Hello Internet!

Welcome to the new New Blog of Days, a collection of stories, poems, and more.  The “and more” includes original recipes, language facts, illustrations, and reviews.  The blog is named after Eleanor Farjeon’s New Book of Days, which has an entry for every single day of the year featuring anecdotes, poems, and trivia.  It’s sort of like a writer’s almanac or a secular book of hours.

As for me, I’m just a humble grad student trying to keep her dream of one day becoming a writer alive.  Behind me are a network of friends and family who supply me with recipes and illustrations, ideas and suggestions, and encouragement and criticism.

This Septemberour opening month!I have several posts prepared.  These include a fairy tale examining the “three princesses” cliche, a prequel/sequel to it, and a poem derived from it.  Expect also a poem concerning the qualities of September.  Finally, in honour of Talk Like a Pirate Day, I have prepared a list of old-style words concerning crime, which honorary pirates may find useful.

If any of that takes your fancy, then you should definitely stick around!  This is only the beginning …

Man with Book and Cat

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House Guest

House GuestI am the ghost in your house.

In the dark I lurk in the furthest room from the hearth
barely moving, barely
breathing lest you hear
me and find I’m there.

I am silence personified,
or rather a person silenced.
Hardly existing so it is hard to know
if I ever even was alive at all.
My substance minced into pieces small
so as not to be offensive.

I am invisible,
flitting fleeting like a shadow,
a mere speck in the eye washed out by a blink.
You know me only by my trivial trail of empty
milk cartons and mislaid things—things
so unremarkable that they can be subscribed
to squinting memories or hazy eyes
and not to another’s mechanisations.

To you I am just a mild draft or blurred vision,
a soft creak on the stairs, the murmur of the television.
I was never there, I have been forgotten.

But being alert to your presence I feel it more cruelly.
Your warmth a sear,
your noise a blare,
your colours almost unbearable
to my sensations—like a bright light
after time in the dark.

Please! do not try to speak—
force your more vital presence on my diminishing
one, scattering me like trails
of smoke with your solid movement.
It hurts me, your intrusion, your demand
for a portion of my flesh that I can scarcely afford to spare.

I hate this:
Being shut up, trammelled like a bear, muzzled like a dog,
trapped by circumstances too small.
But I have nowhere else to go.
So I roam midnight halls and dark-swallowed streets,
haunting the corners of my hollow life,
waiting for it to be mine.

Does it Poem?

Today I just wanted to share with you a cool video that my boy passed on to me:  What is the Shortest Poem?  Another gem created by Vsauce, this video discusses brevity and poetry–specifically, how short can a poem actually be?  Vsauce presents several short poems anddiscusses their various merits.  My favourites are the ly visual poem by Geof Huth and the m poem by Aram Saroyan.  I love the idea of playing with the alphabet–after all, letters are the atoms of meaning!  The idea of forging a new character is like splitting the atom in my mind.  It’s like nuclear fusion.  KABOOM!

I always appreciate Vsauce for teaching me something new.  As a Classics student, I’m used to poems to be sweeping affairs that last not only more than a page, but more than a single volume.  The Aeneid and Iliad are certainly not one line works, nor is Beowulf over in a second.  But does length really guarantee heft of poetic message and quality?  There is certainly something to be said for the skill of delivering a poetic punch in as few words as possible.

LettersThis brings us to the issue of what poetry is anyway?  Can a pun be a poetry?  Or an advertisement?  What makes a poem a poem?  A nifty rhyme, an instance of wordplay that delivers more meaning per word than it otherwise might do?  Or does it have to be more than that?  A distinguished message, a heroic style, a literary credential?  What–to verb a noun–poems?

Honestly, I do not know.  It is a question I struggle with all the time.  I like to think that anything that is meaningful to someone can be considered poetry or a form of literature.  However, the academic in me yearns for something less open-ended than that (something to justify my  intense study of the subject).  If anything can be poetry and if anyone can write it, is its study worthwhile?

What do you think?  Please comment and let me know.  I’d love to get a good dialogue going!  In the meantime, check out the Vsauce video.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Daughters of the Sun and Moon

In honour of the lunar eclipse occurring tonight, here is the prequel to the story earlier published this month called The Wold.  I hope you enjoy it!

Daughters of the Sun and Moon

Once upon a time in the land of Ix, there was a King who was very in love with his wife, the Queen.  However, despite their love, they were childless.  This was for a very particular reason, for the Queen was a very particular person.

“It’s obscene!” she would always say.  “Having children in such a barbaric way.  All the very best princes and princesses are born from eggs or delivered by storks or grow from peas.  And they all have curses or spells put on them and have their futures all decided.  They are brought up beautifully.  And we will settle for nothing less than that!”

