Rowan and the Fair Folk

I haven’t posted in awhile. Actually, I haven’t posted all summer. Summer is hard for me–many people get seasonal depression in the winter, but I . . . I have to be unique. I get seasonal depression over the summer. Maybe it’s the sun or the heat or the long days and short nights (I blame my vampire blood), but I become apathetic and everything becomes lackluster and doing anything is a struggle. This includes writing. I’m still deep into rewriting my first novel and was over halfway through when June stopped me dead in my tracks. I’ve only been able to get back into writing the past week or so, and that’s when I got this finished. It’s still rough, but it’s a fun little piece with a teenage girl and faeries. It’s only a little slice of the main character Jack’s story, but the beginning of the girl’s. I thought I’d share it–both as a celebration of getting through my Summer Writer’s Block and because as rough and ungainly as it is, I rather like it.



“I’ll let you go, but you be quick, Rowan,” her papa said. “I want to make it to Delwyne before sunset.”

“I’ll be back before you have a chance to blink,” she laughed . . . And she was half good to her word, she was gone before he had a chance to blink. He gave an exhausted laugh.”Where does she get that energy?” he said as he leaned against his wagon and packed his pipe with tobacco.

Rowan bounded across the fields of heather. This was the first time he papa let her go with him to the Hollows, and the first time she saw the Faerie Tree. She was determined to be swifter than a trout, for she didn’t want it to be the last time. They didn’t see it on the way to the Hollows, for her papa took the main road, but he promised her he would take the old road back home just so she could see it. Once they got on to the old road, she kept watching, craning her next left and right, afraid to miss it in the forest surrounding them. “You won’t miss it,” her papa assured her, but she found it hard to believe him for the forest was so thick, the trees so tall, how was she going to see it? “Trust me,” he kept saying. “Trust me, you’re not going to miss it.”

He was right. As they came out of a little gulley and the cart crested the hill, she saw what he meant. “That’s it,” she said when she saw it. “Mm-hmm,” he agreed.

The forest continued around and ahead of them—a mix of birches and pine, but ahead of them, towering above the forest, was a tree unlike any she had seen before. Taller than any redwood or evergreen, it could have been the tentpole that held up the sky.

“That’s it,” she whispered in awe.

They came to a crater and the landscape drastically changed—gone were the evergreens and birches, replaced by the heather fields of Manusande Moor. The road continued down the crater side on a slight grade. As they descended, Rowan noticed the light, change as if dusk had settled early, and felt a tingle in the air—a static-y feeling the way the air feels during a thunderstorm. Her poppa seemed to notice, too, for though it wasn’t cold he shivered beside her and tugged his hat down lower. For as little use as her father said it got, the cobblestones of the road showed not a crack nor any divots or wear. Nothing grew between the stones—they looked freshly-laid.

“Well, shit,” exclaimed her poppa. Rowan smirked for her father rarely swore, and quickly apologized whenever he did—he must really be impressed if he doesn’t notice me, she thought. “I didn’t remember it being so beautiful. Maybe we’ll come this way next time.” He gave her a wink. He slowed the wagon down so they could appreciate the scenery.

That wasn’t enough for Rowan. She felt ready to explode with excitement. “Can we stop?”

Her poppa glanced at her and then the moor and then the road and then back to her. He tilted his hat back and rubbed his head. The few wisps of hair remaining perked up. He gave her a pensive look with his lips drawn tight and his head cocked to the side like a poorly-made scarecrow. “Well . . . .” He drawled, trying to hide his smile.

“Thank you, poppa,” she said. “Thank you.”

The wagon stopped on the side of the road.


She went straight for the tree, leapfrogging over rabbits to startled to run, and sprinting across the stream, for she had no time to waste. At any moment she might hear her father holler and then all would be over—her only chance to see a Faerie tree and perhaps one of the Green Folk themselves dispelled by the spell of her poppa calling her back to the cart. Not that she believed she would see one of the Green Folk—she knew that they had left the world and had either gone the way of the dragons or were as real as vampires or trolls . . . but, extinct or imaginary, she still hoped. She had grown a little too old to really believe in magic and the mystic, but she still hoped to experience a little magic and mystery. Hoped to catch a glimpse of gossamer wings or glittery cheeks or however their glamour manifested.

“Please be there . . . Please let me something . . . Anything . . . .” She whispered as she approached the tree. When she drew within twenty yards of the tree she came to a halt and took off her shoes. The buckles on them, she couldn’t remember if they were iron or not, and didn’t want to risk frightening off any faeries, so shed them and left them in the lee of a large stone. She checked the rest of her clothes—looking for any stray brooch or bell or button that might keep her from her dreams. Barefoot, she raced to the tree, her excitement and awe making her oblivious to the thorns and stones in her path.


From the road, the tree dwarfed the moors—the heather resembled the moss growing at the base of a birch or cedar. When she reached the foot of the tree, she felt no bigger than an ant. It was bigger than she imagined—wide enough that walking around it would easily take five minutes, and she barely reached the base of the trunk standing on her tiptoes. The roots were as big in diameter as her whole body. It smelled of rose and the musky vanilla of a Meerstane pine, but most marvelous of all was the music. She heard the music—a hint of music, faint notes no louder than susurration of a summer breeze through rye fields. Faerie music, she hoped, though she knew it was probably the song of a woodsman poaching or a ranger patrolling. The music grew louder as she drew closer to the tree, and she could make out some of the lyrics—something about a woman and rubies and rust and sand. She saw no one beneath the tree. Whoever’s playing must be on the other side . . . Unless the music’s coming from the tree itself . . . It is a faerie tree, after all . . . I’ll take a quick peek, and then hurry back to papa. On hand and foot, cat-like, she scaled one of the roots to the trunk.

She arrived at the trunk feeling like she had climbed the whole tree, and slunk against the trunk to catch her breath before circling it to find the source of the music. The road from where she sat was so distant, cutting across the land like the horizon, and her father’s wagon so small, no more than a shooting star. Can he see me? I bet I look like a buckthorn caterpillar inching my way along. I wonder when he began smoking . . . Mama smokes, too . . . Rowan stood and started her way around the tree. She stepped from root to root as if they were stepping stones in a river. When will I begin smoking? Will I just know? How do you know these things anyway—do you wake up one day and wonder where your pipe is, or does it come over you slow-like . . . Like growing up?  Sometimes I wish I could get it all done at once . . .  I’m not girl  . . . But I sure don’t feel like a woman . . . Growing up is a real pisser . . . .

She continued around the tree—the music grew louder and she went slower until, as she climbed over a particularly knotty and large root, she froze. Rounding the tree, she had seen below her the flowers of the moor, but clambering down the root, she saw something moving—someone moving. She hoped the music drowned out any bit of the squeal that might’ve escaped her stifling of it. It wasn’t the tree—it was someone, but was it a faerie? She pressed herself as flat as she could against the knots and the bumps of the trunk, and wriggled to the edge for a peek. From the voice, she guessed that the someone below her was a man, and not an ordinary man: he looked as if had come from the tailor, for his fine breeches and shirt showed neither stain nor spot nor any wearing or fraying, and his leather boots appeared to have been just put on, for no mud or leaf frosted the sides of the soles, let alone any kind of scuffing, wrinkling, cracking or any kind of wear. Unless he came barefoot across the moor with his boots in his backpack, only to put them on here to play music . . . Maybe he did . . . But the hat on his head stood in stark contrast to his clothes: it was a sorry excuse for someone in such well-made clothes to be wearing—water-stained and faded, with much of the shape—if it had any to begin with—long gone. The brim of the hat drooped, and there was a hole in the crown—a perfect mousehole. The brim and the angle of the head obscured the face, but she didn’t need to see him to know what he was. It was the hat that raised her suspicions and made her think that he was more than he looked. It stood out to her just as much as if he had goat legs or bat ears or his body was covered in rabbit fur . . . No man dressed so fine would ever wear something so shabby as that hat—why, none of the tramps or ragmen from Skillington to Emerath would wear something so stained and raggedy. A scarecrow would find a way to shake it off on the stillest day . . . .


