I don’t even know how to begin describing what follows. I’ve always enjoyed writing serials–I love the open-ended form. Done well, they can be a literary form of TV, episode after episode piling up with only a vague ending off in the distance. That being said, I recently finished the rough draft for a novel and have wanted to do something more with some of the ideas in the novel while I work on rewriting it. I took a thread of an idea from that work, and decided to spin it off into something I could play with which would get my readers familiar with what I’m writing (read this as MARKETING), while giving me a chance to play around a little more with some of these ideas. I’m not going to say anymore–I’ll take the time later to flesh out what I mean. Right now. . . Enjoy.
The Wanderings of Meryll the Mad:
An Occasional Fantasy Serial
“Now this isn’t fair,” Meryll muttered. “This isn’t fair at all.” He had spent the past few days sneaking through the easternmost edge of the Steig forest to get to the Windy Mare, sleeping curled under gambol oak—one night up in the canopy of a Douglas fir when he heard commotion nearby—and drank from tepid pools of rainwater collected in stumps, all the while dreaming of the goosedown mattresses and the heather ale at the Windy Mare. It appeared that he would have to keep on dreaming, for the Windy Mare was no more.
Blue eyes the color of cornflowers scanned the meadow before him. Rhymer’s Meadow, it had been called. Dotted with cat’s eye daisies, pixy cups, and buttercups, he’d come here for centuries to see the plays put on by various acting troupes and hear the songs of famous minstrels—many of whom time had forgotten but whose songs were still sung in castles and taverns throughout Taleth. No poetry would brighten the flowers here again, nor would the clouds stop in the sky to see what stories men enacted below. The deer and the elk would give this field wide berth, the rabbits would scatter and find new fields of flowers to feast upon, and only the crows and the ravens would enjoy the new additions to the field. . . and the Nightstalkers. They might find something amongst the rotten meat and cracked bones overlooked by other scavengers.
Loitering on the edge of Rhymer’s Meadow, the Windy Mare had stood for centuries, and served a menagerie of wayfarers, wanderers, Faeries and the forgotten. Meryll had been coming here for over two centuries, and stopped only when he married Bronwyn, to better play the part of a nobleman and husband. It had survived two fires, an assault by trolls, and countless barfights and brawls that threatened to bring the walls down. Now, charred and smoking, its windows smashed in and most of the second floor smouldering, the inn struggled to stand—a strong wind would topple it like a child’s house constructed of leaves and twigs.
He sighed, disheartened to see one of the last great wonders of his life reduced to a lifeless husk. “Well, I’ve come all this way, why not spend one last night here. Hopefully whoever did this left a few kegs of ale, and I can have a proper wake for the ol’ Mare.”
He limped across the battlefield, picking his way through the corpses. Why a battle occurred here he wasn’t sure. The last stand of the Faeries took place miles West in the Steig Forest; yet here he saw faeries and men. He looked down into their faces as he passed. He saw so many he knew—here, Abby, the great-great granddaughter of Merwyn, Queen Gwendolyn’s blacksmith and who came to Faerie many times upon invitation of Finovar, the king of Faeries, to play his flute. She had the same shade of brown eyes as Merwyn, and out of respect , Meryll reached down and closed them.
He saw a few Faeries whom he knew, too. The worst was seeing Sabriye, whose skin always smelled of pine forests after a rain and whose kisses tasted of pinenuts and apples. He remembered the waterfall of her fingers down his spine and the tickle of her wings when he held her close. They were a beauty to behold, her wings, when she spread them and the sun shone through them—luminated by the sun it was like a night descending, and when she enfolded him in them in felt as if he were lost in the stars.
Iron crossbow bolts tattered her dusky wings and porcupined her body. There were many men and women, mortal and faerie, that he loved and whom he saw dead upon this battlefield, but she he had loved the best and for her he conjured a fire. It sapped his strength, and he sank to his knees, but it was worth it. Flames sprouted from the earth and quickly bloomed into a bonfire. He watched as her wings curled and smoked and the autumn colors of the fire consume the summer green of her hair. When nothing remained but the iron tips of the crossbow bolts, he got to his feet and continued across the battlefield to his destination.
He couldn’t take seeing anymore of those whom he knew and loved dead, and kept watch for the places untouched by violence—the cluster of buttercups without a petal stained or a stalk bent, the grasshopper gnawing on a grass blade, ignorant or uncaring about what happened around it, enrapt in its meal and the glorious, good sunshine stroking its wings. With each step he winced as his various pains demanded his attention. His muscles burned as if on a spit over an open fire, while his lungs felt as if filled with the flames of the sun. Just a few more steps. He tried to move faster, but the pain wouldn’t allow it, so he hobbled over the wounded earth to the battered remains of the Windy Mare.
He stepped over the rubble where the front door of inn should be and walked into the remains. Bits of ceramic from tankards and glass from wine bottles and the windows crunched under his boots. Corpses sprawled over tables like tablecloths and across the floor like bearskin rugs. Behind one upended table he found the corpse of man sitting with a small keg of beer between his legs, the top hacked through with a hatchet. Meryll hoped that the man at least had a chance to get drunk before the arrows puncturing his throat and chest prevented him from drinking any more.
“You had the right idea,” Meryll muttered to the corpse. He reached down and picked up the corpse’s hatchet. He had come in for the same reason—the inn’s beer was the best. He ducked behind the bar, which still smoked and burned in a few places, and found three small casks. He hefted one up onto the bar, and with the hatchet cracked it open. The smell of chocolate and coffee and the fertile earth issued from the cask. Meryll inhaled deeply and smiled.”One last drink to you, my Mare. One last drink and one last drunk to honor your legacy. I swear that if this war ends well and I can make it home, I’ll return to you and make you more glorious than ever.” He dunked a tankard into the cask and swallowed its contents in one thirsty guzzle.
“And now, time for a peek up the maiden’s skirt,” he said. The nutty stout helped soothe his wounds, but he craved something more, something stronger. He cleared a space off on the bar, right under a hole in the ceiling, and then climbed up and stretched out. He pulled his pipe out from under his leather jerkin, and took a pouch from his belt. Opening the pouch, he shook a golden nugget—the dried sap of the Scarlet Maidenflower—into his hand. A spasm of joy surged through his body at the sight of the nugget, and he quickly packed it into his pipe’s bowl. With a wave of his thumb over the pipe, the nugget glowed a deep red. He inhaled deeply from the pipe, coughed. He sucked again on the pipe and then relaxed.
Timber smoldered and woodsmoke gave the air a homey tang. He closed his eyes and inhaled, and believed for a moment that, when he opened them, he would see Bronwyn warming herself before their fireplace. Instead, he opened them to a sight nearly as beautiful—the sunset behind the mountains. Clouds floated across the darkening sky and the sun stained them gold, so they resembled aspen leaves caught in the current of a stream. He reached up with quivering fingers, wishing to wash his hands in that current, and rid them of the blood that caked them—the blood of friends and family alike. The sunset deepened, darkened, as if in response, glowing with a ruddy hue and bathing the mountains and clouds and sky in blood before its light extinguished.
He felt his cares and his pain drifting away with those clouds when he heard a sound. Someone retching just outside the ruined inn. He turned his head to the doorframe. A silhouette stumbled over the rubble. He didn’t bother to move, and slurred, “Ho, ghost or sleepwalker or lost one—maybe you’re just a vision—anyways, there’s plenty here, so bring your peace and we’ll drink to the fallen and to the Mare.” He waited to see what would happen—if the figure would evaporate like steam or rush to plunge a blade or its teeth into his belly; perhaps, it would stay and get drunk, he could be so lucky.
He waited, and the figure laughed.