The poor King.  He tried to explain that childbirth was the natural practice.  He huffed and he raged and he sighed, but his delicate (but strong-minded) Queen would not budge on the issue.  So the King took out his frustration in other pursuits:  namely, hunting.

He spent most of his days in the large woodland between Ix, Barnaby, and Rosses, chasing deer and baiting bears and trapping pheasant.  One day, however, while out on the hunt, a storm arose.  Trees snapped, their long fingers cracking at the knobbly knuckles.  Lightning tore the sky in two, scattering the hunting party like the accompanying thunder.  The King tried to master his mount, but his horse was having none of it, and threw him to the ground.  Groaning, grumbling, stumbling through the rain that stung his eyes and froze his skin, the King fumbled his way through the forest searching for cover.

Finally he came across a large stone house, its windows alight with warmth.  He burst in through the wide arched door and rushed towards the fire, his hands outstretched, water dripping from his nose, chin, and hair over the dirt floor.

“Well, that’s kingliness for you,” a disapproving voice said.  He looked up and saw a beautiful woman sitting across from by the fire, her long black hair cascading over her shoulders, heavy green velvet sleeves hanging from her arms.

“I-I apologise madam, I didn’t know–”

“Madam is it!” she clucked her tongue.  “Surely I don’t look as old as that, Bartie.”

The King was surprised.  How did this woman know his pet name?  He looked at her closely, at her proud bearing and sharp, almost cutting, features.  He looked at her shrewd eyes–not at all nice–and her mouth always twisted in a smirk of amusement.  It couldn’t be–

Witch

“Aunt Roberta?” he asked, hoping it wasn’t so.

“Of course it’s me!” she exploded angrily.  “Good god boy, if you were any thicker I could use you to build a castle wall.”

“But you …” he tried to think of a way to say this nicely, “you haven’t aged a day!”

“Of course I haven’t aged!” she exasperated.  “Haven’t you heard the stories from your Grandfather?  Don’t you know who I am?”

King Bartholomew knew all too well.  Aunt Roberta was actually Great Aunt Roberta and, more accurately, Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Aunt Roberta.  But for some reason she never aged, never died, never withered.  And while she would disappear for decades on end, she usually turned up again–to everyone’s great displeasure.  For Aunt Roberta was a witch, which is a disagreeable thing to have in any family, but particularly when Aunt Roberta was very disagreeable to begin with, even without being witch-y.  Her last appearance at the family reunion had resulted in nine people being turned into toads, four women passing into enchanted sleep, and a dragon attack.  When asked why she inflicted so much chaos, Roberta had replied that the men were toads anyway, the women were putting her to sleep with their drivel, and that a dragon always livened up a party.  Such was Aunt Roberta.

“I must say, Bartie,” she said conversationally, “I expected more from you.  Bursting into a poor old woman’s home, making a mess, stealing the fire.  But you always were a greedy child.  How’s that cow of a wife?”

“I-I beg your pardon!” Bartholomew spluttered.

“You heard me.  That cow Isadora.  What’s all this nonsense about her not wanting to have children unless they grow out of flower pots?”

“I … don’t know what you mean” he said loftily.  She snorted.

“Oh please, you can’t hide anything from me.”  Her black beetle-y eyes caught the firelight and gleamed, as if they could see far beyond anybody’s ken.  King Bartholomew trembled under this gaze.  Suddenly she shrugged and laughed, her voice breaking the silence like the lightning outdoors.

“Oh!  Your face!  What a delightful coward you are!  Well, nevermind Bartie.  I came here to help you, so that’s what I’ll do.  Give this to your wife.”  She took out a wooden box.  She opened it and revealed a beautiful necklace wrought in silver with three stones hanging vertically–amber, pearl, and emerald.  “On the day of the eclipse she will give you children–children born of both the sun and moon.”

The King took the box from her and she stood up regally, her heavy dress falling about her sides.

“Well, farewell Bartie.  I wish you luck, but you’ve been very dull company.”

She snapped her fingers and the fire went out.  The cottage previously full of witchy paraphernalia was bare and empty.  The rain let up and the sky began to clear, the vivid blue sky shining through the dirty smears of grey.  And Aunt Roberta was nowhere to be found.  All that was left was the box that contained the three stoned necklace.

King Bartholomew went outside and found his horse docilely waiting for him and together they meandered home, the King wondering dazedly if the whole business–the storm, the cottage, and the insidious Aunt–had all been a dream.

Cottage

He returned home sodden and cold to his wife who was less than sympathetic.

“The very best princes and princesses,” she said, “do not get caught in storms!”

“Oh Izzy …” Bartholomew sighed, a note of pleading in his voice.