In mid-thought she fell. He leaned back, and she would’ve caught a glimpse of his face as she craned forward, but too far forward she craned and got more than a glimpse. His guitar spilled onto the ground as she landed in his lap and they blinked at each other. The man didn’t seem a bit surprised to find a young woman dropping from the tree the way an apple might drop from an apple tree. He seemed to have the breath she lost from fear and embarrassment, for, shaking his head, he laughed.

“Oh,” she gasped. He smelled of Douglas fir and peaches and papa’s whiskey on a cool summer night with the fireflies weaving drunkenly over their heads as she and her sisters gazed up at the stars and listened to their parents drink and talk and babble with the brook that ran in back of their house. Her cheeks reddened and her eyes went rabbit-wide as she stared up at his face. “I’m so sorry—I didn’t—” She struggled to get up, like a fish a-ground trying to flop its way back to water.

“Well I think you did,” he said, and laughed again. He slid his hand from under her head down to her shoulderblades and helped her sit up. She sat in his lap her face inches from his fumbling for what to say or do. He appeared to be older than her eldest sister, but nowhere near her father’s age, and as handsome as any man or faerie she had imagined. His hand rested on her back, and she felt the warmth of it through her blouse. “I heard you from the other side of the tree,” she said, trying to sound casual. “It was lovely . . . What were you playing?” And you’re a Faerie, aren’t you? You’re real—they’re real. You’re a real faerie! She wanted to add, but held back for the moment, unsure of the proper etiquette for approaching the Fair Folk and not wanting to scare him off.

“Once you trade places with my guitar, perhaps I’ll play the whole song for you, and then we’ll see how lovely you think it is.”

“Oh, right,” she blushed and with his help clambered out of his lap. She handed him the instrument and sat down in its place. She watched him strum his guitar, and then start tuning it. His hands were slender, his fingers lithe and strong and reminded her of her mother’s, but free of callouses and scars and wrinkles. She rubbed her hands together in her lap and felt the lanolin softness of childhood already giving way rough patches. “So what are you called, and what brings you here?” he asked.

Bewilderment and then suspicion played across her face. She had heard the stories of what witches and faeries could do if they possessed your name. Enamored she may be, but not witless. She quickly stood up and curtsied, replying “You may call me simply, my lady . . . And I am here to . . . Pay my respects to the lady of the tree.”

Did he smirk at what she said? She swore she saw a smirk dart across his face as he finished tuning his guitar. “Well, milady,” he replied, his fingers tickling the guitar strings. “You may call me Jack. How serendipitous that we should meet like this, for I too am here to pay my respects to milady Gabrielle . . . Now,” he played a few notes and then stopped. “You know, since we’re both here to see Lady Gabrielle, let’s go in to see her now.” He gave her a wink and then sprang to his feet.

“Would you like to open the gate, or should I?” He asked as he fastened his cloak and tossed a scarf around his neck.

Rowan blanched. Open the gate? How? Why, she would have an easier time knocking the moon from the heavens with a cattail. She studied the tree—from its root tips to its many-limbed bower towering above them so high it could have been the sky—and saw no hint of a gate, nor any way of opening one. Was a word or a spell required? A symbol traced upon the bark, or a song? A knock, or a pattern of raps? She clenched and unclenched her toes as she puzzled over the answer, pulling up the moss in tiny clumps of velvet. Then the answer struck her—it was so simple she laughed. “Why don’t you open the gate, Jack.”

“It would be an honor,” he said and bowed. He strapped his guitar on over his shoulder. Nimbly, in a short succession of steps he bounded up the roots to the trunk and faced the tree. Rowan watched with curiosity as he fiddled with something on the tree, but his body blocked her view. What’s he doing? With a mischievous smile, he twisted around, holding something up. It was a ribbon red as a Meerstane wine.

“And there we are, milady,” he said. She stared up at him, a little disappointed and unimpressed. She expected something to happen . . . In the stories, something always happened—an archway formed from the wood or a shower of glitter as a rainbow appeared and faeries of all sorts waited on the other side . . . At least a tingle that put all uncertainties to rest. Her certainty certainly unraveled as the ribbon waved in the air and the tree remained tree-like, without anything of a gate about it. Jack became just a man, still a handsome and talented man, but no more a faerie than anyone else fairy-touched.

“That’s it?” she asked. She felt foolish and frightened, and wished she hadn’t asked her papa to pull over and let her she the tree up close—if they had remained on the road, it would’ve retained its beauty and mystique . . . Now, she would always remember standing here, staring at a fairy-touched ranger or woodsman or whatever Jack was . . . Staring at an idiot man waving a ribbon in the air.

In the distance a red grouse cried. As if response, she heard her name, “Rowan?”

“Coming, papa,” she hollered. Her papa’s voice swept away the last bits of the illusion she wrapped herself within and grounded her. “Bye, Jack,” she said.

Jack ignored her as he pressed his hand against the trunk. His fingers sank into the bark. The tree shimmered with a million needle-pricks of light as if dusted by snow and the bark swayed under Jack’s touch. Rowan took a step forward. He pulled aside the trunk, and a waterfall of sunshine cascaded down and bathed her in its light.

“You might’ve had better luck with getting it open, milady,” Jack said. Held back by his hand as if it was nothing more than a bedsheet hung out to dry, was the bark of the tree. “The gate hasn’t been opened in a long time, and Lady Gabrielle takes few visitors, so it took a bit more magic to open it.”

“S’real . . . .” she breathed. She took a few more steps forward. She left the light and stopped at the roots and rested a hand on it. It was cool and firm. “It’s real . . . He’s real . . .” she whispered as it finally sank in, and her hope was reinvigorated. She squirreled up the root while Jack stood there with one hand holding open the tree as if it was a carnival tent and he the barker. “You’re real,” she squealed.

Jack shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose I’ve been called worse things.”

“Rowan?” Her name sounded like a pot clattering over the kitchen floor. “Let’s go girl . . . You take any longer, we’ll have to walk back home ‘cause I’ll be eating the horses, I’m so hungry.”

Rowan sucked in her lips and bit down, sealing up her need to scream. There before her beckoned a mosaic path of turquoise and tourmaline and garnet, flanked by lilies and starcatchers and flowers to which she could put no name, dappled by morning sunshine, and perfumed by ripe peaches. Compared to this glimpse, this insignificant sliver, the doorstep to this Faerie realm, every garden she had seen transformed into a scrubby waste . . . And before she has the chance to forget her father and ignore his wishes, he has to call to her and spoil everything. Here was a chance unlike any other, something that would never happen again . .  .  and there was her papa, who relied on her and would someday be entrusting his entire business with her. Disappoint him . . . For a boy and beautiful scenery . . . Disrupt her entire life for a glimpse of someplace that would probably pale in comparison to her dreams? She curtsied. “As I said . . . Goodbye . . . Jack . . .” Her voice quivered and she brushed back tears. “It was .  . . It was an . . . Honor . . . Please . . . Please, give my regards to our Lady Gabrielle . . . .”

