|Life, which you so nobly serve, comes from destruction, disorder and chaos.
||[Dec. 14th, 2006|06:54 am]
Short Story Tapestry Society
|||||Eric Serrra - Mondoshawan||]|
Well, here it is, finally, Post #2 in the Carnival theme. I have worked on it for the last few months, with a little help/additions (chess-wise) from quest. It will eventually be part of an ongoing storyline that I have some vague ideas about. Others are more than welcome (in accordance with the very purpose of this community), to ask questions about what I have written, and/or contribute their own stories that may or may not follow on from some of this.
Please let me know what you think. I am anxious to know whether or not my writing skills have actually atrophied over the years. I cannot rely upon one person's opinion alone.
Here goes. Enjoy. :)
The sun shone warm and made sparkles glimmer from the surface of the little stream that threaded through the edge of the small, picturesque forest. Rabbit Jack was taking a well-earned bath. The water felt cold and crisp as he splashed it on his body, rubbing his well-worn clothes all over his wiry frame, thusly washing them too in the process. Despite his name, he face was actually more reminiscent of a weasel, albeit, a good-natured one. People seemed to take pity on his humble, beady stare, and lent him money, and invited him to card games. Just enough so he could get by. Not too much to be extravagant, oh no, he wasn’t that foolish, not anymore. He was happy with the life he led. Clean air, nature, food enough when he wanted it. He’d visit any one of many local towns in the area when he wanted human contact, drink, extra food or supplies, maybe the company of a woman. But for now he was happy living out in the natural world away from walls and clocks and expectations.
When he was done washing himself and his clothes to his satisfaction, he laid all of them, including himself, out on the wide slab of rock that jutted over the slight bend in the river. As he lay there, under the warm sunlight, he breathed out slowly, and contemplated catching a rabbit for his dinner, which was the real source of his nickname.
This was his favourite time of year to be in the Shady Woods, late summer, early autumn. The air was warm, and hummed with the activity of life. The smell of countless late-blooming wildflowers filled his nostrils, and he pondered the notion of going to the nearby town of Ellington that evening, and visiting a sweet young lass he had recently met by the name of Connie, whose red lips and expansive breast were both equally soft and sweet. As he lay there, naked, contemplating pleasures of the flesh, he dozed off.
He awoke sometime later, and the sun was much lower in the sky. Something was not right. Something had awoken him, and it took him a good few moments for his sleep-fogged brain to connect his senses.
It was a smell, the slightest, ephemeral suggestion of smoke. This was not something unusual, but this had an odd, sweet tang to it that made him feel incredibly uneasy, and he quickly pulled his battered, still-damp clothes on, and gathered his swag.
He scrambled up the side of the hill, alongside the tumbling stream, trying to make it to higher ground. As he panted with the effort, the strange, acrid tang began to tickle his nose more strongly, and he felt his stomach begin to lurch. Finally, he made it to the top of the rise, and he turned to look out on the view of the plains stretched out before him.
Beyond the edges of the Shady Woods, endless golden field of crops stretched as far as the eye could see, with a long scar cut down the middle, which was the Little Great Road. What Rabbit Jack’s little squinty weasel eyes could make out, on the far horizon, made his skin go cold, and bile start to rise in his throat.
It was a caravan. Not just any caravan, but the long line of beast and wagons, that heralded the arrival of the Seraphim & Excelsior Fantasmic Carnivalissimo. They hadn’t been seen in these parts for nigh on seventeen years, but Rabbit Jack remembered them. He felt sick at the very thought.
Forgetting both the plans for the rabbit-meal and the woman, Rabbit Jack swung his swag on his back, and started to scramble down the lee side of the rise. There wasn’t any way he was going to be within 500 miles of Vespasian Seraphim ever again, if he could help it. He would go to Brixwood, or Yerana, or even Oligan, if he had to. He knew that there was something coming to someone nearby very soon. Something tremendous…. perhaps awful, perhaps not. Whichever it was, Rabbit Jack didn’t want to be around to see or experience any of it. He had had enough of the Carnivalissimo Fantasmic the last time he had seen them in these parts. The sweet, acrid tang of the smoke reached his nostrils once more, and he redoubled his speed. Dark memories flashed in the bowels of his mind, and as his feet pounded, he perversely began to feel a profound sense of gratitude rise up from his stomach, forming a tight ball at his throat. As he ran as fast as he could through the scrub and underbrush, he struggled to gain air, and began to choke. As tears blurred his vision, he raised a hand to wipe at them, and he realized that his cheeks were already wet from crying.
