A Short Time Later…

Well it has been a busy week and a half

Between my dishwasher destroying itself in a way never before seen, according to the nice engineer, a few doctors appointments and maybe getting evicted, maybe not (it’s currently looking like not but I only found that out about an hour ago) it’s been quite an exciting wee while. But all that chaos aside I have manged to get a lot done.

The first, and most exciting, news is that my new novel is finally in a finished enough state that I’ve sent it to a few agents. I’m really excited about this one, I think it’s really good. It’s called All The Little Creatures (working title, I’m bad with names) and is a Young Adult Sci-fi novel. It’s kind of like a mix between Star Wars and Pokemon. If that sounds interesting to you you can read the first chapter here.

Secondly, the Demon Hunter series, where I read the terrible book I wrote when I was 14, is about ready for posting! The trailer is up and the first episode will be posted this Friday, the 25th. You can find out more about it here!

Lastly, you might have noticed that the website has been given a bit of a glow up. I’ve been meaning to do it for a while and this seemed as good a time as any. It should be a little easier to see what projects I’m currently working on and what I’ve done in the past.

So all in all a lot has happened in a short space of time. And there’s more to come so keep watching this space!

Where was I and what was I up to?

Hey guys, it’s been a while.

Last year I challenged myself to write a short fairy tale every month and post it up on my website. I managed it and I think they turned out really well. So the obvious thing was to try that again this year.

I would say I made it to March but it’s more accurate to say that March was the only month I posted in.

Long story short, my sister got married and that sucked up roughly the first half of the year (and was worth it, it was an amazing occasion.) And I moved house and had to get all set up (my last place ended up unlivable and I had to stay with my parents during Lockdown and a bit longer). Which brought me to June, at which point I had to take a look around and make a decision. I was happy with the fairy tales but they didn’t bring in much attention and no money. I could try playing catch up on the short stories this year or I could devote that same energy to trying to get another book published. I picked the latter.

The book is now finished and looking pretty good. I’m going to send it off to some agents on Monday and I’ll also chuck the first chapter up on here. But that’s not all I’ve been working on.

Some of you reading might be aware that I’ve talked about my first novel a bit in the past. Not Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens, which was my first published novel. I mean the first novel I ever wrote. It was terrible, angsty trash called Demon Hunter. I had a great time writing it and cringe whenever I think about it these days.

However I did sink three years of my life into it and it was pretty influential to me. So I thought it might be fun to record me reading it for the first time in years and see what I liked about it and what was just terrible. It’s mostly all recorded and I ended up with ten episodes. I’ve got some editing to do but they should start going up on my YouTube channel towards the end of the month. The current estimate is that the trailer will out on the 21st and the first episode on the 25th. Be sure to check it out, it’s…something. It’s definitely something.

That was going to be all I posted about at this point but Twitter seems to be burning down a bit right now and that’s accelerated some of my plans. I read a lot of books and I do mean a lot. I’m currently at 105 this year and that’s just books I’ve read for the first time. So I’ve decided that I’m going to start posting up book reviews on a new website. I’ve mentioned this before and then it got shuffled back in my priorities list. I was going to approach this next year but, well, aforementioned burning of Twitter means that it might not be the easiest to advertise it in the future. So look for that around about December.

Oh, and I also got diagnosed with ADHD so that’s a thing.

That’s that for now. For the rest of the month I’m going to be finishing up a few things with the novel and the YouTube series, write a new, completely separate novel and get started on the short stories for next year, which I am going to be posting monthly. I’ll update you all when something interesting happens but for the moment keep an eye out for the chapter and the trailer for Demon Hunters. And have a lovely day.

Season’s End

There once was a girl who was born of the storm.

Her name was Cirrus and she was daughter to the King of Storms. But that isn’t important. It was where her story started but it didn’t define it. In truth she remembered little of that time, just rage and pain and fear. The important moment, the first one that she remembered clearly, was when something broke through all the bluster and rage of her father like the sun through the clouds. The first thing that she remembered was a face, peaking in at her through a window in the tower she lived in.

This was the boy who didn’t fear the Storm King. He would come to visit whenever he could sneak away from his parents’ chores and goats. To begin with she tried desperately to ignore him. Her father was always angry when she spoke to the villagers who came to give him offerings and she desperately tried not to make him angry for he would punish her for all her faults, real and imagined. But the boy was persistent.

He began to appear more and more, making funny faces and trying to get her to laugh or talk to him. Though Cirrus kept trying to ignore him she found herself watching for his brown hair or blue eyes at the window, listening for his whistle. Eventually she gave in and they would occasionally play together. Only in her room, for she wasn’t allowed to leave the tower and didn’t want to risk her father finding out that she had made a friend.

She tried to keep him calm and happy, coming when he called and performing any chore he had for her. But some things are inevitable and she could not calm the storm’s anger. He needed to do that himself and he found blaming Cirrus easier.

Then one day she was curled in her bed, tears falling like raindrops from her eyes, her cheeks smarting from her father’s latest remonstrations. She wasn’t aware that the boy had picked that day to visit until he was sitting next to her, an arm awkwardly outstretched in the half-formed promise of a hug he wasn’t sure he should deliver.

“Why are you crying?” he asked.

Without knowing what else to say she told him, “Because my father is angry. And when he’s angry he hits me.”

His face grew dark and Cirrus shrank back from him, scared that she had made him, her one friend, angry and that he would hit her. But his fury was not directed at her.

“Pack your clothes and whatever you don’t want to leave behind. I’m getting you out of here and taking you where he can’t hurt you ever again.”

“But that will just make him more angry!”

The boy smiled at her a crooked, half formed grin. “Then let him be angry at me. I can take it.”

The girl of storms packed mechanically, not believing that escape was possible. The Storm King would track them down and then she’d be in even more trouble. But she didn’t have the energy to fight and so she gathered her things and followed the boy out of the window and to the village below.

First he led her to a blacksmiths but it was closed up and dark. So he took her to a house instead, banging on the door and demanding to be let in. Cirrus followed behind, not paying much attention to her surroundings, still just going through the motions. She listened vaguely until she heard the boy say, “I need you to take her and go far away, where he can never find her again. Please.”

Then the reality of the situation finally began to settle in and she peaked around her friend at the people who would save her.

There were two women standing there. These were the mothers that Cirrus would come to love. One was big and expressive. She wore her bronze hair short and was always ready with a hug and a kind word. She was the mother of metal, called Eos or sometimes Kaolinite. The other was the mother of ice, Uki. Her hair was dark and she wore thick gloves on her hands. She was often withdrawn and quiet but when Cirrus needed her she was there and held her hand so tight. They were both bearers of cursed blades, one a dagger, one a sword, that they didn’t let out of their sight.

They all looked at each other then Uki glanced at Eos for a quick moment.

“We’ll look after her,” said the shorter one as the other nodded.

And like that she had a real family.

The boy went running after that, back to his family and out of her life, though not out of her thoughts. Eos sent a quick glance skating over the building before turning to Uki.

“I need to get some things from the smithy. Can you stay here for a while?”

Uki smiled coldly and showed her the bronze dagger. “He wouldn’t be the first elemental I’ve killed and I’d mourn him a lot less.”

“Take care.” With that Eos left and Uki started rummaging around, finding some rucksacks and filling it with food and other things. Cirrus stayed crouched by the fire, staring into the flickering flames and wondering when this dream would end. She was startled to feel a quick touch on her shoulder, gentle as a snowflake, and turned to see Uki standing there.

“Don’t worry,” was all she said. “You’re safe with us.”

And then the blacksmith return, packed a few more things and they were gone.

Across the plains, over hills and through forests they travelled, Uki stalking ahead, cold eyes searching out the path while Eos helped Cirrus along. They would hide from storm clouds, flinch from investigating breezes. Every night they’d huddle together, sharing Uki’s furs and Eos’ cloak, not willing to risk a fire that might draw attention. Cirrus would stare up at the sky, waiting for the thunder of approaching footsteps or the crack of a slap. But each day they would get up and start moving again, getting further and further away, and she began to hope.

Safety was a hole in the ground, the entrance to a tunnel that Cirrus would never have found on her own. Stepping into it was like being smothered in wool. A connection to the sky and weather that she’d never been aware of was abruptly cut off. She collapsed, gasping, but Mothers Metal and Ice sat with her, comforting her and waiting until she was strong enough to continue.

Then it was through tunnels, along passages lit only by the occasional lantern and otherwise by the glowing blades of the mothers. Through the labyrinth they strode, Eos in the lead this time and Uki holding her hand, until they came to a little green door. Kaolinite dithered in front of it, suddenly nervous, before knocking.

A small man opened the door, squinting up at them. His eyes were green and his hair a muddy brown. He was the same size as Cirrus and Uki and Kaolinite towered over him. “Hi Dad,” Mother Metal said awkwardly. “We needed to go where the storm couldn’t find us. Can we stay here for a while?”

There was a pause and Cirrus was afraid that all the travel would have been for nought. Showing up unexpectedly like this? She knew fathers and knew that a beating was what was expected. She flinched back when the knocker yelled but it was in delight, not anger.

“Of course, of course, come in!” he cried, seizing his daughter and guiding them inside to the fire.

And her family got a little bigger.

Grampa Kernowite dotted on her. She learned that Kaolinite, his daughter, had come to him as a teenager and that he’d never seen a child as young as her before. He would bring her little presents, interesting rocks and a few sweet treats that he found somewhere. She’d play with them in the flickering light of the fire, the sparkles in the rocks combining with the sugar in her mouth while the adults worked on expanding the home for all of them. Soon she had a room all to her own, a place of safety where she could hide away. And at first she did, spending days cowering in the quiet. Her mothers would bring her food and sit with her. Kaolinite would tell jokes while she ate and Uki would just sit in comfortable reassuring silence.

But every so often she would creep into the main room, where Grampa Kernowite would tell her stories, sometimes about the great legends of the knockers and sometimes, lovingly, teasingly, about the embarrassing things Kaolinite had done when she first lived with him. Those were her favourites, Kaolinite would squawk in fake outrage and swat at her father. Cirrus would find herself laughing, bell-like chuckles that filled the room with the smell of fresh spring rain. Slowly, like a plant growing, she began to spend more time outside. Her bedroom was always there when she needed it but she needed it less and less.

They stayed underground for years, growing in the dark and quiet. Cirrus grew taller, both inside and out. She grew confident, able to have a discussion or an argument without flinching, able to look people directly in the eye without feeling like it was a sin.

The first time she lost her temper felt like a failure. She found herself yelling at her family, her eyes flicking, her voice cracking like thunder, her hair stained a dark black. In that moment she saw herself as her father and her rage left her. Fleeing to her room she locked herself away in the dark, surrounded by self-hatred and recrimination.

It was Uki that came to her then, not Kaolinite like she would have expected. The two sat quietly for a while, getting used to each others’ presence and feeling out the situation. Then she embraced the cloud child, holding her close while she flurried with sobs.

“It isn’t wrong feeling emotions,” her mother eventually said to her. “It’s what you do with them. And while you blew and stormed you didn’t lash out. You are nothing like The Storm King.”

It was also Uki that started taking her on trips to the surface, letting her feel the weather, the sky, the wind and her connections to them. At first Cirrus was reluctant, worried that her father would find her, worried that this was another way she could be like him, but Mother Ice refused to listen to her. “The sky is a part of you,” she told her daughter. “Don’t cut yourself off out of fear.”

Cirrus might have complained more but being outside felt so good. It was like part of her soul was stretching out and connecting. So she said nothing and they’d make the journey outside regularly. Slowly she mastered her abilities. Going back underground was a pain but her family waiting for her there made it worth it.

And so, together, they persevered.

Until one day they got a message.

Deep underground they had been protected but above ground a harsh and dark winter had been raging with no ending in sight. Somehow a messenger found out where they were and came seeking Uki. He was wrapped in furs like she was but shed them as soon as he could. He and Mother Ice talked together for a while and then he went away.

That night they all gathered in the livingroom and Uki told them what had been told to her. Years ago a threat had arisen in the north and she had stopped it. Now it had returned, long before it was expected and her village had sought her out

“It’s my responsibility,” she told them. “I have to go.”

Kaolinite got up and embraced her, kissing her. “You don’t have to do this by yourself,” she told the other woman. “We’ll all go.”

And so, together, they prepared, some gathering and organising provisions, Kaolinite working on tools they’d need in her smithy. Grampa Kernowite helped them pack, made sure that they were all well provisioned and gave them big hugs. He and Kaolinite embraced for the longest, for they had been parted before and knew the pain it would bring. But they also had been reunited and knew that they would be again.

“We’ll be back,” Kaolinite promised. And then they left.

The going wasn’t easy. Snow lay thick on the ground and more joined it every day. However Cirrus found that she had some control over the weather and was able to ease their way. Uki was used to walking through snow and instructed them in the best way to do it. Together they made good progress.

But the further they went the more withdrawn Eos became. Her happy words became infrequent and she would spend hours just walking, not communicating with anyone, just staring haunted into the distance.

“We’re close, aren’t we?” Uki asked her one night. Eos grunted non-committedly, so the other woman continued. “We should go and see them. We have time and it would be good for you.”

Mother Metal looked at her wife with fear in her eyes. “But what if they drive me out again?”

“Then we will leave and think of them no longer. But you owe it to yourself to see if they’ve changed.”

Eos didn’t say anything else that night but the next day she took the lead and they headed in a slightly different direction.

By and by they came to a village. To Cirrus it looked identical to the others they’d passed through but Eos looked at it as if it was a dangerous beast, waiting to devour them. But Uki took her hand and she took a deep breath and led them through the scattered buildings to where a blacksmiths’ bordered on a house. She knocked on the door and after a while it opened.

The man looking back at them was clearly the blacksmith. He had the same general physique as Eos, with broad shoulders and thick, muscular arms. Life had carved deep lines into his face, beneath his brown hair and around brown eyes so like Mother Metal. He stared at Eos with shock for a moment, as another woman, his wife, came to see who was at the door.

“Eos,” the blacksmith breathed and then he threw himself at her in a hug. His wife joined them a moment later.

And her family got a little bigger.

They stayed there for a few days, healing and learning about one another anew. The weaver and the blacksmith were full of tearful apologies for how they had behaved, devastated that they had lost their daughter. Eos listened to these words and embraced them afterwards. They didn’t fix the past but it made it easier to face the future.

Sadly the winter waited for no man and, freshly provisioned and with hearts now full of good cheer, they left once again, promising to return.