Jack gave her a sympathetic look. “It sounds like you’ve got promises to keep and miles to go before you sleep, so good-bye, milady. I will do as you wish.” She stifled a sob and took a deep breath as Jack stepped onto the path. When he was all the way into the tree and about to release the tree trunk, he stopped. “You know,” he said, the bark wavering beneath his fingers. He turned back to her, face alight by the sun and a smirk that suggested some kind of mischief. “Why don’t you join me . . . Come see the Lady yourself . . . Come. See the wonders of her gardens. I promise I’ll have you back before . . .” He scanned the area and then pointed at a blue swallowtail butterfly clinging to the side of the tree. “Before that butterfly flies away. Will you join me?” He extended his hand.

“Yes,” she cried, and settled her hand in his. “Oh, yes. Please.” The goblins take papa, I can’t pass this up. Hand-in-hand they went and the trunk of the tree fell back and became as solid as any other tree.


Rowan and Jack sat on pillows of moss beneath a massive oak, eating the sweetest of peaches. Jack plucked strands of mistletoe from the oaken bower, weaving them with holly and the red ribbon. Across from him Rowan smiled, a thin runnel of juice trickled from the corner of her mouth.

“T’is a very peachy peach, isn’t it, milady?”

“Mmmhmm,” was the only reply Rowan mustered.

Jack continued weaving and singing. The flesh finished, Rowan popped the peach pit into her mouth and rolled it over her tongue, sucking it to get the last bits. She gazed over the field of bluebells and took a deep breath. The air smelled of peaches and honey. She knew they couldn’t have been here long—they only followed the mosaic path a scant hundred yards before Jack saw a peach orchard off to their right and insisted they gather some to eat. Just beyond the orchard was the bluebell field and the hillock where they sat—but she felt so relaxed and carefree, as if she had been here forever.

“Will Lady Gabrielle be here soon?” So awestruck was she, Rowan had almost forgotten that they were here to see Lady Gabrielle.

“In her time, I imagine, she’ll see us . . . .” Jack’s voice drifted as he focused on a particularly uncooperative holly branch. “She sees us . . . Or haven’t you noticed?”

“What?” Rowan sat bolt upright as if one of her sisters had poured a pitcher of ice water down her back. She glanced around but saw only the flowers and trees and heard only the buzz of bumblebees and the songbirds singing.

“She’s there . . .” He pointed with his chin in so that he could have been pointing at anything in front of them. “In the shadows between the sunbeams . . . a lady with flowers in her hair and the pensive look of an overcast day . . . .” Rowan squinted, trying to see between the sunbeams, but that only smeared the fields of flowers and bring a laugh from Jack. “I’m sorry . . . I’m kidding . . . She’s down past the peach orchard, there where the path forks . . . half-hidden in by the trellis and the roses. She really does have flowers in her hair . . .  Calendula, I think . . .  And the look of someone who’s just had a very peculiar pair of birds fly into her house and nest on her favorite seat.”

Rowan traced the path through the orchard and along the field beyond to where the path forked and plum-colored roses formed a half-moon under which she guessed was the trellis. She saw no one under or near the half-moon of roses and thought that Jack was joking again when she caught a flash of something . . . Someone . . . A finger tracing an almost-blooming bud, the orange flowers in her hair bright flames, eyes and lips taut as if she was trying to make a hard decision . . . Then Rowan felt something brush her forehead and in the instant she turned her attention to Jack and back the woman was hummingbird-gone and Rowan wondered if she had imagined her.

“Milady of the Green,” Jack said, bowing with an exaggerated flourish. Rowan took off the crown Jack put on her head to examine it. “It’s lovely,” she said. “Thank you . . .” She put it on again. The ribbon strand tickled her ear, sending a shivering warmth through her body.  “Does that mean you’re my Jack of the Green?” She asked, doing her best imitation of her eldest sister flirting. Leaning back with her fingers in the moss and her feet soaking in a pool of sunlight, the earthy aroma of oak and the soil freshly-dewed and the sticky-sweet taste of peach lingering on her lips and tongue, intoxicating her, she felt giddy and free and capricious, as if she could do anything.

Jack winked. He took up his guitar, which rested against the oak tree, and strummed a few notes. “I believe it’s time for that song I owe you, milady . . . Something to tide us over until the Lady arrives . . . .”

He played. It was a slow song with a rousing chorus and in a dialect from which she understood one out of every five words, but she loved it. This song was for her. She had never had anyone sing a song just for her—she had her mamma’s lullabies when she was a babe, and her papa’s drunken mountain songs at parties—but no one ever went out of their way for her, so legs crossed she craned forward to catch every note and syllable to savor on the ride home and as she fell asleep that night. He closed his eyes as he sang and played, and she did the same. It was the rustling in the bluebells that made her open them. She twisted around to see what was behind her and she saw the Lady Gabrielle.

She stood where the sunlight ebbed and flowed against the shadows of the bower of the oak tree with her arms folded across her chest as if she was hugging herself, with a queer look that could be a smile or could be smirk. The folds of her dress fluttered in a breeze that only she seemed to be caught in, and she thought she saw one of the petals from the embroidery blow off, curling in the wind until it settled amidst the bluebells. Rowan glanced at her face the way she might the sun: boldly and daring, but also terrified of being blinded. Her palms dampened and her skin tingled as if her entire body needed to be itched.

Rowan wasn’t sure if she should say anything or what it should be, and decided to take a deep breath and focus to Jack—she didn’t want to seem rude, but rather than say the wrong thing and offend the Fair Folk, and one of the Court at that, she thought it best to act as if nothing could be more enthralling than hearing Jack playing, which did have some truth. Jack didn’t seem to notice the Faerie Lady—eyes closed, he continued playing. The song steadily picked up tempo as he played so that it ended in a rousing climax that dropped off suddenly with four notes plashing like raindrops atop the surface of a lake. He finished and, eyes still closed, smiled and said, “For you, Milady of the Green. The Ballad of Isobel and Almasy.” From his shoulder hung a wineskin which he took and drank deeply.

“Beautiful, my Lord of the Green, simply beautiful,” Rowan exclaimed. Jack’s song had exorcised the faerie from Rowan’s thoughts, so that it surprised her to hear someone speaking behind her, and at the same time.

“An awesome feat,” interjected the lady with a voice as sharp and soft as a rose. “You played that song with more skill than the songwriter herself. I’m sorry I didn’t hear it from the beginning.” Before she saw the Lady’s face, Rowan felt her eyes burning into her with the pricking clarity of a cloudless Summer afternoon. She felt without seeing the disdain and winced.

Rowan whirled around and soon found her feet, for somehow she knew that she needed to extend every formality and grace to the Lady. Jack nearly spat the wine he drank; instead he successfully contained it by choking it down and coughing. He appeared beside Rowan, hat in his hand, sweeping it before him as he bowed and she joined in a second later with a curtsy.

The intensity of her displeasure passed as quickly as it came, and Rowan saw the Lady smile, thin and fine as a boning knife.