“And don’t call me that!  It’s undignified.  The very best princes and princesses are referred to by their full title.”

“Yes, Queen Isadora.”

King Bartholomew was very glad he had left out the bit about meeting his Aunt Roberta.  He was sure that his Queen would say that the very best princes and princesses did NOT have witches as aunts.  It was then he remembered the necklace he had been given.  He did not want to give it to his Queen in case it was cursed, but … really what was the harm?  Aunt Roberta had said that she wanted to help him, so surely the necklace wasn’t anything sinister.  And in truth he was very sick of hearing about what the very best princes and princesses did.  So he pulled out the box and presented it to his lady.  She in turn was delighted and put it on right away.  Perhaps it was magic or perhaps she was just mollified by the extravagant gift, but that evening she had no words about the very best princes and princesses.

Nine months later, the sun and moon met in the sky.  Long time lovers, they spent ages circling around each other in some courtship dance, cursed by physics to be apart.  But on this day they faced each other and embraced, creating what appeared to be halo hanging in the sky or a wedding ring.  Its bright shadow hung over the forest between Ix, Barnaby, and Rosses like a veil.  Somehow some devilry occurred that day, and the forest began to wilt underneath this ghastly light.  The trees withered and grew hollow.  The leaves fell and turned gray, crumbling like ash.  Ghostly reeds sprang up, and water overflowed from its banks, carving hidden trails.  And Aunt Roberta’s house crumbled into just an empty archway.  For under the aspect of these lovers, the sun and moon, time past swiftly, so that one second to us might last one hundred years for them, so that somehow their time together was worth more than the time they spent measuring out the days and months for us.  And that was the birth of the Wold.

Eclipse

Nine months later, Queen Isadora also gave birth (in the natural way) to three daughters:  Astrid, Laura, and Faye.  Astrid was just like the amber stone, with bright red hair and yellow eyes.  Laura was like the pearl, with flawless white skin but dull black hair and eyes.  Finally Faye, well Faye was the oddity.  For aside from a head of soft brown hair, Faye had no face at all.

In fact, all of the daughters were born with a strange quirk in regards to their face.  Whenever anyone glanced at Astrid’s intense aggressive face they went blind, as if struck by the full force of the sun’s brightness.  Similarly, anyone who saw Laura was struck by madness.  Only Faye’s lack of face seemed safe, except for the fact that she became a mirror, taking on the qualities of anyone who looked at her.  It was unnerving.  For the safety (and sanity) of everyone the girls were required to wear masks to hide their faces and walked about with no knowledge of the glare of sunlight or glow of moonlight, or even the kiss of the wind.

Mask

“Oh I knew it!” Queen Isadora wailed over her children’s oddities.  “I knew that childbirth was an unnatural process.  Now look at our daughters.  The very best princes and princesses will have nothing to do with them!”

“Perhaps it’s a curse,” King Bartholomew suggested helpfully.  “I mean, you said before that the best princes and princesses had curses that needed to be broken.”

“The very best!” the Queen sniffled woefully.  “Perhaps you’re right.  I’m sure our girls are just bewitched and not bizarre at heart.  Very well, as their father you must provide a future for them.  Send them away into the Wold and issue a challenge for any man to come and save them.”

King Bartholomew did as he was bidden, and the three sisters marched into the Wold alone and made their home in the ruins of Aunt Roberta’s cottage between a briar patch and dead tree near a pond.  While they waited for their rescuers they busied themselves.  Laura, who had a softness with animals, raised glow worms and spiders and harvested their silk.  Faye, who had no fear of hard work, would then take the silk and spin it into thread, then weave it into the softest cloth.  Astrid, bold and imaginative, would then take the cloth and sew bright outfits of many colours, slowly creating each girl’s trousseau.  And as they worked the three girls laughed and dreamed:  “My true love will be like this … my husband will do that … my rescuer will be here soon.”

Meanwhile scores of the very best princes tried their luck in the wold.  They rushed in on white chargers and came out on mules.  They brought fine swords and came back leaning on sticks.  And those were the ones who came back.  Many more disappeared entirely, consumed by the decay that seemed to be the wold’s very soul.  Word soon spread that the wold was a dangerous place and was not to be attempted lightly.  Fewer and fewer of the very best of anything tried to cross it.

The girls, growing anxious at their long repose (they had made far too many outfits to wear by now), decided to be more proactive.  They began carving out pathways through the wold, roads of safety their rescuers might take, paths that would lead young men directly to their home.  And so it became common knowledge that the wold could be crossed safely–provided you kept to the path.

