The Faun

22 August, 2011 at 13:25 (Castle Moon, Long) (, , , , , , , , , )

There’s a monster in Castle Moon and it is a very dangerous sort of monster for it wears pretty rose-tinted spectacles and carries itself as if it were a real person. But it took the little scruffy cat, Ninja, a very long time to find it for Castle Moon is full of winding levels and far too many staircases for one city.

In fact, it took Ninja quite a long time at first to come out of her bedroom. She had rented one with the new friends that she had made, the vixen Bysshe, the lion Spod and the wolf Bem. Their house in the part of the city known as The Bower (for it sort of overhung much of the main shopping area, being a good two or three storeys higher than much of the town) was decorated with small cuckoo clocks and daffodils and was very, very pretty.
The reason that it took Ninja a long time to come out of her bedroom was not, as might first be supposed, to do with her innate shyness. For, although she was a scruffy little black and white cat she was not over-imbued with shyness, actually because she was a hereditary Moggy, she was possibly over-imbued with boldness. In fact it was because of that boldness that she did not emerge from her room for some days.

Ninja’s room in the house (she later was to discover from Bysshe that is was The House of Ulster) had for some time been the spare room. Thus it had a bunk bed, the bottom of which was only slats and no mattress, a desk, a window, and covering the window, and overly large wardrobe. Now she had soon discovered that she could use the wardrobe to climb out of the window and sit upon the tiled, sloping roof of the kitchen and look out across the city. But the morning of her first night there she also decided to open the wardrobe.

It may not come as any surprise to my readers to hear that when she opened the wardrobe and pushed past the mothball smelling old fur coats that Bysshe had warned her she had left in there, she discovered it to be snowing.

Of course the wardrobe door shut behind her, and of course she paid it no never mind, for she was utterly enthralled by the notion that it might snow in a wardrobe. After she had gone a few more steps inside she not only smiled with delight to see the snow covered branches of small green fir trees but had actually laughed out loud when she saw the lamp-post looking for all the world as if some witch had ripped it clean from a London street. It glowed merrily as the snow swirled around it. She stood beneath it for quite some time, awed by the sight. Then she head the crunching of footsteps in the snow and looked around to see a faun, with a woolen scarf wrapped around his neck and a warm winter coat, carrying many little parcels. The faun looked up and saw her, “Oh Light preserve us!” he cried and dropped all of his parcels.

Ninja ran to help him gather them all up.
“Daughter of Bast! Daughter of Bast!” the little faun kept saying.

“No…my Mum’s name was Lotte, Lotte Valerius…”

But the little faun kept saying it so Ninja helped him with his parcels quietly.

“Princess, I insist upon your accompanying me back to my home for tea and biscuits. Good tea mind, none of this generic brand stuff.”

Ninja agreed since she was still so very curious about the world. And that was the beginning of why she didn’t come out of her room in the House of Ulster for quite some time.


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Castle Moon

15 August, 2011 at 14:00 (Castle Moon, Long) (, , , , , , , , )

A greater man than I once wrote that he hated to read explanations in stories but that when he came to write them he immeadiately found that they were necessary. I suppose that I fall into the same trap when it comes to descriptions. I have written of the fact that the small, scruffy cat called Ninja came to the town of Castle Moon and that she found a room to rent there, but I have written nothing of what she looked like or indeed what Castle Moon looked like or given you any context within which to digest such information.

Ninja was a cat smaller than average with back and white fur which stuck up in a fluffy patch around both of her ears. She had a broad face which suggested that there may have been Persian in her anscestry (though a long way back) and whiskers that were very neat. She was a hardy sort, the walk from the Green County to Castle Moon is a long one and crosses the Nine Hills. But that walk is another story altogether and I must tell you of the town of Castle Moon itself.

Castle Moon is situated on the west coast a little way from the sea, the Moon river which flows through Castle Moon heads all the way to Moreinn on the coast. The salt planes that land there can be seen flying over Castle Moon almost everyday of the week. It is a walled town built across many levels and it is a magical one so there are no complete guarantees that the way I describe it to you is the way that it is when you read these words. In fact there are few guarantees that the town will look the same when you wake up in the morning as it did when you went to sleep.