“Forgive us Lady Gabrielle, for we meant no displeasure.  . . We have only come to pay our respects, and to—”

“Did I say I was displeased?” She said. Though she wasn’t much taller than Rowan, her bearing made it seem as if she towered as tall as the tree they went through. Gabrielle stared down at Rowan with a glint in her eye of sunlight off snow. Rowan hoped that that was a rhetorical question, because she wasn’t going to answer it. “Play for me.” She plopped down where she stood with her back straight and her hands folded in her lap. “You played for the raff, now me.”

With raised eyebrows Jack rubbed his chin and surveyed Gabrielle. “Certainly, but understand that whatever I play will not compare to the music of your demesne—the bluebells tinkling and the bumblebees hum, the crooning of the firs as the wind sweeps across their branches and the woodpecker’s percussion. The beauty here far overwhelms anything I may attempt.” A quirk of her lips hinted at a smile, but otherwise she remained still. Jack sat back down where he had been only a moment ago and tuned his guitar. Rowan sat to Gabrielle’s right, forming something of a triangle or crescent, and at what she hoped was a respectful distance that also kept just out of the Lady’s arm’s reach and within Jack’s. There was a tension between them, and Rowan could tell there was something more to this than just his playing for her—something was at stake, but what, she wasn’t sure.

Jack finished tuning his guitar and then, picking at the strings, tossed notes hither and thither until, with a wink that could’ve been for Gabrielle or Rowan, he closed his eyes and played. Rowan anticipated a slow and stately ballad or something musically complex, but Jack surprised her. It was a quick upbeat song about a young man taken by the Queen of the Green Folk to be her bride—the kind of mountain reel that infected your feet and legs with the mad desire to plunge into a dance so that the feeling might go away. It was the kind of song to play at a harvest festival or a wedding when everyone at the party was, as her papa said, “solid stoned and whiskified.” It was a commoner’s song filled with ribald humor for rough laughter. Rowan wanted to dance, but the Lady moved as much as might be expected of a stone statue, with only the occasional blink or the flutter of her dress as she breathed any indication that she lived, so she remained seated, the tapping of her foot the closest she came to dancing.

Jack finished. Without ever looking at Lady Gabrielle or Rowan, he set his guitar aside and then pulled a metal flask from the breastpocket of his shirt and drank deeply. Rowan guessed that he drained his flask. Replacing the flask in his pocket, he rose and extended a hand to Rowan. “I believe it is time we go, milady.”

She took the proffered hand and gave a slight nod of her head, “As you wish.” Even when she stood, she didn’t let go of his hand, for something about the place terrified her, the Lady most of all, and she had the sense that, if she let go, she would be stuck here, like a grasshopper in a spider’s web. It wasn’t until she was standing beside Jack that she dared look at the Lady again. Gabrielle remained seated, spine straight and head cocked slightly to the side, with a look as inscrutable as that of a cat’s.

Jack offered his free hand to the Lady. Her hand settled in his with the grace of a butterfly setting upon a branch, and then she rose from the ground. This close, Rowan could see that she was only a couple of inches taller, but she still seemed to dwarf Rowan. Her hand lingered in Jack’s and Rowan felt her cheeks blush with jealousy, and she instinctively squeezed Jack’s hand.

“Please do return again,” she said turning her attention from Jack to Rowan. She plucked one of the embroidered flowers from her dress—a sprig of Baby’s Breath. Out it came, as real as any other flower. She tucked it into Rowan’s crown. Rowan struggled not to flinch as the Lady’s hand came towards her. Jack looked like he was about to say something, but held his tongue.

“Something to remember me by,” she said with a wry smile.

Jack took the hat off his head and put on Gabrielle. He tugged down the brim in the front. “And something to remember me by,” he said. “A keepsake until I return.”

Speechless and puzzled, fingering the brim of the hat on her head, she watched them skip hand-in-hand through the bluebells. Taking off the hat, she held it in both hands with the brim beneath her nose, inhaling the aroma of woodsmoke from near-forgotten forests and hills, as they followed the path and faded into the orchard. As she felt the shudder pass through her realm as they parted the gate and left, she put the hat back on and said “Good-bye,” the words coming out like a sigh.


The smell of the moors greeted Jack and Rowan as they emerged from the tree. As promised, the same swallowtail butterfly clung to the tree opening and closing its wings.

“Rowan?” Her father called. “Rowan? Come on girl, we’re late—If you don’t get back here now I’ll sell you for nothing more than a few snail shells and a pumpkin at the goblins’ market.” It had only been a moment that she was gone, she could tell from the tone of his voice—gruff, but playful, and with a hint of worry.

Rowan squeezed Jack’s hand before letting it go. She wanted to remember his callused fingertips, his delicate but strong hands. She looked up into his face lit up with a cozy, comforting mischief and was ready to say to him, “Take me . . . Take me with you . . . .” She wanted to say, but the words evaded her.

“Go, milady,” Jack said. “Hurry, now . . . You’re needed by the sound it.”

“But,” she stammered. She knew she had to go and threw herself on Jack, latching her arms around his neck, burying her face in his collarbone., and nearly sending them both plummeting from their precarious place upon the trunk. He held her close, and then gently set her down. He got down on one knee and cupped her cheek in his hand. “One day we’ll meet again, milady, but until then . . . You have your crown, Milady of the Green, to remember me by, and I . . . Why, I’ll put you in the stars. Just above the Goblin Parade, I’ll put you—I’ll hang you from the brightest star there, you’ll know . . . You’ll see.” He took her hand, and kissed it. “Now, go.”

Rowan shook from the effort not to cry, and started walking back to her father. She took a few steps, and then turned around when she realized she never said “Good-bye,” but Jack was gone.

She skipped across the field. “Coming, poppa.” By the time she reached her father, the afternoon’s events had taken on the haze of a misty fall afternoon, so that all she did had become a blear of peaches and bluebells, of sunstroked mossy groves and music with the Queen of the Faeries and the Jack-in-the-Green.

She patted the ivy crown atop her head and her heart skipped a beat as she thought of the rough-yet-delicate fingers that wove it . . . Was it really this afternoon? Yes . . . Yes, this afternoon . . . .


Tales from the Raven’s Loft Inn: Part 2–A selection from the rough draft

Here’s the second half of the selection from my novel-in-progress. I picked these selections because I enjoyed them. As I said before, I’ve had people asking me what I’ve been working on for the past two-and-a-half years, and so I’m trying to share a little (I’ve already shared somewhat from my other novel-in-progress). This is really rough, and already the shape it’s taking in the rewrite has a faint resemble to what you’ve read–and will read–here. Much like a tadpole to a frog, or cake batter to a baked and frosted cake, so to my novel-in-progress to the completed manuscript.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy!

They entered the tomb and found it meticulously kept: unlike the others they had been in, this tomb had been freshly dusted, and only one spider’s web—a tangled net draped across a crack in a corner of the ceiling—could be seen. The fresh smell of thyme and pine resin, tansy and other wildflowers perfumed the air. Greg flashed Alec a grin—there in front of them were two rows of stone coffins, all undisturbed.

“Lucky for us someone forgot to lock the door.” Greg said. He tugged a couple of torches from his satchel and tossed one to Alec. “Here, get this lit, if you can remember the spell.”

Alec grumbled to himself, and cast a Minor Flame onto the torch. It flared up as if he had doused the torch in charcoal lighter fluid. He yelled, nearly dropping the torch. The flame subsided, and glowed softly in the settling dark.