Still, no one seemed to come.  Probably because by this point everyone had forgotten about the three princesses.  As I said before, the wold was formed by a lapse in time, and time continued to run strange within the wold.  What had only seemed a few years to the stranded girls had actually been decades to the outside world.  The story of their curse had been forgotten.  Not only that, but the entire city of Ix had fallen.  For, with no heirs to the Ix throne, the city had been left leaderless, divided, and unstable.  It became a ruin and no one remembered Ix, or its daughters, anymore …

Wold

(to be continued …)

9 Ways to Talk Like a Pirate

Skull and BonesArr Matey.  It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day, where ye have to spout as a seadog or walk the plank.  My pirate-speak is terrible, so instead I offer you a selection from the cant of thieves.  After all, pirates are thieves right?  Just the aquatic version.  So today while you’re trying to think of piratey words, maybe these will come in handy.

Filching Cove

This one definitely sounds piratey, but instead of referringto a smuggler’s bay, a filching cove is actually just another word for thief (Kacirk).  Filch of course means “steal”, while cove is slang for “man”.  Apparently its original meaning was “to buy” (as coff, like coffers), which then by association became “a peddler” (cofe), which then generalised to just “a man” (OED).  Apparently the feminine version of this word is filching-mort.  This works off the same principle, with mort meaning “girl”.  However, mort’s origin is unknown, with possible origins from Dutch, French, and Romani (OED).  Nothing like the mystery of woman, eh?

Spank a Glaze

 window-863546_1280There are so many good words for window-related abuse.  My personal favourite is defenestration, but this one is good too.  Spank a glaze means “to break a window” (Kacirk).  The phrase’s formation is pretty clear, with spank replacing break and glaze standing in for window.  The word spank itself is believed to be onomatopoetic in origin, the word mimicking the sound of smacking something with an open hand (OED).  Glaze, on the other hand, comes from glass, which comes from Old English glæs (OED).  This is in contrast to window, which comes from Old Norse vindauga, which literally means “wind’s eye” (OED).  So I guess if you spank a glaze you’re basically giving the wind a black eye.  Mean.

Likamy-Docks

Pillory  This is a fun one!  And Scottish too!  Likamy-docks is another name for the pillory (Kacirk).  Penance board is also a name for it, but it’s not as fun (Kacirk).  Apparently likamy-docks is a conflation of “lick my docks”, lick meaning “to beat” and docks refers to the buttocks (DSL).  So, literally “smack my bum”.  Flagellation was in fact a common occurrence when someone was locked in the pillory, making the phrase a suitable slang (Wikipedia).  Moreover, the fact that docks can also refer to the the enclosure in court where the accused sits also adds to the punniness (OED).

Lightning Shifters

Lightning shifters are skilled thieves who can change their clothing in a minute (Kacirk).  Ever see the opening scene in The Pink Panther, when a thief runs into a building, changes her clothes in the elevator and emerges as Madame Clouseau?  Well, that’s a lightning shifter for ya.  Lightning of course is a reference to speed.  Shifter is a far more interesting element.  A shifter is “a trickster”, but a shift is “a garment”—specifically an undergarment, but it can be used generally (OED).  Moreover, the origin of the word shift is Old English sciftan, which is related to Old Norse skipta, which means “to change”.  So within this compound we have the elements of speed, trickster, garment, and change, making it truly the perfect word for the crime.

Autum-Divers

ChurchAs Gangs of New York told us, autum-divers are people who will pick your pocket in church (Kacirk).  Diver means “pickpocket”, perhaps going with the idea that they “dive” into other people’s pockets.  Autum apparently means “church”, but there is very little indication for why this might be.  A possible origin might be Latin autumāre, “to affirm”, perhaps a reference to the amen-ing that goes on in Churches.  Amen, by the way, comes from the Hebrew verb āman, “to confirm”, so the theory doesn’t seem completely ridiculous (OED).

Two Pun’ Ten

This is actually shopkeeper cant for “thief” (Kacirk).  Apparently the phrase is code for “two eyes on all ten fingers” of a shady customer (Kacirk).  The translation into a monetary value makes it easy for shop assistants to incorporate into everyday conversations (Kacirk).  A clever security system.

Bildtraegerins

This delightful collection of syllables refers to nefarious women who put bundles under their clothing in order to pretend that they are pregnant (Kacirk).  Why anyone would do this is unclear—perhaps to smuggle things?  The word’s origins are mysterious, but I have a couple ideas.  The bild- element could be from beild related to the word bold, meaning “to make bold”, but can also mean “to cover over” (OED).  -Trae- could be tray, meaning “trouble, pain, anguish” (OED).  Finally, -gerins could be gering, “a villain”.  So together the word and its roots paints the picture of a trickster who causes trouble by covering up–plausible, no?