There are five main gates into the wall, the one to the south is made of oak as it is the largest and it is decorated by oak galls rubbed all over with gold leaf. It is the one through which Ninja entered Castle Moon and saw to her right the great bulk of the university towering over her. To the south of the town is the Castle and to the north is the seat of much of the magic therein, the Park (the same one which is reserved for wizards only) with it’s palm trees and the fronds of giant ferns. Through the town also makes it’s way the Moon River, it cuts through the north and east and runs by the Castle like half of a moat. It does not change position though the buildings and bridges rearrange themselves over it. The canal is not so accomodating and likes to move through the mist at night. The aqueduct which I mentioned before is slightly outside of the town walls and it is here that sometimes the salt planes land to refill their water tanks before heading off to David’s Town or Lud’s Hill or wherever their load is wanted.

Ninja’s room is rented in a house on the third level – for the winding alleys and roads which double back on themselves go up and down which nearly no regard for gravity – the level is part way up one of the hills and is known as The Bower, probably because the inhabitants have the custom of bestrooning their houses and flats with the flowers from the outskirts of the park. It makes for a very cheerful part of town, full of gaiety and without so much of a need for heroes, which I suppose is a bit of a shame for Ninja.

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Proving Ground

13 August, 2011 at 18:31 (Lace and Steel, Short) (, , , , , , , , , )

Racing across the Steppes, my soul caught in the moment of speed beneath the stars that is forever. It is cold out on the Steppes. It is cold and wild and where my soul was formed.

My name is Batu and I am a long way from the Steppes and my people. I had reached the age of Tolui, I had reached the age of proving. When Burilgi and Temur said that they would prove themselves greater than any since Temüjin united the tribes I wanted to go with them. Arigh said he would come as well but that was only when he discovered that Burilgi and Uma, the shaman had hatched the plan together.

The wind out on the Steppes, blows loud and long. Those who are not familiar with it find it noisy and worrisome, to me it is the song of home and of racing beneath the sky so fast and so long that you can taste it as the wind whips across your mouth.

We came together, Burilgi, Temur, Arigh and I, following the words of Uma. She had had a vision on the night that she and Burilgi spent together, she saw the icon being raised from the sea to the west, above the sacred heart of the Umay-khukh. She told us where it was and how it called to her and Burilgi vowed that at his proving he would bring back this icon from the civilised western mountains.

The wind is the song of the Horses who have gone before, they dance out of sight of all save the shamans and Tanri the sky-god. The wind carries the news of blue Umay to us, and the scent of her salt as she welcomes the loyal into her heart. The song of the Horses carries Erli and his honour to us in the sound of battle and death and we race towards it, hooves pounding across the Steppe.

We plunged into the civilised countries, fuelled by passion for the icon of Umay-khukh, we cut down all who stood in our way and our passage was a sea of bood. We were proving, we were as all Tolui in our passion and strength. All fell away from us and deeper still we penetrated until we stood before the forests that had not seen our kind since the Horde took them four hundred years before.

Erli is the God of death and to him the shaman sing. If you are lucky then one day you may mount a shaman beneath the sky; she may sing beneath you and you will see Erli as you and she reach mortal heights beneath a naked sky. I see him now and the wind-horses of my ancestors sing to me.

We reached the darkened forests of Ruritania, a country of the shamed Horses who announce their shame to the world in their name for themselves. They who call themselves Half-Horses and who live side-by-side with the two-legged filth that we can cut down as easily as breathing. In those darkened forests where we looked up and could not easily see Tanri’s sky, we knew that we were close. Burilgi led us and he sent Arigh ahead to the house, tucked between the trees, beneath the mountains. When Arigh told us the house was empty save for one, sleeping half-horse we shouted aloud our victory in wild shrieks and charged for the house with our weapons. We attacked the civilised windows, we kicked in the wooden doors and we set fires to the polished woods.
The sleeping butler was no match for us, we kicked him to the ground and covered his face with bruises and his chest with blood.
Temur discovered the golden icon in the chapel and held it aloft as we left in the firey dark. It was only later that we realised that this theft was no true victory, we had taken nothing from a nobody. Burilgi seemed angry, this was not the proving we wanted, we had plunged hundreds of miles into the country of our enemies and we had taken Uma’s icon with no resistance whatsoever.

We needed more for our proving.