“Good one,” Greg said. He lit his torch without all of the fanfare and they set the torches in the brackets on the wall. They walked over to the nearest coffin. “We’ve got to begin somewhere.” Alec felt uneasy, for someone kept the tomb as clean as his mom kept their home in case visitors dropped by. It felt sacrilegious and wrong, an invasion of someone’s private space.

“They may be coming back soon,” he suggested, leaving the so maybe we should go, dangling unsaid in the hopes that Greg would reach that conclusion and they could try another, less well-kept, tomb.

“Dude, it’s nightfall, who’s going to come to the visit their dead family now. Now, wedge your fingers under the slab and lift.”

Alec hesitated, but did indeed slide his fingers and, with palms wet with sweat and arms shaking—not from the heaviness of the marble slab but from nervousness—he helped Greg reveal the contents of the coffin. There, lying with arms at his sides and his hair shorn short, was a man. A dead man and, from his condition, was probably laid to rest a day or two ago. His eyes were closed, and his mouth hung slightly open, as if he died while taking a breath which he would never exhale. He was not much older than them, and from what they could tell of his short-cropped coal-colored head of hair he had a long way to go before he went grey. His skin was soft and unwrinkled, and his hands thin and willowy.

With his jewelry and clothing, they guessed him to be a man of importance, a merchant nobleman. He had a ring on each hand, both set with lime-green gems that captured and spun the firelight into a dazzling display. The green complemented the violet velvet of his tunic. The craftsmanship of his boots made theirs look like beggar’s rags.

This is how I will be buried, Greg thought. Fine clothes and rings, smelling fresh, preserved in pine resin to slow the decaying process. In death, this man had more than Greg’s family had in life. Jealously, he wanted to steal the man’s rings and burn his clothes, but respect made him straighten out the hem of the dead man’s tunic where it had pulled up. I will have this. . . No, I will exceed this—like the Egyptians and their monuments, I will be remembered after my death.

Alec stumbled back in shock at seeing the body, and bumped into the coffin directly behind him, startling a squeak out of him. Greg stood over the body, wearing a solemn and pensive look, as if he was about to eulogize the man, or give a sermon about the transience of life. He watched Greg reach down and stroke out his tunic and tug down the bottom, like a lover straightening her beloved’s collar.

Greg took the book and placed it on the cover of a nearby coffin. He pulled things out of his satchel for the spell: a small bloodstone, a sprig of hemlock, a small vial of yellow, viscous liquid. He glanced up as he pulled stuff out. “Go out and gather some Corpse Fingers for additional lighting, while I prepare the spell. Hurry, it’s getting dark, Septimus will be expecting us soon.”

Something about the spell made Alec uneasy, and the corpse really unsettled him, so when Greg directed him to go out and gather Corpse Fingers he went gladly. He walked down the rows of gravestones, plucking the biggest of the mushrooms. They felt eerily warm in his hands, radiating heat like a rat or hamster. He wanted to end this now and leave, but he knew he was in too deep at this point, just like when they went to steal the street sign, and he had misgivings as they climbed onto the hood of his car to better reach the bolts. He glanced back at the tomb—under the grey clouds, with the wind wet and the night blotting out the light, and the Corpse Fingers stretching and waving out of the ground like real fingers, the tomb with its soft torchlight looked positively inviting. He heard something scrape against stone on the far side of the graveyard, and saw something scurry on all fours by the wall there. A hysterical chuffing sound akin to laughter accompanied the scurrying. His blood ran cold at the sound, and all of the hair on his body puffed out. He straightened up and hurried back to the tomb, one arm wrapped tightly around the mushrooms, his free hand gripping the hilt of his sword.

Greg stood over the dead man, his back to the door. A small globe of light hovered over the man’s face. When he heard Alec come in he called over his shoulder, “Great, arrange those around the coffin so we have sufficient light.”

“Greg,” Alec began, but Greg cut him off.

“We’re going through with this—we’ve gone too far to go back now.” He turned to face Alec, a dagger in his hand. Alec backed away, his hand loosening his sword from its scabbard.

Greg laughed at the sight. “I just need a little blood, that’s all.”

‘Fuck that. You want blood, you’d better be ready to shed it if you think you’re getting it from me.”

“Chill, dude.” Greg took the tip of the dagger, and made a small cut on the inside of his forearm. “I’m not gonna ask anything of you that I can’t do myself.” Alec sighed, relieved. Greg sheathed the dagger in his belt and then smeared the bloodstone with his blood. He took the vial, and poured it over the stone and smeared it, so blood and liquid coated the stone.

“Alright, here we go.” Alec crept close to stand on the other side of the coffin. The pine resin coating the dead man’s skin made him look encased in amber, his features so peaceful it seemed a shame to disturb him. They looked at each other, and Greg knew how the Wright Brothers must have felt with their first flight, or Nikola Tesla and Kolman Czito felt working on experiments together, here they were about to have a breakthrough that would change their lives and Taleth henceforth.

“Hold open his mouth.” Greg said.

“What?” Alec balked at touching the dead man—who knew what diseases crawled his festering skin.

“Unless you want to stuff the hemlock and the stone down his throat.” Alec shook his head and placed his fingers on the dead man’s jaw and gingerly pushed. He did it as if afraid to wake the man, but when it wouldn’t move he pushed hard until they heard a crack it hinged open like a jammed door. Resin flaked from his skin.

Greg took the sprig of hemlock and placed it in the dead man’s mouth, and then with the greased and bloody bloodstone shoved it down his throat. He reached as far into the man’s mouth as he could, pushing the stone down until he couldn’t reach it anymore. Alec watched, horrified.

“You’re stuffing hemlock down his throat and chasing it with a bloody rock? We’re going to bring him back to life only to poison and suffocate him?”

“That’s what the spell says to do. Maybe it absorbs his death and then he coughs it back up, or it shrinks down and he pisses it out like a kidney stone.”

“So what now?” Alec felt a little disappointed. He half-expected the man to jump out of the coffin, but he lay there the same, except his mouth hung open like he was waiting for someone to throw popcorn or candy into it.

“I finish the spell. These were the material components. Damn, dude, really, how much magic have you studied?” Alec’s face reddened. Greg picked up the book and leaned over the corpse. He recited the spell, whispering into its ear. Alec noticed the torchlight flicker, and then the Corpse Fingers extinguish, their soft blue light evacuated the room, fleeing as if they knew what was to come. The air filled with electricity and grew cold. Suddenly, what seemed like an electric burst emanated from the dead man that sent chills through them and shoved them back—Greg flew back into the tomb wall, knocking a torch loose from its wall sconce so that it clattered to the floor, sparks scuttling like insects over the stone; Alec fell back against the coffin behind him, the wind knocked out of him as he slid to the floor. They both laid where they had been thrown staring at the open coffin. The tomb was still and silent.

“This had better have worked.” Alec grumbled. He and Greg both rose. Their eyes met when they stood, and they held their gaze before both looking down into the coffin. There was the dead man, his mouth still slack, his eyes still closed. Only his tunic ruffled. They stepped to the coffin.

Well?” Alec asked.

“Hold on.” He clutched the side of the coffin and leaned in to put his ear near the dead man’s mouth. “I don’t hear anything.”