Bag of Nails

NailsHere’s an American contribution to the world of crime (along with Al Capone) (Kacirk).  It’s like Cockney rhyming slang for bacchanals, which in this context pertains to revelry and chaos.  It comes from Greek (via Latin) Βάκχος, which is another name for Dionysus, the Greek god of wine (OED).  Dionysus was also famous for his female followers, the Maenads.  The Maenads were women out of their minds on alcohol and dance, stoked into an orgiastic frenzy.  Sounds like a damn good party, right?  Well, could be, unless you happen to be a cow, or a nonbeliever in Dionysus.  Then the Maenads had a habit of turning ugly and ripping you to pieces with their bare hands.  Presumably it’s because of this violent turn in Dionysiac rites that leads to bacchanals’ dual definition of “revelry” and “chaos”, which in turn leads to its criminal use (OED).

Faleste

DrowningFinally, a discussion of punishment.  You can’t have all this fun without some reprisals.  This punishment in particular is highly nautical.  Faleste is a capital punishment where a person is tied onto a beach or at the base of a cliff at low tide and then is carried away when the tide rolls in (Kacirk).  It is a highly gruesome way to die, full of slow fear and panic.  It apparently comes from the Norman word falese, meaning “sands, rocks, cliffs” (Kacirk, DNOF).  This is no doubt from the French word falaise, meaning “cliff” (Collins).

Hope you enjoy these words and that you put them to good use today.  But, beware!  Be careful filching coves, morts, autum-divers, bildtraegerins, and lightning shifters in case of bag of nails.  Don’t spank a glaze in case you end up in the likamy-docks or die by faleste.  The authorities are aware of the two pun’ ten matter.

For more information on nefarious words check out Jack Kacirk’s Forgotten English, the Oxford English Dictionary, the Dictionary of Scottish Language, The Dictionary of Norman or Old French Language, the Collins’ French-English Dictionary, and Wikipedia.

The End

A bold cavalier rode into the wood
and was told to keep to the path.
This he did, and thus it led to the end,
where he met three women:
One was gold.
…One was silver.
……One was bronze.
And he chose her,
…and wed her,
……and took her in his bold arms and hung her
from the noose of a kiss.

ForestThey took a step off the end, and she
took his hand in hers,
lured his soul away,
then ripped him apart—
…limb by limb,
……skin by skin—
until he was all torn away
in her extreme fury
that he did not keep to the path.

The Wold

   There is a wold folded within weeds that stretches between Barnaby and Rosses.  There are no trees, no hills, no valleys, just a flat field of wild wheat tangled up in a woven pattern of faded gold and shadows.  You can see all the way across the wilderness to the bright heart of Rosses, but all you can see of the wold is the still, still weeds as high as the waist.  It is an easy enough stretch of land to travel between Barnaby and its liege-lord, but no one ever dared to take the overgrown road—they would instead walk the several miles around—for the wold was a place that devoured the ordinary.

Just looking at it, you knew it wasn’t right.  The wind blew but the stalks would remain unmoved.  They would only shiver occasionally in a waving motion as the little gremlins stalked the briar rabbits for their dinner.  Or sometimes a harrowing voice would lift itself over the fields and sing, its song haunting the sky in constant wanting.  They said that the ghosts of women lay enclosed in the kernels of the rotten corn, and that if you ate them you would wither away with a spirit in your stomach.  Gypsy shadows played there without the benefit of light.  Witches brew grey clouds to constantly rest over the field, or else they would melt in the sunlight.  There was the Wild Man as well—half-human, half-wolf, all beast.  Whenever the villagers of Barnaby heard the screams they knew it was the Wild Man venting his spleen, howling madly.

It is necessary that I start with the wold, because it is necessary that you understand it.  It is necessary that you understand how terrified we all were in Barnaby to live in its shadow.  The young lord of Barnaby had crossed the wold to answer the challenge of his father, the King of Rosses, and had never been seen again.  Well, I’m not a prince or a lord.  I’m just a peasant lad, plain as can be.  What chance could I have to survive the crossing of the wold?  But still I was determined to do so, because my father was dying and the finest apothecary was in Rosses, just a few miles through the field.  So into the wold I went, staying carefully on the narrow path, for my mother had told me shrilly that if I did not keep to the path the gremlins would eat me.

trail-245723_1280

At first the going was easy enough.  The path was overgrown but beaten down enough to follow.  Deer darted out of the brush like flashes of light, all flying legs and searing hooves.  In some places fog clung to the ground like fetid breath and hid the path.  In other places water drowned it and obscured it with mud.  Still, I kept on.  I do not know for how long—the sky over the wold has a way of not betraying time.  I walked until I could no longer see my feet in front of me.  No curtain was more opaque than the night, and I had the good sense to not test the acuity of my senses against it.  So I stopped to rest then and built a fire in between a briar patch and a twisted dead tree next to a fetid pool.