They travel for almost a week before a flash of light cut through the night in front of them and they found themselves before a curious sight. A lighthouse, in the middle of a forest, the beam of it’s light swinging carefully through the darkness. They climbed the hill to its base together and knocked on the door.

The man who answered the door was a wizard according to Eos but he didn’t look like one to Cirrus. He wore a belt of tools and a leather apron instead of the robes that she would have thought and he had thinning brown hair instead of a glorious white mane and beard. But his eyes were kind when he greeted the travellers, beckoned them inside and made them comfortable.

“How can I help?” he asked while they drank from warm mugs of soup.

“You might not remember,” Eos began. “But many years ago you asked me to make you a heart.”

“Ah, the bronze worker,” the wizard replied. “You did excellent work.”

“Thank you. But now I’m here to ask you a favour. We must get to the far north as quickly as possible, to help stop this winter. Can you help?”

The wizard thought about it for a moment then smiled. “You’re in luck,” he said. “And right on time.”

They spent the rest of the night and the following day resting, enjoying being inside where it was warm and comfortable. Then that night he took them up to the top of the tower, where the beckoning light turned and flashed. They stood there, staring out into the darkness while the snow fell around them, thick white flakes that flashed in the light and then were gone. After a while Cirrus felt something approach through the air, something that felt like no cloud she’d ever encountered, too thick and solid.

It wasn’t a cloud and suddenly a ship was there, balanced impossibly on thin air. Details came sparingly with every flash of the light. One flash showed the sky blue hull, another the green sails, a third the name, The Emerald Queen, and the last the crew, dressed in long, blue coats and running about, getting ready to dock.

“This should get you north,” the wizard told the family.

“No, we can’t,” the captain of the ship said a little later. They were sitting together in the wizard’s bedroom while the rest of the crew were running up and down the stairs outside. “The wind is blowing from the north and we can’t sail against it. In this weather we might not even be able to leave. I’m seriously considering staying here until the winter is past.”

“This winter will never pass,” Uki told him. “Unless we get north.”

“I’m sorry,” the captain replied. “But we can’t get you there.”

The two glared at each other until Cirrus spoke up.

“I can.”

They both turned to look at her, surprised for she was quiet and rarely spoke. She inwardly quailed under their stares but kept talking. “I am the daughter of The Storm King. I can feed the wind into your sails if you will take us there.”

“It seems the easiest way to solve this problem,” the wizard said from where he’d been sitting quietly, watching the discussion. The captain stared at Cirrus with calculating eyes.

“If you can do what you say then we have a deal,” he finally said. “This winter is bad for business and we’ll all be for the better if you can stop it.”

And so they join the crew. The next day they went to board and saw the wizard standing on board talking to a man in a wheelchair and a woman made of metal. The woman considered them as they came on deck, her hair dyed the green of the sails, a sword sheathed at her waist while the hilt of another poked over her shoulder. On her left breast Mother Metal’s maker mark stood out prominently.

“Did you make her?” Cirrus asked her mother but the blacksmith shook her head.

“She made the heart that powers that body,” the wizard said. “Serafina came to me a sword that slotted into what you see before you. The mark appeared on its own over time.”

Serafina glared at Mother Metal in such a way that Mother Ice edged in front of her wife, one hand on the cursed dagger. Then, without a word she turned and stalked off. The man, who was a mechanic called Malcolm apologised. “She’s had a hard time of it and is not fond of her body,” he explained. “Just leave her alone.”

The rest of the packing went fine and the wizard said his goodbyes and left, casting off the ropes that bound The Emerald Queen to the lighthouse. The captain made a tour to ensure everything was shipshape then turned to the Cloud girl. “Shall we be off?”

Cirrus grabbed at the wind and bent it to her will. The prow turned to the north and, with a gust, they were away!

It was slow going. Cirrus could feed the sails but only if she stayed on deck. When she was too tired or cold they had to drop anchor while she went below decks to recover. Her mothers would spend time with her when they could, or the mechanic in the wheelchair would carve her wooden figurines but her most consistent companion was Serafina, the metal woman. She was constantly on deck, keeping watch, helping to furl and reef the sails, practising with her sword. But most of the time she walked the railing, her eyes ever outward.

“What are you looking out for?” Cirrus asked her one time while she was carefully threading wind into the sails.

“Sky pirates,” the sword said to her. She wasn’t sure whether that was a joke or not but spent the rest of the trip sending fearful looks to at the abyss beyond the ships’ railings.

Eventually, slower than they’d have liked but far, far quicker than if they’d walked, they came to the far north and the village that waited for them. The village whose name meant First Warning.

The ship didn’t stay long after they disembarked, let down on bosuns seats to the ground below. Once it was unloaded it turned south and was snatched away by the wind. Cirrus, Eos and Uki turned to see the villagers who came to greet them.

Most of them were welcoming and happy to see them but not the elders. They began lambasting Uki, right there in the ice and snow.

“You shouldn’t have left,” they said.

“I needed to,” she replied.

“We needed you here for when this happened again. We needed our Hero.”

“I would have wasted away here, torn by inner turmoil. There was no place for me here, waiting for something that could never have come.”

“But come it did,” they told her.

“I’m here to set things right,” she finished and would say no more.

That evening the sun set but it didn’t rise the next morning.

They set out into the cold and darkness. Eos had prepared for this, in her forge, and they clutched handwarmers deep in their pockets, strapped snow shoes to their feet and walked across the frozen plains, tied together and heading ever northward. Days past without notice, the dark making them meaningless. At night they huddled together in their tent, the spark of the fire the only light they would see. Every day was just like the last and nothing was different.

Until one day it was.

The glaciers rose before them like a slow wave, cresting the horizon and threatening to bury everything they knew. The ice walls looked eternal and unbreachable but Uki had beaten them before. It hadn’t been without cost but she had grown in ability and experience. And this time she wasn’t alone.

And so Uki made the climb but she did it with bronze climbing spikes that Eos had specially made. Only the tip was her special bronze and would sink in easily before the water froze around it. She did it with a rope around her waist, fastened to each spike she drove in and with her wife and daughter holding the other end. So when she did fall, near the top with the end in sight, her family was there to catch her.

First Eos then Cirrus came after her, carefully tying the rope on and half climbing, half being pulled up. They rested at the top, on the frozen sea where curls of waves lurked under the blanket of snow. Then they set off again, to the castle of ice that appeared in the distance.

“Almost there,” Uki muttered, almost to herself. She said it to be reassuring but it came out like a dark promise.

They crossed the sea, tripped and sliding but not falling, with the mocking call of the wind swirling around them. They reached the castle, a beautiful building made of ice. Uki said there was marble bones supporting it but if there was Cirrus couldn’t see them, just flawless prisms of green, purple and blue. Up the stairs they went and through the doors, following the wind. Uki took the lead, knew the way and they passed the frozen wonders of architecture like they weren’t there. The voice on the wind changed, turning from mocking laughter to tears.

Then they were in the throne room and the source of the winter, of all the hardship was before them.

Not on the throne but beside it, curled in a ball of white fur, hair and sadness. A little girl, sobbing her heart out.

Cirrus stared at the girl and saw herself, who she had once been, lost and alone and scared.

Her mothers’ stepped forward, Metal and Ice, different but the same.

“You have been causing these storms, this winter.” One said. It didn’t matter which, for they were both united in this.

“You have hurt people. You are hurt yourself.”

“But that doesn’t matter. We are here now. We are here for you.”

They both smiled and warm that had nothing to do with the seasons and everything to do with love filled the room. “We will take care of you, our daughter will teach you to control your powers.”

“You are safe. You are loved.”

“You won’t be alone any more.”

Cirrus looked down at the girl who would become her sister.

“Don’t worry,” Cirrus said. “We’re here for you now.”

The girl of ice got up from where she was crying on the floor and embraced the girl of storms. They held each other close, sharing the pain and reassurance. Slowly the women of metal and cold joined them, enfolding them in protection and love.

And their family got a little bigger.

New Year, New Me.

Hello all! Happy 2022!

We’re almost through January and already this year has been excellent. Due to a number of reasons from family health to my flat being laughingly uninhabitable I’ve been living with my parents since March 2020. While this was great in a lot of ways I work best with less distractions, such as Family Meals, Loving Interactions and a very cuddly cat. But I have a new place to live now that I moved into a few weeks ago and it’s almost set up. And let me tell you, this place is amazing and I’m already more focused. I’m really looking forward to getting a lot of work done.

So what have I got coming up this year? Well I’m glad you asked.

Writing!

Last year I managed to put up a fairy tale almost every month and I’m continuing it this year. The final fairy tale in the series, Season’s End, had to delayed but it will be going up on Friday! And next month we’ll be starting a new anthology. Something new. Something….different.

That aside I am an author and it’s been too long since I published a book. That’ll be the next priority, working on a novel, getting it polished and sending it off to places. The first draft is already written but it needs a lot of work. I’m hoping to get it into a good state over the next few months, at which point I will be submitting and doing some other stuff while I wait for a response.

I’m also planning on having monthly group writing sessions on Twitch. The general idea would be that I put up a picture that can inspire people to write a short story. Then we all work on it while chatting away and at the end I will read out my own work and anyone else’s that feel comfortable. I’m imagining it slightly like an episode of Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting. I think it’ll be a lot of fun, though I have to get everything set up first so it’ll probably be starting in March time.

Reviews!

Reviews and word of mouth is really important for all authors and it really helps if you write them. It was for this reason that I used to spend an hour every Sunday writing reviews and posting short summaries of them on Twitter. However for a number of reasons this was quite restrictive and I wasn’t happy with the reviews I was producing. There’s also the problem that I tend to binge read series of books. It finally came to a head last January when I spent an hour writing reviews for Ben Aaronovitch’s fantastic Rivers of London series and composing tweets for each one, trying to make them short but different and informative while also not posting any spoilers. Adding together the main series, some spin off novellas and comics that was twelve books and by the end I was done. I decided that I’d find a different way of doing things and then that plan got lost in the general chaos that was 2021.

But as I said, reviews are important and so I’m going back to them this year. The currently rough plan is having an archive of them as part of my website, where they’ll all be easily searchable by category and there’ll be author profiles, with certain books and/or authors featured each week. That’s going to take some setting up though, between working out how to actually do that and writing reviews for the 284 books currently in my to review backlog. I’m aiming for mid-April/May before that’s up and running.

School visits!

I love doing school visits but, understandably, they’ve fallen off a bit in the last few years. I really want to get back into them though so I’m offering five free school visits to any schools in Scotland, either in person or online, for this semester. If you’re interested in this email me on skaldstavern@gmail.com. Also better move quickly, one of the spots is already taken.

Secret Projects!

Just like all authors and creative people I’ve got a ton of ideas that I’d love to work on in the near future. These include, but are not limited to, entertaining videos essays, other collections of short stories, interesting websites, cooking videos, audio dramas and more. However I really, really don’t like talking about ideas before I start on them for a variety of reasons, mostly in case they never come to fruition. But I’m still going to be working on them in the background. Which means that all the stuff above is just a taste of what I’ve got coming.

So keep an eye on this website. This is going to be an exciting year and I can’t wait to share it with you all.

The Searching Sword

Who am I? Wish I knew. But for the moment I’m going by Serafina.

I started life not as the woman you see before you but as a sword, a consciousness gradually awakening over time. I don’t know how common that is, a sword awakening. We’re not a chatty lot, the only time we talk is when we meet in combat. But then we sing.

I had a wielder back then, a man named Eric. He would talk to me and appreciate me, even when I couldn’t talk back. I grew to love him, his firm hand on my hilt and the sure way he swung me. And once I could communicate with him, he came to love me back.

I think.

Because suddenly he started talking about me having a body. A human one, not my sword self. I thought what we had was personal, two being working on concert but it somehow wasn’t enough for him. He wanted me to give that up, to stop being a sword, to become something else.

I wasn’t sure. I was happy as I was. But I also loved him. If that was what he wanted maybe changing myself wouldn’t be so bad.

I didn’t even understand how it would be possible but Eric was always capable at getting his way. There was a wizard at that time in the west. Eric heard about him and took me to him, asking him to make a body for me. I wasn’t as aware of my surroundings when I was a sword. I could feel anything that touched me and I could talk to my holder but that was it. So when I was suddenly handed to someone else and another voice talked to me it was a shock.

“Are you sure you want me to make you a body, a different form to this one?” The wizard asked me.

And I replied I want my wielder to be happy. This is what he wants.

With those words I sealed my fate.

The work on my body went quickly. Barely a month later I was again in the wizard’s hands, passing over my new vessel. I didn’t really have much of an opinion on it, who was I to judge a body when I’d never had one? One final time he asked me, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

I’m sure, I told him, like a fool. I want to do this.

Then I was inserted and there was pain.

I don’t think humans realise just how much the world is. I had senses now and they were bombarded, all of them. There was smell first of all, a completely alien sensation telling me all about what was around me whether I wanted it to or not. I had a mouth and it was filled with copper. Unfocused light blazed through my eyes and thunder pounded through my ears. The silk of my clothing grated upon my skin and the table was rough and solid beneath me, gravity pressing me down into it.

And then something I recognised. A hand in mine, one I knew intimately. Eric.

I focused on that, letting it be my anchor. Slowly the confusion of the universe died down, became manageable. I was able to focus on him and see his face for the first time. It was handsome, I suppose, symmetrical and all that. But it wasn’t as important as his hand in mine.

He helped me to my feet and we went outside, gods, the light inside had been dim, and started down the hill. I could see that we’d been inside a lighthouse in the middle of a forest but I didn’t think to question it. I was too busy taking it all in, the colours of the trees, the sounds of the wind through the leaves. The five men with clubs who suddenly blocked our path.

My wielder had been an amazing swordsman, killing many people in duels or less dignified fights. But now he was without a sword, I was trapped inside this useless body, and the loved ones of some that he had killed had caught up with him.

He tried to talk his way out of it. It didn’t work.

I don’t want to talk about what happened next. I can barely remember it, just a blur of emotions, fear, pain, sorrow.

I came back to myself kneeling beside Eric’s still body as the wizard found me. He didn’t say anything. Just helped me to my feet and back to the lighthouse.

The wizard buried Eric where he fell, sheathing him in the earth. He would take me out to see him once a day and I’d just sit numbly beside the grave for hours at a time. Everything was too much, the sensations without and the emotions within. I was a doll, not needing any sustenance. I would probably have just sat slumped by the grave for the rest of time if not for the wizard.