Was it his imagination, or did the dead man’s fingers twitch? “Ummm . . . Greg?”

Before he could respond, before he could stand full upright, the dead man’s hands shot up and seized Greg’s forearm. Greg screamed and tried to pull away, but the dead man hung on with the grip of rigor mortis and brought his forearm up to its mouth. With its eyes closed, it lapped at the cut Greg had made to draw blood, licking it like a half-dozing baby licked at its mother’s nipple after eating.

Alec screamed, and backed away, banging into the coffin behind him again. Greg twisted and yanked to free his arm, but the reanimated corpse hung on and began sucking on it.

“Fuck fuck fuck” Alec chanted as he watched.

“Help me. Do something,” Greg barked. He drew the dagger from his belt, and as he lifted it to stab the revenant, it bit down into the flesh of his arm. It wrenched its head to and fro, tearing a chunk from his arm. He drove the dagger into the revenant’s forehead with enough force to knock it back and make it release his arm. He drew his wounded arm to chest and recoiled from the coffin to lean against the wall.

The moment it bit down on Greg’s arm, Alec unsheathed his sword and stood waiting for a chance to attack—he daren’t swing while it clung to Greg, for fear of slashing and killing him. Now, he thought, I might have to. Don’t people bit by zombies become zombies?

The revenant popped up from the coffin, gore running down its face from the wound in its forehead. Its eyes open now, it peered around the room. The eyes were glassy and cold—all warmth of life had left them. It glanced from Greg to Alec and back to Greg as if making a decision on whom to attack. Rising up on one arm, it catapulted from the coffin to land on its feet in front of Greg. Greg stood against the wall, hunch over his wounded arm, the gory dagger in his hand. It leapt at him. Greg slashed out, but the revenant seized his hand and cracked it against the wall, forcing him to drop the dagger. Holding his good hand, it grabbed his face with its free hand. He felt the cool gold of the ring against his cheek, the fingers tightening, digging into his eyesockets, pushing in his eyes as it pressed his head against the wall. He hit its stomach and tried to push it away with his free hand, but it hurt too much for him to put much strength in it. Suddenly, a huffing sound, air being forced out of a bellows, came from it. It pulled him back from the wall and cast him to the back of the tomb, where he hit the wall and fell to the stone floor.

Alec saw the revenant spring from the coffin and pounce upon Greg the way his cocker spaniel Pinochle pounced on a doggie treat. We created a fucking Juju zombie, Alec thought. He raced around the coffin, watching Greg attempt to fight it. The revenant toyed with him as if he was a toddler. Please don’t kill him, please let me make it in time, God. Please. He’s my best friend, Alec prayed. He grew up Catholic, but never bothered with the Bible or Church, now he would do anything if God granted this prayer. The revenant held Greg up by the face, squeezing his head, its thumb and middle finger digging into Greg’s eyes. Afraid if he stabbed him he would stab Greg, he swung up, slashing the revenant’s back. He cut the velvet tunic and shaved the back of its scalp off. It jostled forward from the blow, threw Greg to the back of the room, and turned to face him.

He expected his battles to be full of witty one-liners as he cut through enemy after enemy, but the only thing he could think of, now that the glassy-eyed creature faced him, the gore glistening on its face and clotting on its tunic, was survival. He wanted to live, and he wanted Greg to live.

The revenant stood before him. It didn’t move; it just stood there, glistening in the light of the torches, silent. Alec bounced on his knees, waiting. It glanced towards Greg, then to the door, and then back to Alec. It isn’t very smart, is it—it plans on running. He waited for it to run, but instead it lunged at him, just as it had at Greg.

Alec screamed, and slashed wildly at the revenant—his first swing slashing up the front of its body, slicing open its tunic and stomach, so that its entrails spilled over his pants and boots. His second swing saved him, for the revenant grabbed his throat just as Alec’s sword went through its neck and its head tumbled backwards to the floor. The hand squeezed, choking him, and he realized that, though he cut off its head, it still wasn’t dead.

“Fuck,” he cried and, out of desperation. The revenant grabbed him with its other hand and squeezed tighter. As the world spun and his vision grew fuzzy, he cast his Minor flame spell upon the revenant’s body. In an instant, the hands grew slack as the flames engulfed the body. The air filled with stench of burning flesh and resin. Alec stumbled away from it, sucking in deep breaths, and bumped into the same stone coffin. He hollered and kicked at it until it felt like he broke his toe, and then he turned and sat down on the floor. Leaning against it, through tears, he watched the fire consume the body.

Alec and Greg sat on the beach next to a driftwood fire. They left the tomb in silence, letting the corpse burn. Untethering their horses, they rode back to the keep, veering off the trail and through the woods to the beach to clean up before they went all the way back. The sea welcomed them with rolling, clapping waves, and they returned the greeting by stripping down—though Alec only to his underwear, he refused to be naked in front of anyone if he could help it—and throwing themselves into its embrace. The saltwater stung his wounds, but Greg welcomed the pain, for it cleansed and healed him. They delighted in the roiling and turbulent water, rolling around in it like otters. Swimming against the waves, fighting the ebb and flow of the currents, gave them a catharsis—the sea took all of their fear and anger and pain, allowed them to kick and slash and punch it until they had enough, and it set them ashore wet and shivering but joyful to be alive.

Alec soaked his pants in a tidepool, hoping to get most of the gore off of them, and then—after wiping his boots off with a handful of seaweed—he sat by the fire and scrubbed of the bits that clung to them with a shell.

Greg cut strips from the end of his cloak and wrapped them around the bite wound. It stung, but felt much better after being washed out in the sea. He gazed blankly out at the ocean and rolled the ring around on his finger. He fished it out of the fire as they left, knocking it loose of the corpse’s charred fingers and wrapping it up in a corner of his cloak. He saved it as a reminder of this evening. I was careless, he thought. I should’ve been more careful and precise. I thought I knew what the spell said, but I didn’t read it carefully enough, and that nearly cost us our lives. Too, too fragile things, they are, and too easily extinguished in this world. I’ve gotta study harder and practice more, we weren’t brought up with this, as the generations before us had been, and so we’ve got a lot of catching up and learning to do. Maybe Septimus has taken us as far as he can, maybe it’s time for us to start teaching ourselves. This wouldn’t have happened if he taught us everything there was to know about magic, instead of what he thinks we should know. His limitations are dangerous, and set us back.

“Are you hungry at all? Any sudden cravings come over you?” Alec asked. Greg snapped out of his thoughts and laughed.

“Is there a time when you aren’t hungry? Nah, but I’ll sure eat somethin’ when we get back. Scrounge up some black bread and finish off whatever’s left of Gareth’s stew.”

Alec raised his eyebrows. “What about . . . meat. Do you have a craving for meat? Any meat in particular?”

“What are you hinting at? Wait, are you worried that I’m a zombie, because I was bitten? Dude, that only happens in movies. And that wasn’t a zombie—”

“It acted like a zombie—it bit your arm. It fought like a juju zombie. That thing had a ‘Bad Motherfucker’ wallet in its back pocket.”

Greg laughed. “Dude, you fought like a juju zombie. I’m glad you cast your Minor Flame spell, or we’d both be zombie chow right now. I’d hate to see your Dragon’s Breath—you’d’ve probably burned up the whole graveyard.”

Alec guffawed. He didn’t mention that he still struggled with Dragon’s Breath, his spell creating nothing more than a flash of blue and green embers.

