the year 1938, as Winston was stuffing a dead German spy into a Lisbon back alley garbage can, a Portuguese barmaid stepped outside for fresh air. She screamed and ran back into the bar before he could shoot her with his silenced pistol. After hearing his report, the British station chief ordered Winston to disappear in the Casbah of Tangiers until things cooled down

Winston hurried to the Lisbon Aerodrome to catch the night flight to Tangiers. While waiting for the eight-passenger, Ford Tri-motor airplane to depart, he decided to pass the time in the small, terminal cafe. The moment he entered, he scanned the room to see if any of the several dozen patrons were German agents. None of the faces matched any he’d memorized from dossier photos.

After downing two scotches, Winston was approached by an Arab wearing a business suit.

“Begging your pardon, Sir. You are English, no?”

“Yes, I’m English,” Winston sniffed, while checked to see if anyone was looking his way.

“Permit me to introduce myself. I am Abu Yacob Ben Wadi, recently of Cairo. Now, sadly, a resident of Lisbon.”

“Harry Ingram, London Times.”

Appearing nervous, the Arab wiped perspiration from his forehead with a grimy handkerchief. “If I may get directly to the point. Due to a slight misunderstanding, the police have confiscated my passport. Thus, I cannot leave Lisbon. But, I must get something to my son in Tangiers. You are going there, no?”

“Possibly.”

“If so, perhaps you will deliver a parcel to my son. I am willing to give you this magnificent, two-carat ruby ring for your kind assistance. See how it catches the light?”

“A ruby to deliver a parcel? No thanks. I’m not interested in carrying contraband across any border. Not for a ruby ring, or all the gold in the Bank of England.”

“You misunderstand, Sir,” Ben Wadi said, wiping his forehead again. “Not contraband. A family heirloom. A small carpet.”

“The post office offers reliable service. Certainly, they’d welcome your business, and charge far less than the price of a ruby ring.”

“I do not trust the mail. This is worth far more than you can imagine. Let me show you.” The Arab opened a case and removed a thin, chintzy carpet the size of a bath towel.

Winston had seen similar junk in bazaars all across North Africa. Why was delivering something so cheap and common worth a ruby ring? But those were strange times. Jews were giving fortunes for train rides to flee Nazi-held territories. And now Arabs were giving rubies for carpet deliveries.

“I will not withhold the truth,” Ben Wadi said. This is a very unusual carpet. If one says, ‘rise carpet,’ it obeys. When one climbs onto the carpet and says ‘go carpet,’ he is taken anywhere in the world, in seconds.”

“Perhaps you should use it to leave Lisbon and visit your son.”

“I cannot. One is allowed to ride only thrice in a lifetime. Alas, I’ve used all three. But my son can use it for transport to South America. War is near. Europe, Asia, and Africa will not be safe. But the great ocean will keep South America safe. There, he will prosper. Here he will die. Please sir, take this carpet to him. Allah will bless you.”

“How do you know I won’t steal your carpet?”

“Allah would frown on such a monstrous sin, and send a thousand djinn to punish you severely.”

This man’s a loon. On the other hand, if I agree to deliver his crummy carpet, I’ll be the new owner of that expensive-looking ring.

Winston asked for the son’s address, took the ring and carpet, and boarded the plane.

The next morning, he put the carpet in a satchel and caught a cab. When he arrived at the blighted apartment building near the waterfront, he found the young Arab’s quarters empty. Neighbors said he’d moved a week ago. Nobody knew where. Winston shrugged and headed back to his seedy hotel room in the heart of the Casbah.

That evening, while puffing an after dinner cigar in a shabby café, Winston felt eyes penetrating his back.

Turning, he saw an androgynous face of indeterminate nationality sitting with three thuggish-looking brutes.

“Mister Ingram. Are you enjoying Tangiers?” a voice purred in an accent he couldn’t place.

“I don't believe I’ve had the pleasure—”

“Do not play games. I know what you have. I want it.”

Winston chuckled. “You’ve mistaken me for someone else, Miss, uh, Sir. My name is Archibald Palmer. I have nothing of value, except my collection of African locusts, which is not for sale.”