reed-228879_1280

No moon shone that night, and the only light for miles was my meagre fire, glinting weakly in the pond like a gleam in the eye.  As far as I knew I was the only living soul in the whole world.  I took out a rabbit out of my pack and skinned it.  The meat smoked over the low flame, the soul of the animal rising into the breathy darkness.  It spiralled up like an invisible tongue, the smell of burning meat snaking through the weeds.  That’s when I heard the unmistakable rustling of movement through the long grass.  It came closer and grew louder.  The tension strung me like a bow so that when a haggard, shaggy face popped out, I shot a scream.  The face jumped back in alarm.  In the shifting firelight I could see it was the face of a bearded mean, rugged and torn by wild living.

“Steady on!” he cried, “I’m not going to eat you!”  And he climbed out of the weeds onto the path with his hands in the air defensively.

He was clothed almost entirely in rags raked by long talon marks.  However, here and there was a trace of finery—an embroidered sleeve, a hint of lace that suggested past riches.  He was furry, but behind the beard were youthful eyes, and sticking out of the clothes was the hard lithe body of a man in his prime.

“Is there any harm in a gypsy sharing your diner?” he asked with a wolfish smile.

“You’re the Wild Man!” I cried.  He laughed.

“Well, I am definitely wild.  I did not know I had been given a title.  My fame has spread.”

“You’re a wolf demon eating out the heart of a man!” I cried.  He laughed again—far longer this time.  It was like a howl.

“I cannot deny it.  But here, I do not intend to eat your heart.  Merely your food.  And if you happen to have some hot water and a razor, you can tame me with a shave.”

Admittedly, I was leery of sharing my meal with him.  The wold was full of deception and the night had eclipsed all sense of time and place and person.  How did I know this was not some sort of secret danger?  But the man seemed so harmless—almost playful like a dog.  My heart relented and I offered him a seat by the fire.

“Thank ye kindly!” he yipped. “What’s your name then?”

“Patre.”

The man smiled with all teeth.  “It’s a good name.  I’d give you mine, but you already named me—‘The Wild Man.’” He chuckled and I grinned in spite of myself.

“Come now!” he said.  “Boil some water, and I’ll catch us some sport!”

I hesitated.

“But the water here is poisoned, fetid with evil spirits.  I dare not drink it.”  He rifled through my things and found my kettle.

“Nonsense!” he cried. “This water is as pure as moonshine.  I’ve been living on it for years.  Your head’s been poisoned with superstition lad, that’s what’s wrong with you!”

So he dunked the kettle in the black pool and set it over the fire.  While it boiled, the Wild Man ate the raw kernels from the ghost women cornhusks, offering me a half-rotten one.

“They’re good!” he insisted.  “They make you remember all sorts of ancient, forgotten things!”  But I’d have none of it.  “Suit yourself!” he shrugged, throwing the rest of the husks into the boiling water.  They screamed a bit when they splashed into the pot.

He hung up his thin-soled shoes on the dead tree and watched as little fairies wove their nests within the toes and patched up the holes.  The fireflies rose from the weeds towards the fire and he cupped them in his hands, trapping them in lanterns made of moth wings.  These floated in the air like dim stars, blinking lazily.

The kettle began to hiss and steam and he took it from the fire, grabbing some half-cooked meat on the way.  He ate only half, attaching the rest to a string and casting it a yard away from the fire.

“For the gremlins,” he explained when he saw my perplexed look, and busied himself with his beard.  He leaned over the still mirror of the pool, squinting by the dim light of the lanterns, as he began to scrape the hair from his face with my razor, sculpting his features into something human.

While he shaved I sat nervously.  What face would be revealed to me?  But I was soon distracted as a small impish thing wandered out of the tall grass, sniffing daintily at the tender meat.  He took a bite, the string snagged his tooth, and he could not pull free.  The Wild Man snatched the gremlin by the scruff of his neck.  At first the demon bit and screeched, but he was subdued with tickling.

“The trick is,” the Wild Man said, ruthlessly poking at the imp, “to get them to tell you their name.  Then they are yours for life.”  I nodded, wondering vaguely why anyone would want a gremlin for any period—let alone a lifetime.

The gremlin soon gave in and told us his name was Betel.  So the Wild Man asked him to play.  Betel sat down beneath the twisted roots of the dead tree and broke off a notched twig, playing it like a pipe.  The sound he made like an owl’s howl, chilling as the breeze at night when it puts its cold hands on your back in desperate proposition.  At first the tune was slow as a dirge, but then it picked up to a reel as complicated as a knot.