Ever so softly, at the very edge of his hearing, he began to hear the faintest of melodies, and he began to whimper audibly. As he scrambled and tumbled his way through the trees and scrub, the rise and fall of the music seemed to strangely coincide with his movements. Miles away, the painted wagons with their mysteriously shaped attendants, and accompanying odd noises and smells slowly trundled their way toward the pretty little town of Ellington.
Panting, he once again wiped at his streaming face, and this time noticed that the back of his hand was streaked crimson with blood.
Embeth Conrad was a beautiful girl. As she sat by the window, her slender hand drawing aside the diaphanous curtains, the sunlight fell on her face, and Perd, her fiancé, was struck at the way it made the green of her eyes sparkle. She crinkled up her pert little freckled nose, and for a moment, he almost wanted to forgive her for her damned impertinence.
“Darling, you know it’s the proper thing to do. It’s what’s done… its tradition.”
Suddenly, she breathed deep. “I don’t care!” she shot back, her gaze immediately snapping back to meet his, “I don’t care a squit for tradition or what’s ‘done’! I want to get married somewhere real, and if you can’t understand that, then you’re not the person I thought I was going to marry!”
He sighed. This was a conversation that they had had many times before. As Embeth rose from the window-seat, his resolve hardened, and as she went to storm past him, he grabbed her sharply by the arm and pulled her close.
“Embeth, this is the way it’s going to be for us, and you know it.”
As he stared in her startled eyes, he saw a flash of dark emotion momentarily ripple across her delicate features, and he felt a twinge of something like remorse roil in his gullet. But this was their wedding. It had to be conducted in the correct manner, and there was nothing more to be said about it. No matter how pretty a scene she painted, she needed to grow up and be realistic, and he was sick of telling her in nice ways, their wedding was only a few scant weeks away.
“It’s time to grow up and stop being a child about this Em!” He growled suddenly, and his grip on her arm tightened.
For a moment they hung there, entwined, staring at each other, the tension almost palpable in the air. He realized that he was breathing hard and snorting like Velos, his horse, and the smell of her, a soft powdery musk, was filling his nostrils intoxicatingly. As he gazed at her flushed face and wide eyes, he realized that she was making small panting, whimpering noises. Suddenly, he realized he had an erection.
Abruptly she twisted out of his grasp, and threw his hand off.
“No, Perd!” she whispered, her green eyes filling, “It’s time for you to grow up and realize that this isn’t just about you. It’s about me too! I should be able to have a say on this at least!”
Her hand flew up to her mouth, and for a moment, her teary eyes looked shocked at her own words. And with that she ran out of the room, her brown hair flicking as she turned, as if in one final gesture of desperate defiance as she fled.
Perd sighed, and then groaned. He sank down onto a nearby chair and put his head in his hands, and let out a loud, animalistic growl of frustration.
Embeth stormed down the stairs, her mind whirling. She knew that she was being difficult, but this time, this one single things, of all things, she thought she might be able to have her way.
As she reached the bottom of the stairs, and made for the door, she saw her father standing in the parlor, and the sight made her stomach lurch as she struggled not to release the sob that rose in her throat. As she saw his brow furrow, and the questions form on his lips, she blurted, “I’m going to see Meg about the dress.” With that she grasped the door handle and finally escaped to the outside world.
As she clattered down the path, automatically holding her the soft white fabric of her long skirts out of the way of the delicately thorned liriad plants, she had no idea where she was going. She flung open the gate, and began to walk quickly towards the not too distant Shady Woods, gasping air in great sobs as she went.
She felt her cherished dreams of one day being able stand in the sunlight before them, one and all, in her mother’s dress, as a perfect, pure princess, fading away as the sunlight now leached from the duck-egg blue sky. As she tried to run away from her pain and her sorrow and her shame, the sky darkened along with her mood.
Then, as the blood pounded in her ears, she realized that she could hear music. A melody than seemed to thrum along with her skittish nerves. She stopped, her previous maladies suddenly forgotten. As she sank slowly to her knees in the long grass, her soft skirts pooling around her, something tickled the back of her mind that made her retch.
“It’s going to be fine darling. You just listen to me, and everything will be fine.”
As the wretched, evocative melody swelled and filled the air around her, Embeth suddenly put her hands on her thighs, leaned forward, and vomited.
The sun slanted down on Embeth, who clutched at her midsection as she leaned over, panting and heaving in the long grass; and also on Rabbit Jack, who was still running through the scrub and grass a few short miles away. He was covered in scratches and bruises, having long giving up the easy path. Blood still trickled down his face, now dripping slowly off his chin, and as he ran he was mumbling to himself.