Tanri’s sky, the sky that lasts from horizon to horizon and presses with eternal light upon the earth, it is not here. Here is a small sky, cut into by toothed mountains. But I can hear the wind-horse’s song and I see Erli as I never did over the back of any shaman. The scent of salt is in my nostrils, it has been growing stronger with every mile we came west, it comes to me that I may be granted a vision of Umay-khukh of whom we are told tales but who the Children of the Steppes never encounter in our distance from her.

We heard the women the next day as they sat upon the grass in the forest, we heard them chatter and laugh and Temur said we should take them. Captives to work off our anger, two-legged women to take back to the tribes, this mitigated some of our resentment to the words of Uma and Burilgi allowed it. But we had strayed from the words of Uma and when we caged the women we discovered that we had dropped the icon of Umay-khukh.

Shall I who have failed her be granted sight of her? Shall the wind-horse bring her to me to scold? To praise? Or shall I see only Erli and beyond him a sky which is far from Tanri’s own?

I was sent from the glade we had made our base, I was sent to find the golden icon. I did not see the men, the two-legs approach. I did not hear Burilgi’s cry as he urged my fellows on, did not see them cut down Arigh. I did not see Temur surrounded and beset upon all sides. I did not see Burilgi finally succumb to the darting swordsman. But I know it happened that way, the wind-Horse sings it so.

Erli stands before me, on the soft civilised grass of this Ruritanian forest. The wind-horse urges me on. I do not see her. I smell the salt but I do not see her.

I walked in the meadow surrounded by forest looking for the icon of Umay-khukh, the Luis power trapped within it awaiting only a shaman to release it. I did not see the hiding two-legs but I turned at the shout of his master and prepared to face him in single combat. He was dishonourable and ran from me. That was when the hiding two-legs hit me from behind, I whirled and sank a blow and his master came back. I cut him, I downed him and the hiding, lurking sneak-thief whirled his blades until I lay in the soft, civilised grasses, staring at the sky through a film of blood. I saw him pick his master up and carry him, running through the forest shouting for his friends.

I hear the wind-horse singing. Erli stands before me and I have failed the shaman Uma and her lover Burilgi. I have lost the Luis, the icon of Umay-khukh. The sky is closed to me and all I smell is salt.
The wind-horse brings her to me, she whose servant I have failed. She is beckoning…I of all the Children of the Steppes I see her and I shall go to her.

My name is Batu and I am a long way from the Steppes which forged my soul. I reached the age of Tolui and Umay-khukh welcomes me into her arms.

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The Valley

11 August, 2011 at 15:24 (Lace and Steel, Short) (, , , , , , , , , )

He peered into the mirror at the suit’s reflection, he still wasn’t completely certain but his mother, visible out of the corner of his eye nodded, pleased. He looked down at the tailor, a small fellow, even for a pixie. The pixie seemed to be making some last minute adjustments to the fit of the hose, presumably accomodating for his hooves which didn’t seem to help the fuss of the fashion. He wondered if the pixie too felt the sense of ridiculousness and then concluded that he probably did not, his wings were tucked neatly into a roomy linen shirt showing at least a nod towards the fashion of the commoners.

He returned his gaze to the mirror, his own outfit was more than a nod. His mother had insisted that he be ‘up to the minute’ for his first presentation at court. This at least included a comfortable linen shirt but then the tailor his mother had appointed had been stopped short by the notion leg garments for a half-horse. His mother had written to her cousin and then shown the tailor some of the sketches and read out some of the descriptions of precisely what was being worn in Paris and Strelsau. The result were the modified stockings and hose that the tailor was fiddling with now.

The stockings had no feet and were tied to the ankle above the hoof with ribbon they extended above the knee where they were again attached by ribbon. The hose…he shut his eyes and refused to look at this part of his reflection…it looked more like an apron intended for wear by his sister. Brightly patterned with the greens and golds reflected in his doublet’s slashed sleeves, it billowed out around his upper legs and was tied at the waist over his shirt and below the doublet. It was of course open at the back where the rest of his body remained it’s unclothed chestnut coated self. He wished his father was still alive and would come in, wearing his favourite leather jerkin, and kick out the tailor and tell him that no son of his had to undergo this ritual humiliation. But his father was dead and his mother looked proud enough to burst at the sight of her son in all the needless fripperies of court.

“Of course you shall have his hair in curls?” asked the tailor of his mother.

“Oh yes.” she said and he winced at having his hair in rags the night before, so tight as to make sleep impossible.

“Can’t I have a hat?” he asked, thinking of the felt creations with the feathers that he had seen some of the french musketeer’s wearing.