The flames of the fire swayed back and forth in time with the music, and a shadow leapt out of the fire in the shape of woman, skipping across the ground jaggedly.  The Wild Man danced with her, dashing here and there, trying to catch her in his arms.  One minute he would have her and then she’d slip away.  She’d stroke his cheek with firelight, and then pull away.  He would cradle her in his arms and then she would be dashed by a sudden lick of wind that laid the fire low.

I was mesmerised watching them pass in and out of each other—so much so that it took me a long time to notice that the weeds too were dancing, skipping in time to the tune and its rhyme.  That’s when they parted to show a Stonehenge gateway—a witch’s doorway—standing between the dead tree and the briar patch.

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“Ah!” the Wild Man cried in alarm, losing his footing and stepping on the fire for a moment.  The music stopped as he cursed and hopped on his other foot distractedly.  “I knew it was here!  Patre, if you’re a sane man then take my advice: don’t ever go through that doorway!”  I looked and saw the path walking under it like a bride.

“But underneath it lies the path to Rosses.”  I replied.  “I must go that way.”

He shook his head.  “No.  There’s nothing more dangerous than following the path.  I’m amazed you haven’t been eaten already by the Three.”

I gulped.  “The Three?”

He turned and looked at me.  The light of the fire flew back onto his shaven face and I could now see a finely sculpted profile and warm, golden eyes—an overhanging brow that was intensely regal and familiar.

“My lord!”  I cried, bowing my head, for it was none other than the Lord of Barnaby who had disappeared within the wold all those years ago.  His eyes hardened.

“I gave up that title years ago,” he said, “but mark my words Patre, avoid the path like a plague, for under that gateway lies the threshold and beyond it nothing will ever be the same.”  He would not say anything else for a time and sat in a mood while the gremlin Betel roasting his hands by the fire.  I waited, but he would not speak.

“Clearly,” I said coyly, “if a prince can walk through it and become a Wild Man then there is some evil magic to it.  But I am only a peasant lad, what can it possibly do to me?”

He snorted.  “Being a peasant lad, you cannot know its danger.  Fine then Patre, I’ll tell you, stupid as you are you will not understand and think you know better, but here nothing is worse than a well-laid path.

“I was your age when I decided to try my luck in the wold and win my father’s throne, if not his love.  I was ambitious then, full of plans for the people that really were only plans for myself.  So I stepped into the wold, abandoning everything I said I loved, for everything I said I didn’t want.  My first day in the wold was much like yours.  But the next morning when I went through the threshold, I met a parting of the ways.  The path split into three and each new path was guarded by a witch’s gate.  I stopped before these three gates and was met by three women, each one emerging from a separate gate.  They sang:

We are the Three of the wold,
queens of treasures, tales untold,
light and laughter, sight and spring,
dark disaster, silver rings.
Three paths lie open for you, three chances lie ahead,
be careful in your choosing; a false step and you’re dead.

“The first to step out had red hair ruddy with sunbeams.  Her eyes were feverish and bright.  Her skirt was black string threaded with doubloons.  Her blouse was black and hung off her white shoulders in slit peasant sleeves.  She held a golden sceptre in her hand studded with black obsidian.  Against her glorious throat lay a pendant of the sun, bright as light—a mirror.  She sang:

I am the queen of fire and light,
power and savour my true delight.
I can make gold fall like rain.
I can make the world your domestic domain.
So kneel before me and tell me you’re mine,
my champion warrior—the next-in-line.

“The next was dressed all in white with pearlescent skin and dull hair, charcoal-black.  Her dress was plain, but so white that it glowed.  Her eyes were black and soulful, deep as a tree hollow.  She held a glowing lantern before her bouncing with fireflies, her body swaying as though in a perpetual motion of giving.  She sang:

I am the mistress of darkness and touch,
born too pure, loving too much.
I can make your heart shiver like frogs’ cry at night,
I will make you resign from the brightness of light.
So take me in your arms—I’m yours, I’m yours,
together forever on forgotten shores.

“The last one, well, what can I say?  No beauty graced her face that I could see.  It was covered by a stone mask so that she resembled a statue.  She was well-dressed enough though, I grant you.  She was dressed in kettle green, her soft brown hair overflowing behind the mask, tumbling with flowers.  She held herself stiffly, as though she really was half stone.  She sang:

I am a woman of inscrutable face,
look at me and you will see your fate.
I am earth, not moon or fire,
I am dearth, not rule or desire.
We will be partners, we will be true,
accept my offer and I will choose you.’

“Then they all repeated:

Three paths lie open for you, three chances lie ahead,
be careful in your choosing; a false step and you’re dead.

“Who did you choose?”  I asked eagerly.  He gave me a sour look.