He encouraged me to get up each day, to practise moving, to practise being. I still found walking hard and sensations still overwhelmed me but he helped me work on it. Apart from the time I spent by the grave he would talk to me, in low murmurs to begin with so I wouldn’t get over stimulated. He set me at a table and had me chop vegetables and cut meat for meals while he sat across from me and worked on other tasks. It helped with my dexterity and slowly I got better. The textures of the food was harder to get used to in some way, the sliminess of the meat, the rigidness of the carrot that echoed with a crack when it was cut. And yet slowly I began to notice it less, to dial down the loudness of the world. But every day was hard.

“Can I go back?” I asked the wizard at one point. “I just want to be a sword again.”

He sat down with me and, very gently, explained that my soul was now split between the sword in the sheath in my back and the rest of my body. He talked about co-efficients and balanced harmonies and a lot of other things I didn’t understand. All I got out of it was that I was trapped. This was who I was now.

I had to find something to motivate me and I went traditional. Revenge.

The day I decided to hunt down those that had killed Eric stays sharp in my mind. It wasn’t anything personal, though I’m sure it felt that way. But it gave me a reason to pick myself up whenever I fell.

It was also the day that I changed out of my clothes for the first time. I’d been wearing the same silken dress since I’d got this body and it was beginning to get in the way. It tugged and slid over my skin in uncomfortable ways, binding my legs if I moved wrong. The wizard dragged out some simple homespun clothes and apologised that he didn’t have anything finer.

“I have some blue dye,” he said. “I could pretty them up a bit.”

I hesitated. I didn’t really care about the clothes but it had given me an idea.

“My hair is made of silk,” I said to him. “Could you dye that blue instead?”

He looked at me. I’m not very good at reading body language but I’m fairly sure he was thinking it was a terrible idea. But then he smiled.

“Of course. Just let me get it set up.”

I hadn’t chosen anything about my body, not really. Not what I looked like or even if I wanted to be a woman. But I chose this. And, standing in front of a mirror in my new clothes and my sky blue hair, I felt just a little bit more comfortable in myself.

I worked hard and soon I was able to focus through the distractions and toddle about the lighthouse. I no longer needed the wizard to take me out to the grave but I also didn’t spend as much time there. I had a purpose and would not be distracted.

I learned to walk and then I learned to run. It wasn’t easy, I fell a lot and acquired some dents in my face from hateful roots. But I did it.

It wasn’t enough.

The wizard looked at me strangely when I asked for a sword but he didn’t ask questions. By then I was able to move easily, steady on my feet. I could run, skip, climb the stairs and I’d taken over cooking. But that wouldn’t do me any good when I found those murders. I needed to fight.

The first thing I learned was that swords are not naturally graceful. I suppose I was lucky. Eric was a master and in his hands I swam through the air. With me, my sword flopped like a stranded fish. It was heavy and unbalanced, wavering where it should have been steady. It was like trying to learn to walk again.

And just like then persistence was the key. I practised day after day, how to stand, how to hold it, how to attack. I was lucky, I suppose I had learned something from being wielded by Eric because there was a feeling of rightness when I did something correctly. It came rarely at first but I focused on it and it started coming more and more often until I could move and it would seem like my sword and I were one.

And every time I sheathed it I thanked it for it’s work. I didn’t know if it was like me and conscious but it never hurt to be polite.

It took a year and a half before I was happy with my movements and that I could properly complete my mission. Well I was confident I could kill the men when I found them. Finding them might be a problem, I am face blind and find it hard to tell humans apart, but I was sure I’d be able to do it. I had all the time in the world.

I was just getting ready to leave when the boy came.

To be more exact I was in the middle of leaving. I had learned long ago why the wizard lived in a lighthouse. It was a port for sky ships, some far-flung outpost of a trading empire where they could refuel or repair. They came on schedule and one night, when the latest one was due, I slipped out and away. It slept wrong to sneak away like a thief, especially after all the wizard had done for me, but I didn’t like the idea of saying goodbye.

The trees were closing in around me when the sky ship floated by overhead. As usual it appeared with a suddenness that was disconcerting but I had gotten used to it. Not everyone got the chance.

I heard a harsh whinny and then the shattering of branches and something crashed away, followed by a final sounding thump. Curious despite myself I want to investigate.

There lay a boy, collapsed like a marionette with it’s strings cut. I thought for a moment he could see me but that must have been the moonlight glittering on his eyeballs. There was no sign of the horse, it must have bolted, throwing off its rider. I stared at him for a while, thinking. No one would know I had been there. I could go off on my quest and leave him here. The wizard might find him in the morning or he could regain consciousness and walk there himself. There was nothing tying me here.

Eric wouldn’t have hesitated but I am not my old wielder.

I gathered him up and brought him back to the tower. I could always leave later.

The wizard fussed around him, asking me to put him in the bed that was left on the ground floor for visitors. I carefully laid him down then stepped back. It was a few hours before the boy woke up and I learned that no, he wouldn’t have walked here in the morning. He couldn’t walk at all. That’s why he had come, seeking help from the wizard.

The wizard offered to let him stay here while he made the boy a wheelchair while I thought over this revelation. He would have died, alone and unnoticed in the forest if I had followed my impulse and left. Just like Eric.

Then the wizard said my name and I looked up to see him beckoning me over. As I walked to the bed he told the boy, “She was the one who found you.”

The boy gaped up at me, gratitude that I didn’t deserve on his face, I think. “Th..thank you,” he stammered.

It was too much. I left.

The wizard found me a bit later, kneeling by Eric’s grave. “I know you were planning on leaving,” he started in his no nonsense manner. “And obviously I can’t stop you. But I’d like to ask you to stay for a bit. I might need help with the boy and you’re stronger than I am. Please?”

I thought about it, remembering that moment when I was just going to leave him there. To die.

“I’ll stay if he needs me,” I told the wizard. “But I don’t know what help I’ll be.”

He nodded and went back inside. I stayed where I was until the sun rose. Then I got up and went back inside.

The boy’s name turned out to be Malcolm. He was good at whittling, attentive while the wizard showed him how he was putting together his wheelchair and terrible at cooking. The first time he tried he filled the room with smoke and started a fire that I had to put out. After that I agreed to teach him what I knew and, like when I started, I put him to preparing vegetables.

I would stand cooking, watching his nimble hands cutting carrots or lean against the wall while he talked to me and carved wooden figurines. His hands were fascinating to me, always moving or busy, always expressive. He would pause what he was doing to make a joke or start carving extra carefully when he was angry. I was able to read him much better than anyone else. He almost reminded me of Eric. Not that they were anything alike really but I’d connected with him through his hands as well.

After a month the chair was completed and I started getting ready to once again leave. I thought that Malcolm would go home and there’d be nothing tying me here anymore. I still had my mission. I was going to avenge my wielder.

Then the wizard said that Malcolm still had to learn how to use the chair and, though he didn’t say it, that I had to stay. And I did. I had vowed, after all, to say as long as he needed me.

And I tried to ignore the little voice in my head, calling me a traitor for being so happy about that.

Working with Malcolm was hard. I decided to help train him, after all I’d also had to learn a new way of moving, but I wasn’t a particularly good teacher and he wasn’t a good student. He fell to the floor and I’d pick him up, again and again and again, until he’d get angry.

But he always apologised, which I wasn’t expecting, and used that anger to work twice as hard. Soon he was able to get himself in and out of the chair with ease and glide across the floor smoothly and without hesitation. One night I was watching him wheel around and I don’t know what came over me. But I stepped forward and asked, “Want to dance?”

He looked surprised to be asked but I stretched out my hand to him and he took it. His fingers were sure and covered in calluses, though in different places to Eric’s. Slowly I led him around, then back again. I twirled away and he followed. Slowly, without talking, the dance evolved.

I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed dancing with another person, moving in harmony with them. It wasn’t perfect, there was stumbling and missed directions, but it didn’t have to be. I felt a part of my soul unclench and happiness spread through me. Only as long as the dance, but that was enough.

Once we’d finished I looked at him, my eyes beaming, and said, “You can move beautifully.” Then I remembered what the dance signified. “Will you be leaving now?”

I saw the confusion in his eyes, the uncertainty. But before he could answer the wizard spoke. I hadn’t even realised that he was watching.

“I’ve been thinking about it and I’d like to show you how to convert a dwelling, to make it easier for you to move about. We could do up this tower so you could get upstairs. I think a maybe a lift…”

Malcolm spun in place and then shot forward, enfolding the other man in a tight hug. Over Malcolm’s head I could see the question in the wizard’s eyes. Would I stay too?

And it was then that I put aside my revenge.

We all stayed together for another six weeks. The wizard had said that it was to convert the lighthouse and they did that. But it was just an excuse and we all knew. He began teaching the boy his trade and Malcolm took to it with ease and joy. I would still practise daily on my sword work but only to make sure I didn’t become rusty, not for any real purpose. The rest of the time I cooked and helped when needed.

Then came the storm.

A ship was due that night and the wizard was up on the roof getting the lamp set up when the lightning bolt hit. The lamp exploded and he was flung down the stairs. I managed to get to him, get him to bed and then get Malcolm. He regained consciousness once and begged us to fix the lamp. Then he sank back into a darkness I feared he would never rise from.

I thought that it was a lost cause but Malcolm wouldn’t hear of it. Even though I had to carry him up the stairs, away from his wheelchair and into the wildness of the night, he didn’t hesitate but got stuck in. We worked through the night, focused on the same task, two beings joined together through will alone. It was like being with Eric again, only constructing instead of destroying.

We managed to get it fixed just in time. The ship came safely into port and the day was saved.

A week later, a week filled with fixing and mending for all of us, and we were in the wizard’s quarters. The ship’s surgeon had nursed him back to health and, though he was still a little shaky, he was almost back to his old self.

He laid out his news quickly. The ship’s mechanic had been impressed with the work that Malcolm had done and offered him a job on the ship when it departed. Malcolm would be able to leave, to see the world in a way that he could never have dreamed off, to be free.

And yet, he hesitated. I don’t know what held him back but when he complained about not knowing anyone there I found myself talking.

“I could go with you,” I said. Then I realised what I’d said and added awkwardly, “If you want.”

He looked at me, broken in a way I didn’t understand. And then he spoke his true fear. That he wouldn’t be good enough.

We laughed at that, the wizard and I. What else could we do? He had been here mere months but I felt like I’d seen him grow up, and that I’d grown along with him. He’d accomplished so much. And he thought this was beyond him? After our laughter we kindly told him what we thought of that!

And so, together, the boy and I joined the crew of the sky ship The Emerald Queen.

She was beautiful. The bottom of her hull was painted sky blue, the same colour as my hair and the boy’s wheelchair cushion. The name was painted in golden cursive near her prow, where a figurehead nested in the shape of an eagle. The sails were as green as her name, stretching out above and to the side of the deck. She was graceful, despite her size. We gathered our luggage, what there was of it. I only had my sword, the clothes I wore and the wooden figurines Malcolm had carved for me. He had even less. We stood on the main deck, amid the bustle and shouting and, as we lifted off, I once again became disorientated.

I thought I’d gotten past this but everything was happening all at once and it was overwhelming and I just couldn’t, I couldn’t focus, I was being overwhelmed! I grasped for Malcolm’s hand and clutched it tight. I thought he looked at me, probably confused, but he didn’t pull away, only held on. I focused on that and a beat I drummed into my leg with my other hand and slowly I was able to clear the confusion. Together we stepped down into the cabin while the ship took flight, leaving our old life behind.

I hated the next few weeks. In the lighthouse I had understood my place in the world. I had a routine and a job. But on the ship I was surplus. There was nothing for me to do. I started with helping in the kitchen but they already had a cook and he had an assistant and there was no place for me. My sword was taken away from me when I tried to practise with it on the deck. They claimed it was something about regulations and that I wasn’t trained properly but when I asked to be trained they turned me away. I realised that they saw me as luggage, something that Malcolm had brought on board and not a person in my own right.

The boy kept me company, telling me about his day and occasionally I would help in the engine room. But I had neither his skill, nor his interest in the subject. I found myself spending more and more time in the hold by his hammock, turning my thoughts over and over in my mind

What was I? A emotional crutch for Malcolm? A doll that could sit in the corner and say things for someone else amusement? Just another object? Was that all I was destined to be? I refused. I would just have to get off at the next port. Maybe go back to hunting down the men that had killed Eric. Malcolm would be fine. He made friends quickly and he hadn’t needed me along in the first place. He was just scared.

I was brooding over these questions when the pirates attacked.

They came in the middle of the night, in balloons that swam up from the inky depths of the sky. The watch was cut down and then they swarmed down below decks.

They were all gathered up, the crew, and herded into the hold where I was sitting. We were surrounded by gold toothed grins and rusty swords. A part of me sniffed in derision at the state of them but most of me was concerned for Malcom, who was thrown to the ground from his hammock.

I was unarmed. That amused me a little, an unarmed sword. As the pirates advanced on us, clearly ready to start killing any dissenters I focused. My body was steel. I would be able to get through this.

Then Malcolm thrust himself in front of me.

“Get behind me, Serafina,” he shouted. “I’ll hold them off for as long as I can.”

I stared at the back of his head for a moment, marvelling at the ridiculousness of that statement. Hold them off? He’d barely last a second. A single cut from one of those substandard swords would end him. And yet he was still trying to protect me. Why?

Because, I realised, he valued me more than he valued himself. And he would defend what was important to him.

I finally understood my purpose.

I was a sword.

I drew myself.

It felt wrong, so terribly, terribly wrong. I was a sword and I was a body and being two things at the same time was painful! And yet still I attacked.

The years of practise came to my body, allowing it to move fluidly, to slice. And my sword knew exactly where it was supposed go. I shattered the weak blades before me, casting the pirates back. They swung at me and I dodged, more nimble than Eric had ever been, more direct in my thrusts.

Thirty pirates came down into the hold. Fifteen made it out and I was hot on their heels. But the longer I was drawn the higher rose the pain until I was acting more on instinct than anything else. My senses were beginning to go one by one, and I could feel my life force guttering.

I don’t know how many pirates escaped, scampering into their balloons and away into the night. But it wasn’t many.

And then I collapsed, sinking down into blackness in a mirror of those I’d just driven off.