When the scowling goons reached inside their jacket pockets. Winston raced for the door. Jumping into a taxi, he headed for the Casbah. Certain they were following him, he switched cabs three times and gave drivers large tips for driving at breakneck speed through Tangiers’ narrow streets. When he was certain his evasive tactics had worked, he returned to his hotel.

After a hot shower, he listened to BBC news on a battered radio. Prime Minister Chamberlain had just returned from Berlin. “Peace in our time,” he told applauding masses after signing a peace treaty with Hitler.

Winston scoffed. He’d read highly secret intelligence reports about Hitler’s global ambitions. He’d also read Winston Churchill’s speeches in the London Times, that warned against British complacency and appeasement policies. He agreed with Churchill that another European war was looming. He figured once it began, there'd be no safe haven for anyone in Europe, or Africa—especially intelligence agents. He knew that once war was declared, his life expectancy would be reduced to zero.

I’m getting too old for this, he murmured. The last war was horrible enough. If our intelligence is correct, Hitler’s planning a war that’ll make the last one seem like a bloody Boy Scout picnic.

He found himself wishing he were on the other side of the world on one of Tahiti’s majestic beaches. Gentle Pacific breezes. Lovely Polynesian maidens. Peace and quiet. No Germans. No war. No espionage—ever again.

Someone knocked softly. “Mr. Ingram,” said the voice from the café, “we have a business proposition.”

Dammit! How the hell did they find me?

Grabbing a pistol, he pressed against a wall near the door. “I told you my locust collection is not for sale.”

“Locusts do not interest us. We want the carpet. Just open the door slightly, pass it through, and you won’t be harmed.”

“What bloody carpet?”

“The one the Arab gave you. Before we killed him. The carpet that flies.”

Who are they trying to kid? Something must be sewn inside that thing. Maybe it’s filled with diamonds. Maybe Ben Wadi’s a jewel thief, or deals in stolen gems. Why else would they threaten me over a chintzy carpet? “How much are you willing to pay?”

“We’re not buying. We wish to trade. In trade for the carpet, we’ll spare your life.”

He wondered about the odds of a shoot-out. Even if he survived, he risked arrest, interrogation, identification. All hell would break loose among the twenty nations who jointly administered Tangiers, if they discovered his true occupation. They’d probably label him a dangerous provocateur, and charge him with instigating a destabilizing, international incident. If they didn’t hang him, he’d rot in a stinking North African prison.

“I don’t have the carpet,” he called.

When they began to pick the lock, Winston felt panic rising. There was no way out, except through the window. But lack of a fire escape meant a four storey fall.
He figured he only had seconds left before they’d charge into his room. His mind raced. Then he remembered what the Arab said in the café about the carpet’s magical properties. Desperate, Winston threw the carpet on the floor and shouted, “Get me the hell out of here!”

Nothing happened.

Dammit. What are the right words? He visualized the scene with the Arab and remembered Ben Wadi had used the words, “Rise carpet.”

The moment Winston said those words, the carpet levitated a few feet. Amazed, he grabbed his valise, climbed aboard, and yelled, “Go carpet!”

Instantly, Winston was hurled through the windowpane.

Seconds later, the door burst open.

While goons searched the hotel room, an Englishman rolled up a carpet and tucked it under his arm. Whistling “Rule Britannia,” he strolled among coconut palms along a peaceful, moonlit beach.

* * *


Michael A. Kechula is a retired technical writer. His flash and micro-fiction tales have won first prize in six contests and honorable mention in three others. His stories have appeared in ninety-four online and print magazines and anthologies in Australia, Canada, England, and US. He’s authored a book of flash and micro-fiction stories: “A Full Deck of Zombies--61 Speculative Fiction Tales.” eBook available at www.BooksForABuck.com and www.fictionwise.com Paperback available at www.amazon.com

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

I've been writing fiction only six years. Prior to that, I made my living as a professional writer of self-study textbooks and task-oriented instructional manuals for industry. By switching to fiction, I've found new outlets for my unquenchable urge to write. Frankly what inspires me to keep on going is the fact that I've been able to get an average of 1.7 stories accepted per week for thirty-seven months straight. During that time, my work has been accepted by ninety-four print and online magazines and anthologies in England, Canada, Australia, and US. With that kind of success and continuous reinforcement, the impetus to write even more is quite powerful. If my fortunes were suddenly reversed, and my work was constantly rejected, I'd write anyway. Perhaps it's a compulsion. But it's the o ne of the most rewarding compulsions anybody could hope for.