“I wanted the first one very badly.  The second also tore my heart with her eyes, but I knew, I knew, I was not supposed to take either.  It is always the third one, the third choice, the third door that is meant for the likes of us.  The ordinary path that is supposedly extraordinary in its honest dullness.  But that wasn’t enough for me.  The more I looked at them, the more I realized how much I didn’t really want any of them.  The first one was a flame who would consume me.  The second one was a rag who would smother me.  And the third pledged honesty and hid her face!  What is a man supposed to think of that?  I didn’t want any of that.  I didn’t want the responsibility of a choice.

“‘Well?’ the three women asked me impatiently, ‘Which is it?  Hurry up and choose.  It’s not difficult.’

“They already knew I had to choose the third one.  You do not know how terrifying it is to have your fate chosen for you, like a random page turned in a book.  Perhaps it’s joyful, perhaps it’s misery, or perhaps it’s merely boring, but you don’t get to choose.  And the more I considered it, the more convinced I became that the third woman was hideous and was being forced on me for her sheer virtue of ugliness.  The other two were just there to mock me and be everything I was not meant to have.

“Not for me were the ambitions of power.  Not for me were the lusts of love.  Not for me were the merits of hard work.  I made no choice upon that fork, but turned around and ran off the path into the wild wold.  So I warn you now, young Patre, make your choice beforehand, not which young woman you would take, but whether you’d take any and their price.  Which would you choose?”

He looked at me with bright eyes that were slightly mad.  And I realised then that he was no longer human anymore, not with the gremlin Betel next to him and fairies nesting in his shoes, and a little spider whispering in his ear like some sort of muse.  He could see what none other could see, but in return had given up his humanity—for that is best defined by the choices you make, and he had refused to make any.  Instead he waits at the brink of everything, unsecured, unsafe, undetermined.

The sun began to rise over the thicket, tinging everything was the sickly grey of morning light.  The Wild Man stood up and stretched, giving me a toothy smile.

“Well goodbye Patre,” he said to me. “Safe journeys.  Remember what I said.”

He unleashed Betel and shook out the fairies from his newly repaired shoes.  Then he slid back into the wheat, running on all fours like a wolf in human skin, howling madly to the skies.

And I?  I had business in Rosses.  I packed up my things, grabbed a half-empty corncob and bit in. I felt a woman’s soul drop deep into my stomach, making it cold, steeling my resolve for what I had to do.  So I followed the path and went under the threshold and met the Three.  They were as lovely as the Wild Man had described them.  I asked them their names and they told me.  Astrid was inlaid with gold, Laura was soft as ash, Faye wore her stone cold mask.  And I chose Faye as I knew I must and she took off her mask.

Her face was like a mirror.  In her I saw all my own feelings.  My fears and longings:  my bewitchment, my duty, my need for someone.  Her face was unblemished, completely innocent, and yet so fierce with great want.  She took me by the hand and together we walked down the path to Rosses.  When we arrived they hailed me as the Prince who disappeared so long ago.  Who knows, perhaps I was.  Such things do not matter so much anymore, because such is how I remained.

Such is how I remained, with Faye as my estimable queen, and three daughters who returned to the wold.  They guard the path night and day making sure no one falls off it again.  I never saw the Wild Man again, though I wonder about him daily and consider going back—back to that night on the edge of everything.  I am still not sure if I lost or won something of tremendous value.

Incidentally—I came too late.  The apothecary arrived at my home two days later.  He told me my father died from his illness.  I never went back to Barnaby.

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THE END

The Hours

LeavesSeptember is the 30-houred day.
Its many days are mornings, noons, and nights—
its many hours yearnings, swoons, and heights,
the dizzying vertigo of a life on high,
for at no other time is it better to be alive
than at nine o’clock.

Bright crisp mornings of fresh chill,
the dew dampening summer fever,
clearer than a crystal bell
ringing the hours, the vespers, the sounds
reverberating them in blue glass matins,
a cataclysm of harmony.

Hot riotous days of lasting fervour,
tasting of yerba mata, lemony sweat
steeped and kept, brewed of sunshine ripened
and spent and fallen like a golden apple
given to the fairest one of all
as decreed by still water.

Cool dusky nights of a world in retreat,
the drying wetness of a lover’s parting
kiss, hearts hurting in one last embrace
as she goes the distance—say, Chicago O’Hare,
Timbuktu or the Crimea—
leaving only the residue of her lips.

So within a month we find the perfect day,
its hours strewn along the way incidentally,
unstudied, unkempt.  Still I think it’s meant
to be the fairest of the seasons, full of rhyme
and reason and an equality hitherto unseen:
a rationale imbued with a passionate quality.