I came back lying in a hammock. I never slept and so had no cause to lie in one before. It was a very strange sensation and I would probably have remarked more on it but Malcolm’s face swam into view. He was sat on a high stool where he could watch over me, whittling something while he waited. I must have made a sound or movement because he abandoned his work and grabbed my hand.

“Serafina,” he cried. “Are you ok?”

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. I’ve never known, not really. But right there, with his hand in mine, I thought I was.

No moment could last forever though and after some shouting and running out of sight another face appeared, supported by a magnificent uniform and topped with a ha.. It wasn’t the captain, he hadn’t survived the attack, but it was the first mate, now in command.

“I’m sorry, Serafina,” he said. “We misjudged you. We all thought that you were some project of the wizard’s and….”

He trailed off awkwardly and then held up a sword. It was mine, the one that they’d taken off me.

“You saved us,” he continued. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. I know that we have no right to ask this of you, considering how we discarded you up until now, but I’m asking if you will protect us again. Take up this sword and join this crew properly?”

I was tempted to say no, just to spite him. That I wasn’t just another tool. But everyone needs a purpose. And for the moment, this fitted me very well.

“I will,” I told him, Malcolm’s hand still in mine.

And so that was my job. I helped where needed and, when I wasn’t I walked the deck, practising with my sword, dancing with Malcolm and guarding the future. And usually I did nothing. But not always.

In a perfect world, a sword is very rarely drawn. But it always has the potential to be.

Who am I? I’m still not sure. But for the moment I’m happy going by Serafina.

The Kitten and her Girl

Like all cats I was born knowing that I was special.

I was one, and of course the best, of a litter of seven kittens. For the first few weeks of my life my mother nursed us and told us of our purpose. All cats have a purpose, of course. Only lesser creatures don’t. Some of us are ratters, some are companions. My purpose was of great importance. I was to be a witch’s cat! I would be sent to a witch, who would give me a task to fulfill.

My mother told us about other things, the world in general and our place in it. Cats are beings of balance. We walk the line between the Wild and the humans, we stalk through the shadows of the world, our own masters who chose help humans in matters they can’t navigate.

When I was old enough I left my mother and stepped through the ways secret to cats until I found my witch. By this point I was fully in my power, master of all I surveyed, a full ten weeks old!

It was nearing the end of the day when I arrived at the home of the Witch of the Heartwoods. My mother had heard about her from her witch and knew her to be sensible and of proper import for one such as me. I stepped from the shadows and saw the witch sitting in a rocking chair in front of her house, sipping tea and watching the colour fade from the sky. I roared mightily to let her know I was there and she looked up, a smile bursting across her face.

“Well hello there,” she said, coming across and kneeling in front of me as was proper. “And what is your name?”

I ignored her, washing my face to show what I thought of such impertinence. Everyone knows that a cat’s true name is secret. Then I looked up at her and roared again.

“What a cute meow,” she said and gathered me up. I would have protested but she was very warm and comfy and the journey had tired me somewhat. She took me inside and fed me water and some fish. After that I was given a cushion, upon which I fell asleep.

And so I was a witch’s cat.

It was very boring.

The witch did not often get visitors, living so deep in the woods. Those she did have were barely worth my attention and I often didn’t greet them myself. The house was well appointed, with a lot of plush seats to sleep on, but the trees grew so tall that there were rarely enough sunbeams in which to sprawl. She also had her own way of doing magic and didn’t need my assistance. I was wasted here and I could see the witch agreed, though she fulfilled her side of things with regular offerings of food and strokes.

The day all of this changed and I was given a purpose I was napping in the back room of the witch’s house. I heard the visitors come in and the bustle as my witch supplied them with that tea drink but couldn’t be bothered rousing myself to investigate. I would have probably dozed through their whole visit if the witch hadn’t coming into the back to find me.

“Kitten,” she said respectfully, “I have a task for you. The family out there have a girl who must venture out into the dangerous woods. I want you to go live with them and, when she leaves, go with her and protect her.”

I yawned to show her how I felt about her waking me. “You want me to leave?” I asked.

“Of course not,” the witch replied earnestly. She was at least intelligent enough to understand Cat, even if she couldn’t speak it. “I love having you here. I simply feel that this is a better use of your time. This is a quest worthy of you.”

The idea of a quest did intrigue me and, as I had mentioned, I was getting bored. So I agreed, the witch picked me up and brought me through to the other room.

I saw my new family.

Frankly I wasn’t impressed.

There were three of them, parents and their kit. The parents looked old, whereas the girl was barely in her teen years. She was the one I had to protect and no surprise, being so young and small.

She did have comfortable arms though and she held me close as was proper upon being handed me. I focused on her and missed what the parents were saying to my witch. However I did hear them say, “So when danger appears it’ll grow big and frightening or….?”

The audacity of them! Thankfully my witch set them straight with a smile.

“No, it is what it is. This will keep your daughter safe.”

By this time they must have seen more of my majesty or the sheer obviousness of the statement had finally gotten through to them. Either way they said nothing more, just thanked my witch and took me to my new home.

Much though I felt it demeaning to be in a common store, far beneath my station, I had to admit that it was much comfier than the witch’s hut. The shop and attached house were spacious, with lots of interesting nooks and crannies to investigate. There were many of the much missed sunbeams and they were quick to feed me, though they had to be reminded from time to time.

It was while I was patrolling my new domain that I heard them discussing the problems in the forest. Apparently some wolves and some bandits had moved into the area. It was no wonder that they needed me to protect the girl. Just being around the house must have made them feel safer.

Eventually the day came when the girl needed to make her next delivery. She packed a rucksack, shucked on a green cloak and picked up a basket, which was the perfect place for me to ride in. Then we set off.

The forests have a wild beauty all of their own. The sun dappling through the leaves and the swaying of the basket combined to have an almost soporific effect. It was tempting to fall asleep but I had a duty to protect the girl. Luckily I was a cat and we have the ability to doze while being completely aware of our surroundings.

The day wore on, the girl visiting five different houses of people who didn’t interest me. They looked at me, uncertain and awed by my magnificence, as was only right. Nothing of particular note happened and eventually we started walked back.

Which is when I noticed the wolf.

It was lurking on the side of the path, just a little further on. The girl, with her substandard sight, hearing and sense of smell, was unaware of it. I, of course, could easily defeat it in combat but the girl might get hurt. And unlike properly civilised people she didn’t speak Cat, so I couldn’t warn her. What was I to do?

I was reduced to communicating in the most basic of pantomime. I stood up and stared off the track, away from where the wolf lay in wait. Then, once I was sure I had her attention, I leapt bravely from the basket and led the way to safety.

It seemed that she had gotten the message because I heard her crashing through the undergrowth after me. I had no doubt that the wolf would also be coming after us so I kept up the charge, leading her around unexpected hollows and the worst of hanging branches. This was unsustainable though. Wolves could run faster than her, even if they couldn’t run faster than me, and I had to find a place where it couldn’t get her.

Eventually I both heard and smelt men ahead of me, emphasis on smelt, they were an uncouth bunch but needs must, and led her to them and safety. I decided to let her go first into the clearing where they were making their camp. They would naturally be terrified if I suddenly burst upon them and they were, after all, humans. I dealt with the wild, the girl dealt with the humans.

I knew I had made…well not a mistake, merely a miscalculation, once the girl entered the glade. She reacted to them not in joy, like I’d have expected, but rather in fear. After a few moments I realised that, instead of a gang of smelly but helpful humans, these must have been the bandits that I’d heard of. And they were surrounding the girl.

I was in something of a quandary. Yes, I could just leap into the middle of them and kill them all but there were a lot of them and, again, the girl might get hurt. I was amazing but there was only one of me. There was a chance that a few of the bandits might have enough presence of mind to harm the girl. I needed a large group that would be properly distracting.

I decided to abide by the third law of Cats. If there’s something you don’t particularly want to do, get someone else to do it instead. With that I turned and sped through the forest. Why solve one problem when you can solve two?

It didn’t take me long to find the wolves. I simple had to go back to the path and follow the wolf’s scent back to where they gathered. It was a large pack, several families all gathered together, probably as many as the bandits were. I decided to make an impression upon them. A proper introduction can solve all sorts of problems.

I appeared in front of the pack of wolves like a ghost, unseen but feared, and roared. Heads turned and a large wolf that must have been the alpha stalked over to me.

“What do you want, little morsel?” he growled. “Speak before we snap you up!”

I understand that some leaders need to make themselves feel more important but really. If I hadn’t needed him I would have struck him down on the spot. “I come baring a warning,” I told him. “There are men not far from here that are coming to hunt you. You must attack them first!”

A low chuckle broke from his jaws. “Oh, must we? And why is that?”

“Because if you don’t they will hunt and kill you all! I will do you a favour and lead you to them but you will owe me.”

The chuckles weren’t just coming from the leader now as the pack gathered around. “I think I’ll just eat you,” the wolf said, leaning close to me and showing his fangs.

I inwardly sighed. Why were some animals unable to listen to reason?

Other methods would have to be used.

I extended my claws and swiped the wolf across the snout.

He recoiled with a satisfyingly high-pitched squeal. The rest of the pack lunged at where I used to be but I was already speeding through the trees. Within a moment I heard a hunting howl and they were after me.

A cat like myself will always be faster than some canines, of course, but I will admit that they were faster than I expected. I had to let them keep me in sight, of course, but they were getting a little closer than I’d planned. We were only halfway to the camp and the howls were uncomfortably close.

It was a surprise when we almost crashed into the bandits. I managed to vanish into the undergrowth just in time but the wolves weren’t as cunning. Both group stopped and stared at each other for a moment.

What were they doing here? Then I saw the girl leading them and realised that she must have somehow figured out my plan. Maybe she wasn’t so bad after all.

The wolves snapped out of their confusion first and attacked. Several bandits fell before the rest got their act together and counter attacked. I saw the girl stumble off to the side and vanish as the fight got under way. Just like I’d planned.

I stayed to watch the confrontation play out, hidden safely under a bush. Both group struck at each other with ferocity doubtless born of their inner limitations. While the wolves had gotten first blood the bandits were armed with swords and axes and these fake claws counted for a lot. The fight ground on, more falling on both sides every moment. Eventually the tattered remains of both groups limped away, neither a threat to anyone any longer. Just as I’d planned.

I headed back to the path and waited for the girl there. The day was nice and warm and I was tired after completing my quest in such a final way. So I found a nice sunbeam, curled up and waited for the girl.

Saving the day must have taken more out of me than I had thought because the first that I was aware of the girl’s return was when she picked me up and, holding me close, began to walk back home. The basket had vanished at some point but being carried like this was a nice substitute. I curled up deeper into her arms and purred to let her know that I was satisfied.

The girl held me tight and whispered in my ear, “You may not have done anything to help but I love you anyway.”

It’s not her fault. She’s only human.

The Girl and her Kitten

There was once a couple who lived in the Greatwoods. They owned a shop in a village and worked hard at it. They would order in supplies from villages around them and sell them to their own villagers. Thanks to them people living around them were able to acquire things that they would never have access to otherwise and they became very much respected. And eventually they had a little girl and their lives were complete.

But life had passed on a bit before they were blessed with a child. They loved her and raised her to the best of their ability and when she was old enough she started to help around their shop. She would help stock the shelves, carrying goods from the storage basement and sweep and polish the floor. As the years went on she started doing more until she reached the age of fourteen and took over delivering groceries once a week to the people who lived out in the woods.

To begin with this was a simple job, one which the girl looked forward to. She would put on her green cloak, shoulder a backpack full of the less delicate supplies and then pick up her basket that contained the items that could be broken. She would spend the rest of the day walking through the forest, greeting her far flung neighbours and enjoying the fresh air and peace of the wood.

But after a while things began to get dangerous. A pack of wolves moved into the area, known mostly through their howls in the middle of the night. A little while later word of bandits attacking lone travellers started being whispered. The couple were worried about their daughter and suggested that she might stop the deliveries. But she loved her days walking along the trails in the trees and wouldn’t hear of it.

So they went to see a local witch, hoping that she might have the answer.

The witch lived deep in the forest, in the Heartwoods where few dared venture. The shopkeepers and their daughter closed the shop for the day and set off before the sun had fully risen. To begin with they traveled through the light but as they got closer to their destination a dusk fell, the trees crowding closer together and blocking out the sun. Then, at a little before midday they arrived at the clearing where she lived and saw the witch.

She was the antithesis of her surroundings. After the gloom of the Heartwoods the bright patch of sunlight that shone into the glade was almost as blinding as the witch’s smile upon seeing them. She was out working on her garden, her glossy black hair falling in ribbons down her back.

“Welcome,” she cried, straightening up and dusting the dirt off her hands. “Come in, come in. I was just about to have a cup of tea.”

The family exchanged a look but it seemed rude to refuse so they followed her in.

The witch’s house was built back onto one of the gigantic Heart Trees. Once through the door they found themselves in a large room, with tables and chairs scattered about and a cauldron bubbling over a fire. In quick order they found themselves pushed into plump, comfy seats while the witch busied herself with cup and leaf.

As they drank the aromatic liquid they explained why they’d come, the girl scowling at the very idea she might need help. She finally interrupted her mother as the tale was coming to the end.

“We would go with her…”

“But they are old and there’s no point. I can look after myself.”

The girl’s father sighed and shrugged helplessly. “So we have come to ask you. Is there anything you can do to keep her safe? A weapon or something?”

The witch shook her head. “I don’t sell weapon or anything that makes it easy to hurt people. But I might be able to get your girl a guardian creature.”

Her parents exchanged a relieved look. “If it will protect our daughter then that would be fantastic.”

The witch gave them a bright smile. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”

The witch disappeared through a curtain in the back of the room and vanished from sight. Not from hearing though, a couple of bangs, thumps and a loud roar escaped and fled past them. The parents exchanged another look, this one worried, remembering all the bad things they’d heard about witches. The girl, however, sat up straight and looked eagerly towards the door.

After a few moments and a lot more worrying cacophony the witch returned. In her arms was a kitten, a white so pure it was almost glowing, except for a smudge of black on top of its head. It was looking around with curious green eyes that settled almost immediately upon the girl.

The parents exchanged a final look as the kitten was deposited into the girl’s arms and started purring as it was held close. “Is that it?” the father asked.

“That’s it,” the witch replied with an easy smile.

“So when danger appears it’ll grow big and frightening or….?”

“No, it is what it is. This will keep your daughter safe.”

They weren’t sure but there was no arguing with a witch so they thanked her and left.