"A Time To...Volume 2: The Best of the Lorelei Signal 2007"

“A Time To… Volume 2: The Best of the Lorelei Signal 2007,” edited by Carol Hightshoe
Reviewed by M. Arkenberg

Now in its second year, The Lorelei Signal is a quarterly webzine dedicated to featuring strong female characters in works of Fantasy. Editor Carol Hightshoe, whose 2006 anthology A Time To…Volume 1has been named as a finalist for the 2008 EPPIE award for fantasy and nominated for the celebrated Tiptree award, now brings together the best short stories and poems of The Lorelei Signal’s 2007 edition in A Time To…Volume 2.

A Time To...2


Opening the anthology is Samantha Henderson’s “Cinderella’s Funeral,” an elegantly executed poem with a surprise ending. After the early death of her Prince, Cinderella goes from a fur-slippered princess to a warrior queen. Henderson presents potent imagery and wastes no words in doing so; this poem makes a powerful statement with its unique take on the fairy tale and is the perfect opening for a strong and varied collection.

Next from the January issue is “Ellette’s New World,” a coming-of-age story by Gene Stewart. After her mistress is killed in battle, Ellette must find her own way in a world that seems determined to hold her back. Dedicated to the memory of Marion Zimmer Bradley, this story would not feel out of place in one of MZB’s popular Sword and Sorceress collections. Ellette is beautifully characterized, an intelligent, resourceful woman the reader can sympathize with. If this story has any fault, it is in the occasional awkwardness of the prose—“a small nod bobbed her head once”—but overall, Stewart’s work is original and attention-grabbing.

Justin Staunchfield gives us “Portrait of the Artist in Manganese and Copper Oxide,” a wonderful combination of what-if’s and observations. On an expedition to Terran Analog 17, Teri Rozan has an encounter that will change her views on art and life forever. Though more science fiction than fantasy, this story is well-written with engaging characters and many surprises. With his excellent dialog and realistic details, Staunchfield brings Teri’s world—and her journey of personal discovery—to life. This story is truly magnificent, and one I will enjoy rereading.

The best of the January issue closes with “The Witch’s Revenge,” by Barbara Davies. This story provides a superbly witty and readable sequel to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Tinder Box,” following the unfortunate witch Trudel (who lost her head in Andersen’s original tale) as she goes on a journey to reclaim her grandmother’s tinder box. Trudel is an original character readers will enjoy getting to know, and Davies provides her with an ending that I will only say is far more satisfactory than the original.

“Harleys in Driftwood,” by C.A. Casey, opens the best of the April issue. When the quiet artist Tara decides to display her unique driftwood sculptures to the public, her work has a startling affect on its viewers. Though not as strongly speculative as the other works in the anthology, Casey’s story is original and entertaining. The artist Tara will remind readers of many an eccentric friend, and I can guarantee you will never look at driftwood the same way again.

Next is the beautiful “Her Sheltering Wings,” by Elizabeth Barrette, a common name on the Lorelei Signal’s table of contents. Barrette’s work balances powerful imagery with a poignant exchange between lovers; it is at once inspirational and heartbreaking, and one of my personal favorites from the anthology.

Linda Epstein’s “Kaserie’s Choice” begins with the age-old formula of a female dressing as a male to escape confinement (in this case, slavery), but by the end of the story, no one would mistake it for a conventional fantasy. Epstein’s careful world-building comes through in a multitude of details, and Kaserie’s moral dilemma at the end is finely presented. The story might benefit from a few paragraphs being cut from the beginning, but from the moment the Seeker is introduced, the revelations and surprises are perfectly paced. I hope to see more of Kaserie and her world in future issues of the Lorelei Signal.

“Retirement” from Lindsey Duncan takes a unique approach to fantasy warriors in the form of Taris, a sixty-two year old knight looking to spend her retirement raising horses in her childhood village. But will she spend it alone? Duncan’s smooth, original descriptions give this flash fiction a strong sense of place, and the unexpected ending is well presented.