“Hey, I’m sorry about tonight,” Greg fumbled with the apology, half-shouting the first half and then half-muttering the latter. “I should’ve been more careful. I thought I knew the dialect well enough to read and understand the spell.”

Alec smiled and held back a snarky retort—it was hard for him to not attack Greg at such a vulnerable moment. “Well, we got some great combat practice in. . . and I see that when you don’t cheat, you don’t fight so well.” He punctuated his jab with a burst of maniacal laughter. “Next time you want to try something like that. . . Do it without me.” He got up and picked his way across the sand to the tidepool where he left his pants.

Damnit. Fucking nature. Fucking animals,” he cried. Greg hurried over and found Alec batting at his pants with a stick. The gore that clung to them drew a horde of crabs. They wriggled over his pants, little Rorschach inkblots in the moonlight. He had put the cuffs and lower legs into the pool, but the crabs, in their greedy orgy, had pulled most of his pants in, soaking them all the way to the upper thighs. “What are you doing just standing there, help me.”

Greg laughed, reached down, grabbed his pants by the waist and gave it a few vigorous shakes. Crabs flew into the tidepool and across the sand like bits of shrapnel. A few clung desperately, hoping to get the last bits. Greg pinched these ones and pitched them across the sand. Greg handed Alec the pants free of crabs and gore, but soaked. “They might be a little damp.”

They waited another hour before heading back, to give Alec’s pants a chance to dry out by the fire. They joked more about the revenant, finding ways to talk around their fear, rather than to expose it and expose themselves as cowards. Greg brought the conversation around to Septimus, and he outlined his main concern about studying under Septimus: his hesitation at teaching them forbidden magic.

“After tonight’s demonstration, I can see why he doesn’t teach us. It’s dangerous, that’s why it’s forbidden.”

“That’s exactly why he should be teaching us—so that we can learn it in a safe environment. We need to know this magic if we plan on ruling Taleth.”

“What do you suggest then, that we go off and find another wizard to study under? Or head off ourselves and have more shenanigans like tonight that will eventually lead to one or both of us being killed.”

Greg swatted the flames of the fire with a stick he used to poke the coals. “No, I don’t think we’re going to find another wizard like Septimus. I don’t think it’d be that easy to find another wizard. What I think we need to do is learn what we can from Septimus, and teach ourselves, but—”Alec began to speak, but Greg squinted at Alec and held up his hand, “let me finish. We need to teach ourselves, but on a smaller scale than tonight, and in a controlled environment. I was thinking that we need to look at setting up our own magical study. I mean, face it, Septimus’s mind isn’t all there. He’s got one foot in the grave and when he croaks, who’s taking over the keep? Umbriel. And is she gonna let us stick around? Hell, no. So we need to be prepared. There will come a point when we’re kicked out and have nothing to show for it because we’ve been relying on Septimus this whole time. If we plan on taking back our kingdom, we need to start preparing now.”

Alec began listening with skepticism, but as Greg continued, he got more and more excited, until he was pacing back and forth next to the fire. In the firelight, with his ear-to-ear grin and the flames reflecting in his eyes, Alec resembled a devil, he completed the image by wringing his hands, one of his hyperactive tics.

“I like it. I like it. That’s brilliant.” He laughed, assaulting the silence of the beach with a staccato burst.

Greg nodded in agreement. Yes, he could see a plan coming together now. He could see . . . the cuffs of Alec’s pants singed by the fire. “Hey, grab your pants, they’re starting to burn.”

“Ah, jeez,” Alec tossed his pants out of the fire and batted the cuffs with a rock.

Tales from the Raven’s Loft Inn: Part 1–a selection from the rough draft

I’ve begun revising the rough draft for my novel (the completed one, I’m still at least a hundred pages from completing the new one), and thought I might share a little bit of it now (especially since I’ve had a few people asking me about it). The premise of the novel is simple: four friends go out to the woods for a bachelor party and they never come back . . . Well, that’s the simple answer I’ve been giving people when they ask me about the rough draft. It’s a little more complicated. They set up camp in the woods, go to sleep, and wake up in another world. The first to wake up, Jack, wanders off to explore, while his friends are taken on by a wizard as his apprentices. Well, that gets complicated too, for they’re also attacked by a roving band of mercenaries, with one of them being shot through with an arrow and left to die in the woods. So: two of them, Alec and Greg, survive the attack and go on to become apprentices—of a sort—to the wizard, Gary (the one shot through with the arrow, and whose bachelor party it was) is left for dead in the woods, and clueless Jack is wandering around the woods. That’s the gist of my novel—obviously, there’s a lot more to it. I hope that makes some sense. Maybe.

What I’m posting is to sate curiosity, nothing more. It’s still in the rough draft stage—I’ve gone through and corrected spelling, but other than that, much of it will be getting rewritten. Heavily rewritten. The section I’m posting to the blog centers around Alec and Greg. They’ve lived with the Septimus, the wizard, for some time now, and have begun to chafe at the limited exposure he has given them to magic. They long to try out more esoteric spells and have gone out on their own to try something a bit different . . . .



They rode for a couple of hours, through the forest and then on to a wide meadow. Greg stopped here, consulted a map—which Alec tried to peek at, but Greg kept riding his horse away so that Alec couldn’t see—and then they veered south. The rain stopped and sky purpled above them, the clouds the color of fresh bruises, as the sun set. Ahead of them, Alec could see a stone wall a few feet high, crumbling in places. Stones dotted the ground, and there were a number of small stone buildings—abandoned hovels, he guessed. A few trees loitered awkwardly, out of place amongst the stones and buildings. Ruins, possibly? Have we come in search of treasure? He fidgeted on his horse, anxious to see what kind of treasure hunt Greg had brought them on. He imagined all the possibilities—magical weapons, invisibility boots, piles of gold like the kind Scrooge McDuck would swim in. The stones took shape as they grew closer, and his excitement fled d he wanted to join it as he realized where Greg had brought them—a graveyard. They had come in the rain, as night fell, to a graveyard.

He stopped his horse. A graveyard—that’s what Greg’s brought me to see. Well, maybe there are ruins underneath, Alec thought, returning to his fantasies of untold wealth and fame—so far, being a displaced descendent of royalty returned home had yielded him nothing but bruises, bad food and mental anguish. Perhaps, he thought, my life is taking a turn for the better. Greg’s been consulting a lot of maps lately, maybe he stumbled upon treasure in the catacombs here, and some classic D&D style dungeon-crawling. Gold and goblins, sounds like a nice way to spend the evening. He pined for the nights when the Mountain Dew flowed, and they couldn’t microwave enough chicken nuggets and taquitos while trouncing trolls and rummaging through the remains of previous adventurers in search of money and magical items. Wouldn’t he have told me to bring more though? I’m not equipped for any kind of adventures. . . Real life in a fantasy world lacked the luster and glamour of role-playing. He dreamt of this happening, and now it seemed so ordinary and mundane.

“I’m not going in there.” he called out decisively. Greg had dismounted his horse and was tying it up to the neck of a statue at the graveyard gates. A breeze blew and whipped up Greg’s cloak as he turned to face Alec. Damn, that’s dramatic, Alec thought. I wonder if he’s doing that intentionally. He loved using his magic for to create an aura of power around him, and would whip up small gusts to rustle his cloak as he descended the stairs for breakfast or brighten the sunlight behind him so that he appeared to have a halo.