Over the next week they kept a close watch on the kitten, waiting for it to do something special or dangerous but they waited in vain. The kitten behaved completely normally. It would spend the days darting about the shop, chasing dust or sunbeams, sleeping in comfortable places and yelling for fresh food.

After the week it was time for the girl to go out on her deliveries again. Although they couldn’t see how it would help her parents urged her to take the kitten with her, which she did with joy as she had fallen in love with it. With her cloak, her basket, her backpack, and the kitten she set off.

Everything was fine to begin with. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. The girl had five homes to visit and five houses were visited without a problem. Bag and basket empty she started along the well worn path for home. See, she thought to herself. I knew my parents were over-reacting.

The kitten, who up until then had been sleeping peacefully in the now empty basket, suddenly sat up and started staring off the side of the path. The girl stopped, unsettled by the sudden movement. Then a moment later the kitten pounced from the basket, hit the ground and sprinted into the woods.

“Kitten, wait!” the girl cried. Barely stopping to think about what she was doing she dashed after it.

Through the trees and the underbrush they went, sticks splintering under the girl’s boots, the kitten a seldom seen white blur in front of her. The girl ran faster, not wanting her beloved pet to get lost but after a while she realised that she hadn’t seen the kitten in a while and, despite her intentions, it was now her that was lost. She stopped and tried to make her way back home.

Then suddenly she stumbled into a glade and, looking up, came face to face with the bandits.

There was nothing else they could be. There was no reason for a gang of twenty men to hang out around a fire in the middle of the day, dressed in mismatched armour and clutching weapons. There was a moment where they all just stared at each other. Then the bandits were scrambling to their feet and the girl found herself surrounded and crowded back toward the fire in the centre of the clearing.

“Well what do we have here?” one of the bandits asked. “And what will we do with it?”

Another of them shouldered his way to the front of the group. He was bigger than the rest and his hair hung in a lank ponytail down his back. Judging by the way everyone deferred to him, he was the leader. “You know what we do. We take everything she has,” he growled at the one who had spoken. Then he leered at the girl. “And maybe have some fun with her.”

But the girl had worked in her parents shop since before she could remember and, though she was terrified, she knew how to negotiate. “Sure, you could hurt me,” she said as calmly as she could. “But would that be the most profitable thing to do?”

The bandits were still moving closer to them but their leader, who was the leader for a reason, forced them to back away. Turning to the girl he asked, “What do you mean?”

“Well,” said the girl, thinking quickly. “I work at my parents shop and they’re very successful. They bring in a lot of money. Every week I have to walk this path and give people groceries. What if I also paid you a small amount as well? Then you would have a consistent income stream, which would benefit you more in the long run.”

The leader thought about it for a moment. “I have to problems with this proposition,” he eventually said.

“What are they?” the girl asked eagerly. They were negotiating! She could do this!

“The first,” the bandit leader said slowly, “is what you said about a small amount. There’s a lot of us, as you can see. I’m not sure a small amount would cover all of us.”

“I can give you more than a small amount,” the girl said. “Tell me what you need and I’ll look into it.”

“Well that brings us into the second concern. Which is, if we let you go now then we don’t get anything for a week. If we even trust you to come back.

“No, what I think we’ll do now is that you’ll lead us to your village and your parents’ successful shop.”

The girl wanted to say no but she didn’t have any choice. So she agreed, picked a direction and started walking

Luckily the bandits weren’t locals and so didn’t know the forest. Knowing this the girl lead them off in the wrong direction, wracking her brains as to what to do next. It was only when a howl split the air that she knew what she had to do.

“What was that?” the leader of the bandits asked.

“Oh, that was just the shepherd’s dogs,” the girl lied. “They can be a bit loud.”

From the look on his face he didn’t buy it. Thankfully he didn’t have to for at that moment the wolves attacked.

The pack crashed through the trees in front of them, running at full pelt. For a moment it looked as if they hadn’t expected the bandits to be there but then they changed direction and charged. The first few bandits fell to their teeth before the rest were able to unsheathe their weapons and charge in.

The sound was devastating. Howls and yells, screams and cries all blended together into an almost physical blow. The girl turned and, leaving it all behind, ran back through the woods, searching once again for her path. She walked for what seemed to be an age before she found herself back in part of the woods she recognised.

The girl finally made it back to the path and there she found the kitten, curled up in a sunbeam. Carefully, she scooped it up and started walking back. It didn’t rouse, just snuggled into her arms and started purring.  

As the girl walked to the door to her home she hugged the kitten close and whispered in its ear. “You may not have done anything to help but I love you anyway.”

It stayed peacefully asleep and did not reply.

Kaolinite and Other Gems

Granite is formed of three different minerals: quartz, feldspar and mica but it is not any of them. Quartz is light and captures the sun, granite is dull, though it glitters. Feldspar is soluble in water, while granite will just sink. Mica cuts easily into layers while granite is solid, breaking but not splitting. Despite what goes into it, granite is itself. While it might bear attributes of its formation it defines itself by itself.

The knocker knew this, knew all about rocks. His name was Kernowite and, like the rest of his clan, he lived underground, mining the rocks and investigating the movements of the earth. He was happy, in his way, for he found joy in his surroundings, but he was also lonely. He had a large family that spread out through the tunnels but he still felt unfulfilled in some way. The older people of his clan tried to tell him it was natural, that he was young and looking for a way to define himself, but while that made sense it didn’t help. So he decided that if he needed to find something he would.

Every day he would leave his house, a small cave with a beautifully painted green door, and start walking the tunnels that had been carved below the land for generations. He would examine the walls, seeing the sedimentary layers of sandstone, measure the stalactites growth rate in the limestone caves, anything to make a discovery, to be noticed. He knew that what he was looking for would be found somewhere over the clay horizons.

It was as he searched the furthest reaches of the tunnel network that he found the girl.

First he heard the sobbing, echoing past him. He was used to all the sounds of the underground, from the gnawing of worms to the knocking before a collapse, but he’d never heard this before. A bubbling sound, like a river trapped in one place, unable to escape. And yet also like a wildcat, caught in a trap and furious about it. It was only when he rounded the last corner and saw her that he knew what it was.

There must have been a cave in, this tunnel was close to the surface, and she must have fallen in. It wasn’t hard to work this out, by the clumps of soil scattered around and the sunlight stabbing from the roof. The beams of light lay across a human girl, huddled in a sad heap on the floor, and glinted off her bronze hair that was bound tightly back. By her side sat a sheathed sword.

“Hello?” he said, edging round the corner. “Are you ok?”

The girl scrambled up at his voice, pulling out her weapon and pointing it at him with a trembling grip. She towered over him, his head only coming level with her waist. But he didn’t care for the danger, didn’t even notice it. He had eyes only for the blade.

It appeared to be made of bronze, but what the alloy was he couldn’t tell. It shimmered and heat seemed to roll off it. A chemical reaction to the air? Or something else? Something about it called to him, awakening his curiosity.

This was it, he knew. This was the discovery that would give his life meaning.

But first he had to make sure that his life changing discovery didn’t end it.

He held up his hand and stepped back. “Woah, careful there. I don’t mean you any harm.” He tried very hard to sound non-threatening, though he hadn’t met any humans before.

It seemed to work. The sword dropped and was returned to its sheath. “Sorry,” the girl muttered, her voice hoarse.

Kernowite waited for her to say something else but it seemed that was all he was getting. He tried again. “How did you get here?”

She gestured upwards. “I fell.”

Once again he waited for more information but once again it appeared he would be waiting in vain. He found himself at a loss.

He was saved by a rumbling. Not from the roof of the tunnel, signalling further collapse, but from the girl’s stomach.

She looked at him embarrassed but he just smiled at her and pulled out his lunch. “Would you like something to eat?”

She fell upon the meal instantly, not caring if it was poisoned or not. Kernowite watched as his mushroom sandwiches disappeared down her throat and tried to work out his next move. He had to separate her from the sword somehow but she was bigger than him and he didn’t have a weapon. Maybe once she was asleep he could get it? But he couldn’t just leave her here. She could wander off and he might never find her again. Not that it looked like she had anywhere to be.

“Are you lost?” he asked after his lunch had been completely devoured. She looked at him and, again, nodded.

He nodded back at her, relieved. “Why don’t you come home with me then?”

The girl thought about it for a moment then agreed. They walked in silence down the tunnels until they came to the bright green door of his home. She followed him as he opened the door and beckoned her inside.

The inside of every knocker’s home is different. All are hollowed out of the earth, with rooms built on as needs and desire demand. Kernowite had a living room that opened right off his door and three rooms that branched off of that: one for cooking, one for cleaning himself and his belongings and one for sleeping. The living room had a fireplace, with a flue to the surface carved with great care and effort. The rest of the room was covered in rugs and tapestries to soften the hard rock and pride of place was a great couch, facing the fire. Kernowite pointed to it.

“You can sleep here for now.”

The girl nodded then went to sit on it. She towered over him but the roof was still higher than her head, if only just. Not sure what to do the knocker decided to make dinner. When he came back a little bit later he found the girl asleep on the couch, holding her sword tightly like a teddy bear. There was no way to separate the two without waking her, despite how exhausted she was. Kernowite stood and thought about it.

The next day when they were both awake and he’d made breakfast he offered to let her stay with him for a while. She just nodded then went back to eating.

Poor thing has been through something terrible, he thought to himself. But maybe if she stays here for a while she’ll trust me enough that I can get a look at her sword.

A few weeks later and he had to admit that he was wrong. He’d been anxious about inviting the girl to his home but if he didn’t make an effort he barely noticed her. She tended to lurk in corners, her face gradually turning paler while away from the sun above. Occasionally she cried but mostly she just sat, staring at nothing, drained of energy and lost in her thoughts. She’d talk when spoken to but only to answer basic questions. The one time he asked about the sword she’d told him that she made it and nothing more. When he asked her how, exciting to have the maker right there with him to share their process, she clutched it to her and backed away. He immediately apologised and the matter was laid to rest but he could feel it hovering over them for the next few days. There was no way she was going to tell him the secret.

So instead he built her a forge, hollowing out a room in the rock further down the tunnel, closer to the surface and away from his home. He cut in ventilation, worked and traded for an anvil, tools and materials, and had got it all set up while she haunted his home. Then, once it was finished, he just led her there.

“I know it feels like you just want to lie about and do nothing, wallowing in whatever drove you here but that’s not good for you. I thought you might like to start working again.”

She just stared at him and around the room before turning and walking home. But the next day she spent a little time in it, idly fiddling with the tools, examining the anvil. After a week the first tap of a hammer came singing down the corridor to his home. A week after that she’d made a new cooking pot out of bronze and after that there was no stopping her. She spent all her time there, working on one project or another. Despite the fact that he’d built it Kernowite found himself banned from it, but she was keen to show off everything that she worked on. None of them seemed to have been made using the same process of heat infusion as the sword but he couldn’t deny that they were masterfully made.

The girl was changing along with her work. She began to talk more, never about anything important but about life in the lands above. She would make jokes and occasionally burst into song. He would, in turn, tell her all about the rocks and minerals that made up their underground realm, how to identify them and what their different properties were. The home became cosier and Kernowite found himself waiting each day for her to come back and show him what she’d made.

He began cutting out a new room of their home, just for her. He’d spend the days on it while the girl worked in the forge, making her own tools, knives, and little trinkets. They passed the time companionably, growing closer together.

Then, finally, she told him of how she’d come to be there.

The tale came in short, halting sentences. She talked about deer, about monsters who had invaded her village and how she’d dealt with them, becoming a monster in turn. By the end she was sitting in the middle of the floor, holding the sheathed sword close to her and sobbing. Kernowite stood watching, unsure of how to comfort her. Finally he leaned over and wrapped his arms around her.

“I’m so sorry that happened,” he told her. “I wish you’d never been put in that position.”

She nodded, swallowed her tears then got to shakily to her feet. “Well, now you know so I’ll be going.”

He frowned at her. “Why?”

“You’re not throwing me out? You don’t think I’m evil?”

He drew back so she could see the astonishment on his face. “Of course not! You made a mistake, yes, but it was a mistake. You aren’t defined by what you do at any one point. If you continued to kill people that would be wrong but you won’t. I hope.”

He felt he was making a mess of this but kept talking, hoping he could express what he meant in the avalanche of words.

“The things you did were evil but that doesn’t make you evil. You obviously regret it and aren’t going to do it again. As long as you try to be better than that, to help people instead of hurt them, which you do, how could you possible be evil?

He looked up at her helplessly, hoping that he wasn’t making everything worse. He expected her to break back into tears or yell at him or something. Instead she said the last thing he expected.

“Would you like to see how I made my sword?”

He swallowed, then nodded. “Yes please.”

“Ok,” she smiled at him. “I’ll show you.”

He would have expected some preparation, some gathering of exotic ingredients but she just got up and walked right to the smithy. He followed as she started shovelling coals into the forge, turning and asking, “I’m going to make a hammer, if that’s ok?”

He nodded, beside himself with excitement. Then she began, Kernowite watching closely so see how her method differed and got the necessary reaction.

First she heated the forge, piling the coals high and pumping air into the centre until it glowed hot.

She took some bars of bronze from where they sat at the wall. He’d been there when they’d made them and knew that they were pretty standard bronze, mostly copper with some tin. Was it a way of heating them?

The bars were placed into the forge until they were soft and pliable. But nothing unusual happened until she pulled them out and placed them on the anvil. Was it some sort of technique in beating them?

The hammer rang on the bronze beating it into shape but, though the girl was talented, it was just like watching any other blacksmith.

What could be different?

Then she reached up and cut off a bit of her hair.

He stared in horror as she dropped it onto the hot metal, beating it into the bronze with concentration and focus. Soon a bronze hammer appeared, with a heat that would last long after the dousing, and he knew it was a fine tool. But it didn’t matter.

“What do you think?” she asked, gazing at him with a pride that slipped away when she saw his expression. “What’s the matter?”

“Magic,” he said bitterly. “All this time it was magic. I thought it was some new property of metal, something that would help us all. But no, just a quirk of nature.”

“Does that matter?” the girl asked haltingly.

“Of course it matters! I thought I could replicate it, duplicate it! This was supposed to be my big break, the discovery that was going to change my life. It could have changed society! But instead it’s just a trick done by a little girl.”

The words felt wrong as they came out, hurtful and poisonous, but once said words cannot be unsaid. The girl looked at him, then turned and ran from the forge. Kernowite stared after her and tried to sort out his feelings.