Closing off the April issue is B. A. Barnet’s chilling “Second Moon.” Governor Falev has murdered his brother and taken his beautiful wife, Aritei, for his own; but the spell that keeps Aritei’s will subdued has also affected her mind. This story combines human, believable characters with strong pacing and powerful irony. Aritei’s character is the perfect blend of beauty, innocence and mystery, and readers will cheer her triumph with the intoxicating feeling that justice has been served.

Marva Dasef opens the best of the July issue with “A Visit to Potter’s Field,” the humorous story of Griselda, a not-so-recently deceased gypsy doomed to answer a question for whoever digs her out of her grave. Dasef’s wit and Griselda’s long-suffering tone provide a sense of light-heartedness between two of the darker pieces in the anthology; this is a story you can’t help but want to share with a friend.

Megan Arkenberg’s “Leanansidhe” (pronounced “lan-awn-shee”) poses the question, how far would you go for inspiration? This lengthy, tightly structured poem follows the speaker on a quest for Leanansidhe, the fairy muse of the Isle of Man, who demands a high price for her service. Arkenberg provides an interesting and original approach to the myth, though the poem’s 126 lines may be daunting to some readers.

Next comes “Mentor for Hire” from Gloria Oliver. When the alchemist Rees puts out an advertisement for her mentoring services, a babysitting job for the hyperactive Justinian Alfredo Sebastian Rockspear IV is not at all what she had in mind. Oliver combines strong characterization and witty description in a story that is both funny and heartwarming.

Elizabeth Barrette returns to close off the June issue with “Ngati and the Listeners,” the story of Ngati, Goddess of Little Voices, and the mischief she spreads among mortals. Whimsical and entertaining, this story encourages rereading, as well as a new excuse to add to the book; “Ngati made me do it!”

“Broken Vows” by J.C. Lee tells the story of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and the choices she must make between her promises to her husband, Theseus, and her kingdom, Lemnos. While drawing many of her characters and settings from Greek mythology, Lee provides them with personalities and motivations that modern readers will recognize from personal experiences. Hippolyta’s dilemma is well-present, and the story kept me guessing until the very end.

J. J. Fellows’s “Tempting the Fates” goes where few fantasy stories have gone before; into the weaving room of the Fates themselves, with Lilith and a bottle of wine. While the battle over the “traditional” role of women is frequently waged, the results in this tale were a very pleasant surprise. Fellows moves smoothly between the philosophical musings and Lilith’s ironic solution.

Next, Marva Dasef brings us “The Delegate,” a thought-provoking tale of a different kind of prejudice. While serving as a delegate at the World Congress, Nioba Kune encounters an android who will change her views on his kind and his world. While the terminology makes this story occasionally hard to follow, the wonderful conclusion is well worth the effort.

The final short story in the collection comes from Kapri Sanders. “The Unholy” follows a fast-paced debate between Olin and Endellion, a literary pair the reader is sure to quickly recognize. Sanders’s approach is both witty and original; the author made a wise choice in keeping the story brief and to-the-point.

The anthology closes with Jessica Wick’s lyric “Virgin and the Unicorn,” a new approach to the timeless myth. Wick’s imagery and powerful use of repetition make this a poem well worth rereading.

Overall, I was most impressed by the variety and consistent quality of the works in this anthology. A Time To…Volume 2 is scheduled for release on March 15 and will be available to purchase through WolfSinger Publications at lulu.com. The Editor’s other e-zine, Sorcerous Signals, will be releasing a “best of” anthology called Arcane Whispers in May.

For more amazing stories and poems, see
The Lorelei Signal’s current issue.

Arkenberg


Megan Arkenberg is a writer and poet from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her work has appeared in many webzines and anthologies, including The Lorelei Signal, Rose & Thorn, A Fly in Amber, and numerous haiku and tanka publications. Her story “Panthanatos” was included in Hadley Rille Books’ Ruins Metropolis anthology earlier this year. When not writing, she divides her time between music, painting and editing Mirror Dance.

What do you think attracts people to the fantasy genre?

I think writers and artists are attracted to the idea that nothing is out of bounds; no setting is too strange, no character too eccentric. We thrive off problem-solving as we find new ways for our characters to interact with their world and with each other.

Readers are attracted by humanity; they want to see interactions between real, human (in a broad sense) characters. Fantasy isn’t about escapism. It’s about discovering the fundamental pieces that make us human across all possible cultures and all possible worlds.