“What are you afraid of—there’s nothing here but dead bodies, dust and bones. C’mon, I’ve got somethin’ to show you.”

Something in the tone of his voice raised Alec’s hackles. His instincts want him to turn back, apprehensive of what was to come, but his curiosity and faithfulness to his friend compelled him across the meadow and through the crumbling gates of the graveyard.

The clouds unraveled enough that the last bits of days flaked through, spotlighting sections of the graveyard. Corpse Fingers, pale blue club-shaped mushrooms that rose from the ground like fingers, glowed with an eerie luminescence. A light wind blew, whipping up the smell of salt and rain and the loamy ground. They picked their way through the graveyard, Greg scanning the ground, but heading towards the western end where crypts buttressed each other like a row of brownstone tenements. Alec followed after tentatively, his anxiety rising so that he tittered with his maniacal laugh.

Greg glanced back. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, nothing. We’re just wandering through a desolate graveyard in the middle of nowhere at sunset. What are you looking for?”

“Fresh graves,” Greg replied. “But I want to check out the tombs first.”

Alec stopped in a patch of sunlight. “Wait. What?” he glared at Greg’s back.

As if he felt Alec’s glare tugging at his ponytail, Greg turned around. “We’re looking for graves. Fresh bodies. What did you think we were doing here, picking tulips?”

The weight of Greg’s words struck Alec as he realized what he said. He stepped back from Greg. “Bodies? What are we doing with a body, hunh, Dr. Frankenstein? And look around you, this is an old graveyard. This freshest body you’ll find here has got to be half the age of Septimus.”

Greg sighed. “I’ve examined some maps, and this is one of the original necropolises. There are bound to be a few semi-fresh bodies here.”

“Necropolis? I hate to tell you, but this area isn’t a bustling suburb. I don’t think that people are lining up to get buried here. Look at the state of the place?” Alec waved his arm to emphasize his point: the walls surrounding the graveyard were overgrown, as was the graveyard itself. The forest slowly took back the land.

“Dude, didn’t you keep up with your history? Corpse-drivers. The dead-bound. They drive the dead to their family graveyards, these necropolises. It’s an old tradition, and most people abandoned it during the Necromantic plague. When necromancy was at its peak, they were often getting assaulted—like getting carjacked, but instead corpse-jacked. There was even that infamous scene where it turned out a couple of necromancers had brought back a dead nobleman to life and were using him as a puppet to rule his lands. Fucked-up shit. People mostly burn their dead now, to prevent their loved ones from being used. Not that there are any necromancers anymore.”

“Wait, are you saying that I’m about to participate in highway robbery, and you plan on stealing a corpse?”

“Not exactly. We’re not holding anyone up. There’s nobody alive around here for miles. Just c’mon.”

Alec refused to move. “No. I want to know what we’re—you’re—doing here. Why do you want a body?”

Greg gritted his teeth and glared at Alec as he reached into his satchel and withdrew a thin manuscript bound in tan leather. He held up the manuscript. “This is why we’re here. If we want to be true wizards . . . If we want to rule this land, we need to know as much magic as possible, and we cannot be held back. This is a manuscript in the Old Emerath dialect, and it has a few of the forbidden spells—necromancy. I brought us out here to try and cast one, but it requires a body. Now, I need your help, and you can either help me or hold us back. You decide.”

“Where did you find this book?” Alec couldn’t hide his horror . . . and awe. The book contained forbidden magic, magic outlawed not just by law but by magicians as well. No wizard would ever practice necromancy, and few ever studied it. That Greg had read it and obviously planned to do something with it excited and terrified Alec. If they were caught, the punishment would be awful, but the power of the magic and its infamy—and that the greatest of D&D campaigns featured the vampiric necromancer, Count Strahd—drew him to it like a moth to a flame. Secretly, he had perused the shelves of the Septimus’s library for just such a book, but found nothing.

“It was stuffed inside another book. A cookbook.”

Alec laughed. “A cookbook?”

“Yeah. I was looking for a cookbook because I was so sick of eating Gareth’s shitty cooking. It’s disgusting. Obviously, no one has tried to cook anything for years, for this was tucked inside. I wasn’t sure what it was at first, but I recognized the dialect, and after reading through it I found out it was a spellbook—like the ones Septimus keeps under protection. But he missed this one, and now it’s ours.”

The squeamishness and horror he felt about finding a fresh corpse evaporated as he gazed upon the book in Greg’s hands and thought of the power they could gain—he could become an even greater wizard-warrior, mastering magic known to only a few. Perhaps there might be a spell there to help him master his condition. “Alright,” he walked up to Greg. “I’ll help, but don’t expect me to touch the body in any way. What’s the spell we’re casting?”

Greg had the pages marked with seagull feathers he found on the beach while studying the book. He showed it to Alec, who looked over the passages, the notations in various hands and dialects, and the diagrams. The ink had faded in spots, stains threatened to obliterate words, but even if the text had been in the cleanest handwriting, or typed, he had no idea what it said. He struggled—no, he resisted—his language lessons, for those he took with Umbriel, and would’ve preferred cooking lessons from Gareth. Now, he regretted those wasted afternoons, as he sheepishly asked, “So what is this spell?”

Damn, fool. . .” Greg shook his head. “From what I understand, it says ‘A Spell for Bringing Back the Dead.’”

“So we’re going to bring back some random guy from the dead? What about his family, and what are we going to do, bring him back with us—‘hey Septimus, look what we found in the woods. Can we keep him?’”

Greg stopped in his tracks, an incredulous look on his face. “We’ve got the ability to resurrect the dead here,” He waved the book inches from Alec’s nose, “and you’re worried about what to do with the guy after we’ve brought him back to life. From the dead. Dude, it’s not like we’re going to wake some guy up, we’re giving him life. Do you understand? Back. From. The. Dead.”

Alec stood speechless, mortified. Chastened by Greg’s rant. What greater inconvenience is there than death? So what if the man had to travel hundreds of miles to get home, at least he could make that journey—if not for their intervention, he’d be here fruiting and rotting. “In a way, we’re like Jesus resurrecting Lazenby.”

“Lazarus. Lazenby played Bond.”

“Yeah, Lazarus. Lazenby was an underrated Bond.”

They began walking again, the Corpse Fingers ushering them through the graveyard, their luminescent glow providing enough light to make up for the cloudy sky—the sun hid behind the clouds, and no stars or the moon broke through the shroud overhead. Tombs littered the sprawling graveyard, but a row of them lined the western wall. They began with these, starting at the very first and moving their way down. The first few they found locked, and went through great efforts to break into them, but each one only provided them with dust and rags, bones and sore shoulders from forcing the wooden doors open. In the third one, they found bats hibernating, and the floor carpeted with guano. Alec swung around and nearly retched from the sight, covering his mouth with his hand and hunching over.

“Do you think it’s okay, our bringing this guy back to life,” he said, as he recovered from the sight and stench of the layers of guano. “Is right for us to play God like this? What right do we have to bring him back from the dead?”

Greg had moved on to the next tomb. “We’ve got a spell, and what’s the big deal, this is just going to be some average person—it’s not like we’re bringing back Balaethe.”

“Balaethe?” Alec asked, annoyed at yet another reference he didn’t understand.

“Dude, do you ever pay attention during history lessons . . . Hey—” The door opened on greased hinges. “It’s open.”