They were all jumbled inside of him, like a pile of rocks dumped at the entrance to a mine. So he did what he always did with rocks; grade, examine and order them. In this pile went the anger. After all he’d put into the girl, looking after her and caring for her, he got nothing from it. In another went guilt. He’d said things that he hadn’t really meant and had hurt her.

He paused after that. Had he really not meant it? He dug deeper into the guilt, cracking some of the rocks open to see the crystals within. He thought about the time they’d spent together, the joy he’d come from having her around. Then he looked again at the two piles next to each other.

And the pile of guilt was much bigger than the pile of anger.

It was only then that he saw what he had lost. But maybe there was a way to get it back?

He had to make this right. After stopping off at his home to pick some things up, he took a deep breath then went searching. Finally, many hours later, he found her again where he’d found her once before, at the end of the tunnels, lying in a ball around her sword and sobbing. He walked over to her, tapping her on the shoulder until she looked up at him with red rimmed eyes.

“This is sand,” he said, pouring the grains into a heap on the ground. She looked at it and then at him, confusion plain on her face. It only grew as he dropped a rock on top of the pile. “And this is sandstone. Sand becomes sandstone.”

“Hence the name.” Her eyes were still red but he felt a spark of warmth inside him. At least she was talking to him.

“Hence the name. Sandstone takes time and lots of pressure to become sandstone. It’s still made up on the same minerals but it’s different. So that’s why…”

“Why is it always about minerals and rocks with you?” the girl shouted, suddenly angry. He took a step back as she rose up in front of him. “It’s all you care about! When I thought…” her rage was interrupted by a sob and she crumpled down again. “I thought you cared about me.”

“Do you think the sand knows when it becomes sandstone?”

She shot another look at him. “What?”

“Sand spends all that time changing but I think that it doesn’t know it. I bet it doesn’t even know that it’s become sandstone. But one day, something happens and its reactions change. Then it realises that it’s become something new. I know that’s what it was like with me.”

He sat down across from her, the sand and the sandstone between them. “I invited you into my home to try and discover more about that sword and the metal that makes it up. I’m not going to lie to you about that or try and change the past. But it is the past. You are more precious to me than any metal ever could be and I’m so sorry it took me this long to realise that.

“You can leave, if you want, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure you can set off safe and well, to a good place. But if you still want to, you can stay with me. And no matter what you decide, you’ll always be welcome here. And… and I’d love to adopt you as my daughter.”

She looked at him, he looked back and for a terrible moment the future seemed uncertain. Then, hesitantly, one hand still gripping the sword, she asked, “You’d really want me as your daughter? Despite everything I’ve done, all the people I’ve hurt?”

He looked back, trying to show with his eyes how serious he was, how much he loved her. “Of course.”

Then the sword was tumbling through the air, and her arms were around him, holding him tight as it clattered behind her. They were both weeping and Kernowite felt his heart fill.

Eventually they drew apart and stared at each other. The silence was a precious thing that he didn’t want to break, unsure of what would happen next. In the end the girl was the first to speak. “So what would it mean to become your daughter?”

Kernowite smiled. “We’d give you a new name and you’d become part of my family.”

“A name?” She looked at him suspiciously. “What sort of name?”

“We’re named for the rocks and minerals we most resemble.”

“So why are you called Kernowite?”

“It’s green, like my eyes. There’s a little bit of iron in it and a little bit of poison. But it’s not as hard as other minerals.”

She sighed. “I guess my name will be Bronze.”

He laughed, he couldn’t help it. “Of course not.”

The look of confusion that flitted across her face forced him to explain. “Bronze is a metal, hard and unchanging. Oh, sure, you can beat it into a different shape but you’re nothing like that. You’re clay.”

“Clay?”

“Clay is useful. You can make lots of things from it. It’s adaptable and can change to it’s surroundings. No man is metal, stuck as one thing. There’s lots more to us than that. Look at how much you’ve changed since you’ve come down here. And you can always change, again and again, into whatever you want to me.”

“So what should my name be?”

He looked at her and smiled. “How about Kaolinite?”

She hugged him again, tightly. “Kaolinite it is.”

As she held him tight, tears streaming down both their faces, Kernowite couldn’t help but think how lucky he was. He had found a life changing discovery after all. He had found a daughter.

Kernowite was happy after that. He and his daughter lived and worked together, in the forge, and finishing up cutting out her new room. He was so proud of her, of how she took every day as an opportunity to learn something new, and he took great joy in telling her all about the rocks and minerals that made up her new home. But, like clay, he couldn’t help but see how she was changing. She was growing up, getting taller, broader, and the roof that had once been above her head was now a constant hazard. She had to walk carefully, making sure not to bump into the ceiling or the walls.

Eventually the day that he’d been dreading came. Kaolinite came to him, looking solemn. “I’ve got to go,” she told him. “Thank you for all you’ve done for me but I need to stretch my legs, go out in the world where I belong. If you’re ok with me leaving?”

He just smiled and presented her with the travel satchel and tools that he’d bought not long after accepting her as his daughter.

“You’re always welcome here,” he told her and they hugged, both of them weeping just like when they’d first found each other. And then she was gone and he was once again alone.

Years passed unnoticed in the dark. He kept busy, still scouting the tunnels, still working in the forge that they’d built together. He missed his daughter terribly but he came to accept it. I told her to be clay, he thought, to be change and to mould herself to her circumstances. I did the best I could.

She was out there and she was happy. That’s all that matters.

And then, one day, there was a knock on his door. A warning of catastrophe, he thought, going to answer it. Or just a nosy neighbour?

It was neither. His daughter stood there, fidgeting nervously beside a woman wrapped in furs and a small girl with floating, white hair.

“We needed to go where the storm couldn’t find us. Can we stay here for a while?”

Kernowite stood there for a moment, taking her in. She’d somehow managed to grow even taller, her face was more weathered and she was dressed differently. But her eyes still shone and in her expression he could see that, even if somethings had changed, she was still the same.

Moreover he could feel the connection that had formed between the three of them. The way that Kaolinite kept smiling reassuringly at the woman in the furs, who stood as if alone against the world but who held the young girl’s hand tightly through her gloves. The girl, who keep staring at the ground but would occasionally look around, a bright spark in her eyes. Three people, so different, joined together and making something more.

A family of granite.

His smile was a crevasse, almost splitting his face. “Of course, of course, come in!” he cried, seizing Kaolinite and guiding her inside. The others followed and he closed the door behind them.

There were practical questions to address, how they’d all fit into his home, whether he’d have to start working on more rooms and how long they’d be staying there but he didn’t care. For the moment there was movement, hugs, dragging chairs closer to the fire, pulling out mugs of tea and biscuits, introductions. Problems would come later, for the moment there was only joy.

His daughter had returned.

The Lonely Lighthouse

There once was a couple that had two sons.

The first grew up fast, to be a strong healthy boy. As a toddler he was always getting into mischief, climbing up shelves and opening chests to crawl into them. His parents loved him but were exasperated, always having to keep an eye on him.

The second son came along a few years later. He had the same slate grey eyes and black hair of his brother but he was much more content to lie where he was, much to the delight of his parents. As a baby he was happy, healthy and the apple of his parent’s eye. But as he got older and still failed to walk they began to get concerned. They asked the local witch to take a look at him. She carefully examined him while he lay on a wool rug, poking and prodding him a few times before tiddling his tummy. As he laughed she turned to his parents.

“This child will never walk,” she told them. “But he seems bright and happy. He will still have a long and productive life.” With that she turned and walked off into the forest.

However the parents, though they listened carefully to all that the witch said, focused on the first part. They could only see what the boy could not do, not what he would be able to, and they mourned the loss of the ability he had never had to begin with.

As the witch said the boy grew up happy, with a strong intellect that was able to quickly learn skills. His parents neglected this side of him, seeing him as an invalid and nothing more. They owned an inn and during the day they would sit him by the fire in the common room, where he would be warm, and at night his older brother would carry him up to his bed. The boy quickly became bored with this and would beg his parents to let him help more about the inn. But they would lovingly tell him that there was nothing he could do and that he should just sit quietly.

He would have gone insane if his brother hadn’t one day slipped him a knife and shown him the beginnings of how to whittle. With something to finally do he threw himself into it, stealing spare pieces of wood from the fire and carving them into heroes and fantastic creatures. His fingers quickly grew strong and nimble and each piece was more detail, more complex. His parents were very impressed with his skill and would set the pieces around the inn. “Our son made those,” they would tell anyone who listened and several who would not. “He’s very skilled, despite the fact he can’t walk.”

As if people used legs to carve wood, the boy thought angrily to himself whenever he heard this. But the carving at least gave him something to do and so that was how he passed his days, until a few weeks just after his fourteenth birthday.

It was then, sitting in front of the fire and whittling away wood and time, he first heard of the wizard.

It was the title that first caught his attention, for he had always been interested in magic and those that worked it. Bit by bit, through eavesdropping, he began to hear more about the man. He learned that he lived on a hill in the middle of a forest, not that far away. He learned that he lived in a lighthouse. And he learned that the wizard was capable of miraculous thing.

Maybe he could even help him walk?

He excitedly told his family about the wizard and how he wanted to go see if he could help him. They dismissed the idea.

“What’s the point?” they asked. “He won’t be able to change anything. You can’t travel and we can’t take time away from the inn. You’re fine as you are, you just have to accept it.”

They told him to give up hope. Except for his brother.

His brother woke him in the middle of the night and carried him out to the stable. In there was a horse already saddled and the brother put him on it.

“You’re wasted here,” his brother told him as he began tying him to the saddle. “And if you stay, you’ll waste away. Go, find this wizard, if that’s what you want to do.”

“But whose horse is this?” the boy asked and the brother just grinned.

“Someone who won’t miss it for a bit. There’s food and some money I saved in the saddlebags.”

“What…I can’t…”

“Yes,” his brother told him. “You can.”

And with that he slapped the flank of the horse and sent them thundering out into the night.

The first hour was very uncomfortable, for the boy and the horse both. The boy of course had no experience with riding and, while the horse did it was usually ridden by someone who knew what they were doing. Eventually though they managed to sort themselves and started off to see the wizard.

The boy had spent countless hours imagining the journey and pouring over maps so he had a good idea of where he was going. That faith in himself lasted for the next three hours. Then he realised that this was the first time he had been outside by himself and that woods all looked the same in the dark.

He had almost lost hope when the first beam of light flashed through the sky. He was sure that he imagined it, that a night of almost no sleep was making him delirious, but then it came again. And again. He remembered that the wizard lived in a lighthouse and he urged the horse onwards. They had made it!

Then something vast and dark swept over his head. The horse, already unhappy with being in the woods at night, panicked. It turned and fled, seeking the safety of the barn and roads that it knew. It paid no attention to the branches sweeping low over its head and barely noticed when the weight on its back was abruptly gone.

The boy didn’t see the tree branch so much as experience it, an impact to his chest, a tearing as the ropes binding his legs failed, an eternity in the air, the horse beneath him gone, and then the thump of the ground, twinned with a hit to the head that sent his vision reeling into the dark.

The last thing he saw was a woman standing over him, gleaming silver in the beams of light that passed overhead. Then there was just blackness and silence.

When he awoke he had no idea how much time had passed nor where he was. The hard ground had been replaced by a soft mattress. The dark was replaced by a steady white light. That was all he could notice beyond the shawl of pain that was draped over him. He shifted and a groan escaped his lips.

“Are you alright?”

The voice was soft and masculine. The boy squinted into the light and gradually made out the face staring at him in concern, topped with thinning brown hair. He wore a routh leather apron and a belt of tools. The surroundings faded in with him. They were in a large, circular room that spiralled up into the distance, the walls lined with shining orbs that mimicked the sun. The inside was filled with tables, bits of metal in fantastical shapes, barrels and countless other things. None of which were more important to the boy than the question that burned it’s way out of him.

“Are you the wizard?”

The man snorted. “It’s what they call me but that’s not important right now. You had a bad fall. Can you feel if anything if broken?”

The boy sat up, stretching this way and that. “Everything seems fine. But bruised.”

The wizard had been watching him closely. “Can you move your legs?”

“No,” the boy replied. “But I never could before. That’s why I’m here.”

Quickly he told the man of his birth, his life and what had caused him to seek the wizard out. Sorrow passed like a cloud over the man’s face. “I’m afraid that I can’t help you to walk,” he told the boy. “I don’t have that power.” Seeing the boy’s face drop he quickly continued. “But I could make something that could make it easier for you to get about. A wheeled chair, that you can sit in and pilot yourself. That would give you some freedom.”

The boy barely had to think about it. To be able to walk would be wonderful but any freedom was better than none. “Thank you,” he told the wizard, tears beading in his eyes. “Thank you so much.”

The man looked embarrassed and waved away the thanks. “I’ve not got much else to do, stuck in this tower. It’s my pleasure. But it will take a while. Are you ok staying here while I make it?”

The boy nodded, for where else would he go? Back to the fireside and the whittling?

“It’s late and I have to be getting to my bed. But first I’d like to introduce you to Serafina.” He beckoned and up to the bed stepped a woman of metal.

The boy couldn’t help but gawp. Silken hair the blue of an open sky fell down a steel face, a few dents scattered across her cheeks like dimples. Over her heart was carved a maker’s mark, a sun rising. She was dressed in normal homespun clothes like everyone else he had ever known but she wore them differently, as if they were merely a coat of paint.

“Like you she came to my for help but after I’d given it she found she had nowhere left to go. So she stays here and helps me. She was the one who found you.”

“Th..thank you,” the boy stammered.

Serafina looked at him for a moment, shrugged and walked away. The wizard glanced after her then turned to the boy. “It takes her a while to warm up to people, I wouldn’t take it personally,” he explained apologetically. “Now get some sleep. I’ll start in the morning.”

With that he headed up the stairs. Once he’d vanished from sight the light abruptly shut off, leaving the boy in the darkness. He settled down on the bed but, though he was tired and aching, he found it very hard to go to sleep. He kept wriggling in his bed, the excitement coursing through him.

Freedom would be his!

The next day the boy was awake when the wizard walked down the stairs. There was a small kitchen in a corner of the massive room and after a quick breakfast he began measuring the boy, the length of his limbs and his torso. The boy sat as still as possible while this happened and then the wizard began walking around the room, gathering what materials he needed. Finally he sat down at a table and started to work.