“You’re too young for a hat.” said his mother sharply.

But not too young to have a sense of shame, he thought looking at his unhappy reflection.

“Is madam happy with the final fit?” asked the tailor.

His mother looked at him, had him turn around in front of the mirror, expressed some last concern over a part of the belt and then pronounced him finished.

It was with some relief that he shed the uncomfortable garments, pulled on a soft jerkin for what would be the final time and ran out of the house. His hooves clattered over the fashionable sandstone and at last began to sink slightly into the lush green of the estate beyond. He charged headlong up the valley until he leapt the stone wall marking the boundary of his family’s land and raced up the wild mountainside, breathless. Coming to the summit he paused and looked about him, the forested mountains, the farmed valley, the wild rocky mountains to the east and the warm civilised Ruritanian hills to the west. This would be the last he would see of them for some time. He breathed in the air that was his own, opening his lungs as much as he could, holding it in until he could do so no longer. There he remained, on the mountain at the end of the valley until the sun’s rays turned from bright daylight into the orange-pink of twilight.

He breathed his silent goodbye to the land of his childhood and turning to head back down the mountain wished he could put off the spectre of his adulthood just a little while longer.

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The Monster

8 August, 2011 at 13:55 (Castle Moon, Long) (, , , , , , , )

Once upon a time there was a monster, it wasn’t the sort of monster that lived in the dark and it wasn’t the sort of monster that hid in caverns. It was the sort of monster that like to hide in plain sight, in view of everyone. It lived in a small town on a river called Castle Moon and one day a small black and white ninja cat came to Castle Moon to destroy the monster.

It should be pointed out that the small cat did not know she’d come to Castle Moon to destroy the monster, in fact, she did not even know that the monster existed, she came to Castle Moon because she wanted to be a hero. The small cat came from the town of Fish in the Green County, a place far away from Castle Moon. She was called Cat because in the town of Fish there are not very many people so you don’t need particularly complex names. Because she wanted to be a hero, she called herself Ninja and on the way to Castle Moon she had trained for a while at the feet of a Grand Master known as Blue Eyes.

The monster didn’t know that Ninja had come to Castle Moon, the monster went about it’s day pretending to be a normal person and causing trouble for the inhabitants of Castle Moon. Ninja didn’t know about the monster, all she knew was that she had walked a very long way across fields and hills and bridges, she was very tired and wanted nothing more than to find a place to sleep. As she walked through the gates she decided that this was the first thing she would look for. Now, Castle Moon is a very confusing place for a small cat from the Green County with it’s winding alleys and high walls, it’s aqueduct, river and a canal that moves during the night. It’s not very surprising then that Ninja soon became lost and found herself on one of the upper levels of the Castle near to the Magical Park which is reserved for wizards and magicians only.

Being a very small cat, and not really being a hero yet, Ninja wanted nothing more than to sit down and cry. Being brave though, even if she wasn’t a hero quite yet, she didn’t. But she did look very upset, which is why a vixen with kind eyes got up from the cafe table she was sat at to ask if she was alright. When Ninja replied that she was lost the vixen invited her over to her table to meet her friends and have a cup of tea. The vixen turned out to be named Bysshe and her friends were a distracted looking lion by the name of Spod and a wolf called Bem. Over a cup of tea, which turned into several cups, Ninja discovered that she had made friends and also that they had a spare room in the house which they shared.

Bysshe said that if she wanted she could take a look at the room and think about moving in. Ninja decided that she wanted to very much and very happily walked with them to their neat little house tucked into one of the walls of the Castle. Inside she discovered that every inch of the house was painted yellow and decorated with daffodils.
“It’s beautiful,” she declared and agreed to move into the smallest room at the back which had a large wardrobe partially blocking the window.
“The daffodils are something to do with the curse.” said Bem.
“What curse?” asked Ninja.
“There’s a legend about Castle Moon being cursed.” he explained, “But I don’t know what with.”

When he had left her small room she clambered onto the wardrobe and out of the window to sit on the small sloped roof above the kitchen. She decided that if she was going to be a hero then she would have to find out about the curse and try to end it. The little cat nodded to herself very definitely.

Across the city the monster paused it what it was doing. It had no idea about the little cat or the neat little house decorated with daffodils but something in the air, perhaps caused by the firmness of her nod, made it shiver.

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