The boy watched all of this but creation is never a fast process and he couldn’t quite see what the wizard was actually doing. The excitement began to wane and soon boredom set in. This wasn’t much better than sitting by the fire back at the inn. At least there had his whittling to entertain him. With that thought he asked the wizard, “Do you have some spare wood? And a knife?”

The wizard started up from what he’d been working on. Looking at the boy as if he he’d forgotten he was there he smiled apologetically and from some corner he found some cast off and a sharp knife. Then he got back to work.

The boy turned the wood over and over in his hands, getting a feel for it before carving into it. He’d whittle the horse that’d he’d ridden, he decided. It may have thrown him at the end but it had got him here and he wanted to remember it.

He lost himself in the task and when he looked up, the horse finished, he saw the wizard watching him. “You’re very skilled with that,” he said.

The boy shrugged. “I had time to learn.”

The wizard thought for a moment then disappeared off into the depths of the tower. When he came back he had another chair with him along with Serafina. “Would you like to help me make the chair?” the wizard asked. “If it gets damaged once you leave here then you should know how to fix it.”

“Can I?” asked the boy. “I’m just normal. I can’t even walk.”

The wizard rolled his eyes. “As if you needed legs to make something. All you need for this is a sharp mind and a willingness to learn, both of which you obviously have.”

“Then yes, please.”

Serafina, moved over to the boy. “Are you ok with me picking you up?” she asked. His permission granted the boy was carefully but firmly lifted and placed next to the wizard. The table was spread before them, holding the various pieces that would go into the chair. The boy recognised few of them except some barrel hoops but the wizard explained as he picked up each piece.

“When making something on wheels the important thing is balance…”

And so the boy began to learn some of the wizard’s trade. He learned of gears, small movements that turned to bigger movements. Of suspension, that would cushion him over even the roughest ground. And of wood, how to sand it, bend it and shape it.

That wasn’t all he learned. He quickly realised that, though the wizard had made him breakfast, Serafina was the cook in the tower. He watched her dicing carrots and stirring pots and asked if he could make a meal sometime. She agreed, the first time he heard her oddly musical voice, and allowed him to make dinner the next day.

It was a magnificent disaster that ended with the room filling with thick black smoke. Serafina had to carry him out while the wizard followed behind, choking and wiping at weeping eyes. Then she strode back inside and twenty minutes later the smoke began to clear. The boy wasn’t allowed to cook after that but she did sit him at the counter next to her and had him prep the vegetables as she explained what to do and, more importantly, what to never do.

The month that passed was the happiest of the boy’s life. He threw himself into every day, experiencing all he could and settled down to sleep with a brain engorged with new knowledge. He sometimes felt that he wished the chair would never be finished, that he would be here making it forever but the joy he felt the day it was finally completed swept that aside.

It was a graceful thing, carved from the lightest wood and metal that the wizard could find. The wheels were solid, banded, pine with handles running along the rims for him to grip and push. The cushion was plush, well-padded with goose down and dyed the same blue as Serafina’s hair.

The metal woman was nowhere to be seen, having stepped out a while ago, so it was the wizard that helped the boy into the chair. He wasn’t as strong nor as gentle as his assistant but the boy didn’t care. He was barely seated before he grabbed the wheels and pushed them forward. They turned smoothly and the boy shot forward, jerked by the unexpected movement. He passed by the worktable, reached the kitchen and, in fits and starts, turned round again.

He was moving! Moving on his own! He could decide where to go, when he wanted to. He wasn’t a burden anymore.

On the verge of tears the boy manoeuvred the chair over to the door.

That was where he saw Serafina dance for the first time. With sword in hand she walked the line between the trees and the foot of the hill, swirling around obstacles that existed only to her and cutting through the ghosts in her way. Every step was a decision, the blade seeming a natural part of her body, not an extension, just something that had always been part of her. It was a brutal thing, of steel and silver, but the grace and elegance turned it into one of the most beautiful things the boy had ever seen.

He sat there watching her for an uncountable amount of time before she noticed him and stroke over, sheathing the sword at her waist with a mutter. “So you got the chair finished. Congratulations. Will you be leaving now?”

“Um…” The boy felt suddenly awkward. There was nothing tying him here but he realised that he didn’t want to leave.

The wizard spoke up. “Well he’s got to learn how to properly move around with it. If it’s ok with him then he should stay for a bit longer.”

The boy gratefully agreed. The metal woman nodded, no expression on her immovable face, and strode past them.

The boy had agreed out of a desire to stay but getting around with the chair was harder than he’d expected. Getting the chair moving was easy enough but it took time to learn how to do so smoothly, without stops and starts. His palms were rubbed raw from friction and his arms started to burn. Getting in and out of it was even harder and he frequently collapsed onto the floor.

He wouldn’t have managed without Serafina. She had decided to take an interest and hovered around him, ready to provide help when he needed it, in steadying the chair or picking him up off the ground.

“Don’t worry,” she told him at one point. “It will seem hard and like you can do nothing but give up. But you can do it. You will get there.”

“What do you know?” he snarled at her. It had been the fifth time that day that he had landed on the floor and he was sore and angry. “I’ve seen you dance. You’re so graceful. You don’t know what it’s like being me.”

She carefully finished helping him back into his chair then stepped back. Her metal face couldn’t move much and so rarely showed emotion but the boy had learned to tell her moods from how she stood and moved or the tone of her voice. Now though she was a blank slate, giving nothing away and when she spoke her voice was neutral and indecipherable.

“We all have to learn how to move at some point. It doesn’t come naturally to us all.”

He could tell that he had hurt her and he apologised for his outburst. She nodded acceptance but walked out the door and wasn’t seen for the rest of the day. The boy had to cook that night but luckily only burned the food a little.

The next day she was back and as helpful as ever. The topic was never brought up again but the boy made sure to keep thanking her, asking her advice and showing how much he appreciated her.

Because she was right. His muscles adapted and grew strong, his hands grew calluses and soon he was flowing across the floor like water. He still couldn’t climb to stairs to whatever waited above this room but compared to what he had before he was in heaven. Serafina watched one night, leaning against the wall as he zipped from one side to the other, laughing in glee at his progress. She straightened up and walked over to him.

“Want to dance?” she asked.

He looked at her questioningly and she stretched out her hand to him. He took it and she began to walk around him in a circle. With his other hand he spun one of his wheels, turning with her. They circled a few times then she let go, twirling and stepping backward. He rolled after her and they came together again.

It was a thing of elegance, their dance. It was like gears in a system. The boy and Serafina turned into each other, again and again, breaking apart and returning. The wizard looked on in amusement and clapped when they were done. Serafina looked at the boy with her diamond eyes shining. “You can move beautifully,” she said. Then her eyes dimmed a bit. “Will you be leaving now?”

The boy didn’t want to, he had found a home here, but he couldn’t think of a way to ask to stay. He didn’t want to be a burden. Before he had a chance the wizard spoke up again.

“I’ve been thinking about it and I’d like to show you how to convert a dwelling, to make it easier for you to move about. We could do up this tower so you could get upstairs. I think a maybe a lift…”

The wizard was cut off was the boy flew across the floor towards him, throwing his arms round him in a bone crushing hug. The man patted the boy’s shoulder awkwardly while Serafina looked on, her posture open and excited.

And so the boy learned more. Of weights and measures, that could send platforms soaring upwards. Of angles, those were easy to wheel up and would take stresses the best. And finally of whatever the wizard wanted to teach. Through no conversation but through unspoken mutual agreement the boy became the wizard’s apprentice.

Part of what the boy learned was what the wizard was doing in the middle of the woods. His job was to keep the lighthouse in good repair and make sure the light kept turning. The boy didn’t know why it was so important, the wizard wouldn’t tell him, saying it was a surprise. But he saw more of the tower as the conversion continued. Once the lift was completed and he went soaring up through the air, his heart in his mouth, he found that there were a number of rooms between the ground floor and the light. There was the wizard’s room and Serafina also had a room, though hers was used more as a storeroom as she didn’t need to sleep. And finally he had a room as well, his bed moved up from the ground floor. The walls were covered with shelves and he slowly filled them with his whittlings. Eventually he would be able to get up to the light but he was ok with waiting for that. His life was perfect. And it remained that way until the night of the storm.

The first the boy knew of the catastrophe was a flash of lightning that shook the building, made the lights flicker and masked the explosion with a rumble of thunder. He was in his room, whittling a figurine for Serafina and paid little attention the weather. Then his door was flung open and the metal woman was dashing inside.

“The lamp was struck and exploded. The wizard was next to it and he’s hurt. You’ve got to come quick!”

She was out the door again in a moment and the boy was hot on her heels. The wizard had been placed in his bed and looked terrible. Smoke rose from his prone body and his remaining hair had been burnt away. Serafina was busy pressing cold water onto the deep burns that marred his skin and wrapping them in bandages. It was a mercy that he was unconscious.

The boy started to help just as the wizard woke up. He locked eyes with the boy and grabbed for his hand.

“The light! The light must not go out!”

“It’s broken,” Serafina told him as she continued to tend to him. “It won’t shine again for a while.”

“Then take me up there. I can fix it,” the wizard demanded. But that was more effort than his body was ready for and he slipped back into darkness.

They finally finished tending to him then looked at each other. “There’s no way he’s going to be able to do anything if he’s unconscious,” Serafina said. “Even when he wakes up….he was badly injured. He’s not going anywhere.”

The boy squared his shoulders. “Take me up there. I might be able to do something.”

“Are you sure?”

“No. But I won’t be able to tell until I get up there.”

“Alright. If you’re sure.” Then she picked him up and they were away.

The boy barely got to see the top of the tower as they swept through it. The next thing he knew they were out in the pounding rain, lightning still flickering through the cloud, past an expanse of wood that reached off into space, and looking at the lamp in front of him. Serafina carefully put him down beside it and at an instruction from him ran back down to get some tools. A moment later she returned and he was unbolting a metal plate from the side, exposing the twisted innards and trying to figure out how it worked.

In essence it was similar to how the wheels on his wheelchair worked. A lamp burned in the middle, fed by a reservoir of oil. A metal hood fitted over half of it, a lens was over the other half and a bunch of gears caused it to rotate, sending the beam of light out into the night. There was a grinding coming from where the gears were locked together, still trying to turn, powered from some other point in the tower by the same engine that gave them the lights. The boy managed to find the switch to turn it off. At least they still had that.

Which was about all they had. The lightning strike had ignited the reservoir, causing the explosion. The lamp itself was fine but the gears had been shredded, bent out of configuration and shape. The tank that had held the oil was just gone, the only parts of it left caught up in the other parts of the mechanism.

Out of the corner of his eyes he saw Serafina begin to back away. The boy turned his head and yelled to her, “Where are you going? I need your help!”

“I don’t know if I can stay here. I’m metal! What if I attract the lightning?”

“I’m elbow deep in a huge chunk of metal! I don’t think you’re going to make much of a difference!”

She dithered by the door back down then came and squatted beside him. “What do you need?”

The boy began pulling out gears and spindles. “A hammer, to begin with. Some of these gears can be beaten back into shape.”

“I’ll do it,” she offered. “I’m stronger than you.”

“Sounds good. Then grab a barrel of oil as well. You do that and I’ll try and work out how I’m going to feed the lamp.”

They both dove into their tasks and soon the sound of beating metal was as regular as the thunder. Serafina would finish the gears and the boy would desperately thread them back into place or send her back down the tower looking for replacements. Time past weirdly in the storm and the boy wasn’t sure whether they’d been working for hours or minutes. All he knew was that he was soaked to the skin and his hands were cut and bruised on the metal.

He had just about finished reconstructing the mechanism, he hoped, though who knew if it would actually turn again, when he felt Serafina’s hand on his shoulder. “Look!” she yelled, pointing out over the forest.

Between flashes of lightning he saw it. A shape on the horizon, wallowing like a whale of clouds. Vast, even at that distance. And getting closer. “We need that lamp working again!” she called to him. “Now!”

The boy had barely started on the oil but was desperate. He grabbed a rubber hose that Serafina had gotten him and shoved it into the barrel. He sucked hard, until the black liquid was spilling into his mouth, then shoved the flowing mess into place. “That’s got it,” he said, slamming the metal plate into place and securing it with a few hasty turns of a spanner. The shape from the horizon had grown bigger and it was approaching through the storm with a speed he didn’t want to think about.

“Are you sure?”

“In no way.” With that he flicked the switch.

There was a creaking, a groaning, and a screeching. He flinched away, half expecting it to explode again but then something gave and the gears started turning. The metal hood spun in place and the lamp shone, lancing out into the darkness.

Just in time to illuminate the ship that was heading right for them.

The boy wasn’t sure of what he was seeing, just an impression of a prow spearing towards him, before turning at the last moment as it reacted to the light. The prow turned into a wall of wood, with railings around the top and figures in long blue coats hurrying to and fro on the top of it. It slowed with shocking speed and drew alongside the wooden bridge to nowhere that suddenly became a dock.

A head baring a fancy hat stuck itself over the railing. “Ahoy the lighthouse! What happened? The lamp was off and this isn’t a storm to get lost in!”

“The lamp exploded and hurt the wizard,” Serafina shouted back, perfectly at ease with this strange happening. “We only just got it fixed.”

The man cursed then threw Serafina a rope. “Permission to come aboard?”

She tied it securely to a nearby post. “Permission granted. Get inside.”

The sailors swarmed the tower and the boy tiredly leaned back. He found Serafina there to catch him and relaxed into her arms. “Would you like me to take you back downstairs?” she asked.

He sighed contentedly. “Yes please.”

The next week passed in a blur. The man in the hat, captain of the ship, took command, setting the wizard to the care of his surgeon and putting his mechanic on fixing the repair that the boy had done to the lamp. The mechanic was surprisingly complementary, in his own curse laden way, and happily accepted the boy’s help in setting it right. Serafina was kept busy cooking and helping the crew move supplies about.

The wizard healed quickly and one day the boy found him hovering over his shoulder, looking at his precious lamp. The mechanic told him about what the boy had done and he quietly thanked him. The boy looked away, embarrassed.

That night the three of them, boy, wizard and metal woman, found themselves together in the wizard’s bedroom.

“You did a good job,” the wizard told him seriously. “The mechanic is looking for an assistant and, after seeing you work, requested you.”

The boy blinked slowly, not sure he was properly understanding. The wizard continued.

“It’s a good job, working a sky ship. They fly everywhere and you’ll get to see the world. And, though they aren’t the biggest, you can get about them with ease.”

The boy swallowed, his throat thick. “I…I can’t,” he said.

The wizard frowned. “You’re welcome to stay here. I like your company. But, frankly, you’ve got a talent and you’d be wasted here.”

“But I wouldn’t know anyone.”

“I could go with you,” Serafina spoke. She looked at both of them awkwardly. “If you want.”

“You would? But you live here.”

She looked away, silent, and the wizard spoke up.

“I think that’s a good idea. You’ve brightened up since the boy first came, Serafina. Go where you’re happy.”

Finally the boy voiced the secret fear from his heart. “Do you think I can? I couldn’t even walk a few months ago.”

There was a moment’s silence then both his companions burst into laughter.

“Look at all you’ve done!” The wizard told him. “You’re one of the fastest learners I’ve ever seen. They’d be lucky to have you!”

“Silly boy,” Serafina chuckled. “As if you need legs to fly.”

And so, together, they left.

It’s said they still soar through the air to this day, the sword that walks and the boy who flies. And where else would they go? They had found their place in the world.

When Winter Met Summer

It was a dark, stormy day when the woman from the north walked into the small village on the plains. Far had she walked with no destination in mind, just a desire for distance and the road beneath her feet. The wide-open spaces around her were familiar, though the ones that she had left behind her were very different. Maybe it was that that brought her here, seeking a glimpse of home so far from it. Or maybe her feet just happened to pick that road. It didn’t matter very much to the wanderer. All she wanted was to get away and her surroundings didn’t matter much to her.

She was halfway through the village, with no intent on stopping, when her eyes caught sight of a wooden sign, handing above the door to the blacksmith. The symbol on it was one she recognised, had carried with her for years. She hesitated on the doorstep, the first time she’d stopped walking all day, then pushed open the door and went inside.

The blacksmith store was tidy and organised, a counter by the door and a forge in the corner. Tools lined the walls on specially crafted hooks and a table showed a spread of half-finished project, a medley of iron and bronze. The blacksmith herself was a big woman, with biceps carved by her profession. Her hair was shaved close to her head and glimmered in the light of the nearby forge. Her skin was pale, as though it didn’t often see the sun. Her eyes were a piercing blue, but they were gentle and her smile, when she saw the traveller, was kind.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you before. Are you not from around here?” she asked with an accent that proved that she wasn’t either. The wanderer didn’t reply, digging in her bag and pulling something out.

“I was passing through and saw your sign. Are you the one who created this blade?”

On the counter she placed a dagger with an iron handle that bore the symbol of a sun rising. The blacksmith picked it up and examined it for a minute, pulling it from it’s sheath and watching the heat and light shimmer through the leaf blade. “Yes, this is one of mine. From a long while ago.”

The wanderer nodded. “Then you should keep it.” With that she turned to go.

“Wait!” The blacksmith was round the counter in a moment, faster than her bulk would suggest. “This is yours. Bought and paid for.”

“I don’t want it,” the wanderer replied. “I carried it with me as a curse and now that I’ve found it a home I can leave it.”

“I don’t feel right taking it for free. Let me give you a meal and a place to stay for the night at least.”

The wanderer hesitated, for though she wanted to go it had been a long time since she had slept in a proper bed and she had no money for an inn. Eventually she nodded.

“That would be nice.”

“Then let’s go.” In a moment the blacksmith was dousing the forge and getting ready to leave. When the wanderer protested the blacksmith laughed. “The villagers know where I live. They can come and get me if they need me.”

So they left the shop together and headed towards the blacksmith’s house, the sky getting darker above them. In the distance there was a crack of thunder and the blacksmith’s eyes flickered to a tower standing on a nearby hill but neither commented on it.

The blacksmith’s house was just as orderly as her shop, with everything in its own neat and correct place, scrubbed clean and waiting to be used. There also wasn’t a lot. A bed, covered in a brightly woven blanket, a table, a couple of chairs, some cupboards and a shimmering pot over the fire. No decorations, nothing surplus to requirement. Except in the corner, tucked away and yet somehow prominent, stood a sheathed sword. The blacksmith saw the wanderer looking at it and laughed. “You’re not the only one cursed with a weapon. Now take a seat and I’ll get us some soup.”

The wanderer subsided into one of the chairs and watched the blacksmith walk around her house. She used small, economical movements, never moving very far with each careful step, every so often shooting a glance at the ceiling or at her guest. It was controlled, as if she wasn’t used to space. But it was efficient and soon there were two bowls steaming on the table, with a hunk of bread to accompany it and the blacksmith was sitting across from her. The wanderer ate quickly and in silence. It was delicious.

“Are you cold?” She looked up in surprise and found the blacksmith regarding her. She wondered what she saw. A strange person, burdening her with their presence, clad in furs and wearing gloves despite the heat of the fire? Or something else? It had been so long since the wanderer had interacted with anyone that she was no longer sure.

“I don’t feel the cold,” she said but slid off her furs anyway. The gloves stayed on, as they always did.

The silence came back, grew oppressive. Eventually the wanderer felt hat she had to break it. “That’s a marvelous dagger. How did you make it?”

The blacksmith hesitated then ran a hand over her closely cropped head. “My hair. If add it to the metal it gains some properties.” A pause. “I don’t use it any more.”

“Why? It seems like the sort of thing that can make you rich and famous.”

The blacksmith’s smile was pained. “It wasn’t worth the cost.”

The wanderer nodded. “I know about that.”

“Have you traveled far?” Apparently now that she’d spoken the blacksmith felt comfortable enough to continue talking. The wanderer nodded.

“Far and not far enough.”

This killed the conversation. The blacksmith was still regarding her though and eventually she spoke again.

“I don’t know who you are, or what happened to you. I don’t need to know but you look like you’re carrying a weight. Would you like to talk about it? That can help.”

The wanderer though for a moment. It had been a long time since she’d spoken about it, though not long enough. Still the offer was kind and fairly given. She took a deep breath and prepared herself for the worse. She hoped that storm would stay away. She hated sleeping outside in the rain.

The blacksmith must have noticed the change in her for she asked, “What’s your tale?”

The northern woman took another deep breath and let it out slowly. “Far in the north there stands a village, whose name means ‘The First Warning.’ It was the home of hunters and heroes because once a generation there came an Ice Queen, born of nature where the glaciers met the frozen sea. When such a threat arose a hero would go to face her.

“The hero of this story was a man named Adlartok. He had been trained for the duty for all of his life, since he first climbed the mountains using the hidden paths and brought back a fish from the secret lakes. He was given the task and a special knife, with the heat of summer in its blade. He set off alone to vanquish her. But his sister, so used to looking after him and fearing for his life, followed him.

“Afraid of being sent back she waited half a day and then started tracking him. She followed him across the snow plains until she came to the ice walls of the glaciers. She got there just in time to see him slip and fall, plummeting to his death. She was unable to even be there when he died and his body was already covered with snow when she came upon him.

“She dug off the snow just enough to get the magic knife he carried and then scaled the glacier herself. Across the barren ice she went until she came to a glorious castle of ice and stone. She hunted through it, looking to avenge her brother until she came upon the ice queen herself.

“Only there was no ice queen, just a child with the power of winter inside it. She looked at the child and at the naked blade of the knife steaming in her hand and weakness crawled into her heart. She sheathed summer and hugged the child. And in doing so she betrayed her brother and all that he’d died for.

“She tried to teach the child to control the power it had been born with but couldn’t, for what did a mortal woman like her know of the power of winter? And while she wasted time the storms of winter crept south, smothering the crops, burying people in snow drifts and dooming the world. Eventually she came to her senses and realised that the child had to die. So she put it to bed, made sure that it was sleeping and then killed her.”

The wanderer’s voice broke on the last word.

“And what happened next?”

The woman with winter’s blood on her hands laughed. “What happened next? That’s the end of the story. The evil child was defeated, the threat gone away.”

“But what of the hero?”

“The only hero in that story lies dead in the snow where he fell.”

The fire was the only noise to be heard for a while. The wanderer should have been used to it, for she had lived in silence for many years. But this one was different, felt oppressive somehow. She needed to break it with a question.

“What about your story? How did the girl with the magic hair end up as a blacksmith in a small village?”

The blacksmith took a deep breath, remembered pain flickering through her eyes, then began.

“Once upon a time, in a small village nestled deep in the heart of the Greatwoods, a little baby girl was born to a loving couple. Her hair was the colour of beaten bronze and her cheeks stole the hue of the rosiest of apples. Her parents looked upon her with delight, for they had long wanted a child and they had got a fair one. However, as the young girl grew up they became sad. For while some little girls were destined for weaving or baking or sewing it became clear that their little girl was destined for metal. She spent her days around her father, the blacksmith, and became fascinated with his work. It was there, in that fascination, that they discovered a curious property of her hair. When beaten into a heated blade the metal took on the properties of summer. Just a little would make the metal strong, a lot and it would shimmer with heat.

“The father, because he loved his daughter, taught her the secrets of his craft and soon she was proficient, helping to create all sorts of tools and weapons, each imbued with the power of her magic hair. She revelled in her power, to forge, to build, to create.

“But wherever there is power there is greed. A local baron heard about these magical weapons and wanted them for himself. In his mind they would be an asset, to help him expand his lands and fight against his neighbours. The blacksmith, though, was a kind man and didn’t want that so he refused. Three times the baron came to him. The first time he came with money, to lure him away to his castle. The second time he came with threats, against his family and the village. The third time he came with soldiers. They rounded up the people and put them in a big cage, hostage while the blacksmith went to work.

But they had missed the girl with the bronze hair. She’d been out in the woods the third time they’d come and returned to the occupation of her village. She knew that she had to do something but she was one and they were twenty. No fair fight would work out in her favour.

“So she didn’t fight fair. She slaughtered them.”

The blacksmith was silent for a moment.

“The baron was last He begged on his knees but the girl was full of anger at what he’d done and plunged her blade into his heart. Then she went and freed her village from the cage.

“But the people didn’t look on her as a saviour. They stared with horror at the girl stained with man blood, at the shimmering blade in her hand and in that moment they saw her as the reason for all they had suffered. They shouted at her, pulled up stones from the ground and drove her out. She looked for her parents but they too wore the looks of horror and she knew she no longer had a place there. She fled from the village and fell into a deep dark hole.”

“You mean depression?”

“No, a literal hole. The depression was already with her.” The blacksmith shrugged. “She found a new family there, and some measure of healing. Eventually she left and came here, using her skills to help people, to create not destroy. She cut her hair short so that the temptation to use it never returned. But she knew that no matter what she did she could never return to the village in the heart of the Greatwoods.”

“It was different for the girl in my story,” the northern woman said abruptly. “The village, what there was of it, welcomed her back.”

“I thought the story stopped before then.”

“The story should never have started in the first place. But there’s always an after the end.”

The blacksmith laughed. “Don’t I know it. So what happened to that girl who slew winter?”

“Like the fool she was she almost stayed in the palace of ice, waiting to starve or freeze, but she couldn’t. The death of the child had changed her and now she no longer feared the cold, nor felt its bite. So she went back to her village, for what else was she to do? She knew nothing else. She was welcomed back as a saviour and a feast was held in her honour. And after that things went back to normal, or at least for everyone else. The girl was honoured and respected but each bowed head, every thanks felt poisonous. She had committed a great crime. She had killed a defenceless little girl, a girl she’d come to love. She shouldn’t have been honoured. She should be punished.

“A time came when the girl couldn’t take it any more so she left the village with the magic knife. With nothing else to do she headed south. And she kept walking, with no direction. She’s walking still and may never stop.”

The soup was gone, somehow consumed in between the story telling, the bread nothing more than a crust. The blacksmith reached across the wood between them, carefully, like towards a wounded animal. Her hands hovered in the middle of the table, a question. The wanderer hesitated then answered taken them, glove to skin.

“I feel sorry for the girl in your story,” said the blacksmith. “She didn’t have any good choices. Either she killed the girl she loved like a sister or her whole village paid the price. No matter what she did she had guilt to live with.”

“I feel sorry for the girl in yours,” said the wanderer. “She did what she had to do, the only way she could, and she got punished for it. She got the guilt and the hatred. Your girl didn’t deserve either.”

“Neither did yours.”

“Are you sure?” In a moment she had broken the hold and then, before she could think better of it, her gloves were off and her hands were free, in all their horror and glory. They were white, like marble or the snow, except for their tips which were the blue translucence of ice. Murderers’ hands. Killers’ hands.

The blacksmith took those hands in hers. “Yes, I’m sure.”

The wanderer stared. The hands that held her were warm and she could feel the calluses that had been built up by a lifetime of work. She felt trapped, somehow, though she knew she could take them back if she needed to. Trapped by acceptance.

They sat there for a while, holding and being held, until eventually the blacksmith spoke.

“You could stay here for a while, if you wanted. Take some time, unload some of that weight.”

“I…I wouldn’t want to impose. I don’t want to stay where I’m not needed.”

The blacksmith’s smile was sunlight and summer warmth. “You would be most welcome.”

The wanderer was about to answer when a frantic banging came on the door.

The two woman exchanged looks then the blacksmith carefully unclasped their hands and got up. The wanderer couldn’t see who was at the door but she heard them, a young voice, high with controlled panic.

“I need to come in now.”

A boy shoved his way in, brown of hair, brown of eyes, unremarkable. Behind him he dragged a little girl, who clung to his back, hiding away. She could see a wisp of floating curls, a dark blue to black but that was all.

The blacksmith closed the door behind the boy and stared at him. “What do you want? And who do you have here?”

The boy looked between the two women, confused to see that there was more than just the blacksmith there but he shouldered on. “You’re from far away, aren’t you? Could you go back there?”

“Maybe.” The blacksmith’s eyes were cold. “Why?”

He took a deep breath and pointed behind him. “This is the Storm King’s daughter. He’s been beating her in his anger and abusing her so I rescued her. I need you to take her and go far away, where he can never find her again. Please.”

The blacksmith was uncertain, taking aback by such a sudden and drastic request. “I don’t know…”

That was when the girl peaked around her protector. Her hair was curly and fluffy, like a cloud about to burst into rain. Her eyes were the sky just before dawn. But it was her face that made the wanderer catch her breath. Purple, blue, yellow, green. Mottled with bruises.

Uki looked at Eos and saw agreement there. She spoke but she spoke for both of them.

“We’ll look after her.”