And between them both, the source of the haunting, bewitching melody that only they seemed to be able to hear, the third point in a slowly diminishing triangle, was the advancing caravan of the Seraphim & Excelsior Fantasmic Carnivalissimo.
Much later that night, the Carnival had nearly established itself in its new temporary home. It lay spread out over Phylson Parkland like some great beast, still rumbling and twitching at the edges, as if trying to settle for the night. Voices called, beasts grumbled, and noises that couldn’t be distinguished as either creaks or shrieks were frequently heard.
Master Vespasian Seraphim sat outside his blood-red painted wagon, on a wooden folding chair. His red-banded top hat was placed aside for the moment, next to a small crystal glass containing a dark amethyst liqueur. Before him, on a wooden table, was a chessboard, with squares of black and white marble. On the other side of that chessboard sat Boke. Boke was a small, inscrutable mongoloid dwarf, dressed simply in thick woollen pants and tunic, a leather jerkin, with a small pointed leather cap above his flat, tanned face.
One of his small, stubby fingers still rested upon a chess piece, and he held Seraphim’s dark eyes in an exquisite moment of tension. Then, as he finally lifted his fat digit from the little knight’s gnarled hide, the tension broke, and murmurs rippled between the crowded bodies stacked at various levels over crates and boxes behind them.
Each little person on the crates resembled Boke in a remarkable sense, male, female, child and adult alike. In fact, they were all called Boke, really, no-one knew if it was really their name or just what they chose to answer to. They did a lot of the dirty work around the Carnival, shovelling horse manure, cleaning messes, and the like. They were a stoic, hard-working people, surprisingly strong and quick, and kept almost exclusively to themselves when not working. But they did love to gamble, especially on a good game of chess.
Seraphim now glanced over the chessboard. He saw a move he needed to make, to move his king out of harm's way and avoid a game-winning stroke from his opponent. Boke, he noticed, saw it too, although the immense tension contained in the little body was almost imperceptible, except to those with the sharpest of eyes. Seraphim moved his hand toward the board, hovering between his king and the rook in the next square for just a moment. Then, with a decisive gesture, he seized the rook and moved it down the board to threaten Boke's knight.
Boke paused shrewdly, examining the board at length, for some hidden ploy. Finding none, he took hold of his queen and slid her into position to attack Seraphim's king. Without the rook to protect it, there was no defence Seraphim could offer to save his game. As Boke lifted his hand from the piece, a look of almost-surprise crossed his normally placid features for just the merest moment, after which followed the tiniest flash of fear, before the usual implacable mask slid into place, and he sat there, looking up at his defeated Master.
The moment held.
Seraphim’s face then split into wide, bright grin beneath his curling black moustache, and as his deep bass laughter rumbled out into the night, Boke-at-the-table raised his arms in triumph as the gathered Boke on the crates behind him cheered, and flurries of little copper and silver coins changed hands.
“Well played Boke, well played.” Seraphim chuckled, as he finally took a sip from the crystal glass. After he swallowed, he let out a sigh of satisfaction as a small puff of violet smoke escaped his full lips, and he studied the glass vessel and it’s softly glowing contents appreciatively.
Suddenly, one of the gnarled little grey-green gargoyle-pawns on the chessboard twitched, and then let out a sulphurous burp. This set the gargoyle-pawn next to it off into an immediate fit of growling and mewling, and Seraphim sighed as the whole row began to break out. Silently, a little Boke girl, no more than about forty-five centimetres high, appeared at Seraphim’s side, presenting a small battered tin up to him with a solemn look on her face.
“Thankyou Boke.” He smiled, and pulled a copper coin from behind her ear and passed it to her. The little girl’s expression didn’t change, but she nonetheless grabbed the coin, and then bolted off to a little group of Boke girls nearby, where they all broke into excited Bokese chatter over her newly acquired money.
Seraphim pulled open the tin, and dropped various squiggling, crawling things onto the black and white marble squares of the chessboard. A feeding frenzy ensued, grey-green and mottled blue-white bodies lashing and clawing, in a squealing, growling mass. He unfolded himself from the wooden chair and stood up. “You can all get back to it now, Boke.” He announced in a loud authoritative tone, and the mass of chattering dwarves began to break off to their various chores. He then lifted a large polished wooden box onto the side of the table, placed it next to the chess board, and lifted a panel on one side, to reveal a dark, partitioned interior.
As the writhing mass of scaly living chess pieces slowly stopped their writhing and chirping, and began to let off sulphurous burps all over the place in little smelly clouds, Seraphim snapped his fingers, and in the same authoritative tones, commanded, “C’mon now! Bedtime!”
The little scaly bodies slowly separated themselves into their individual sides and, with little gaseous eruptions and squabbles breaking out here and there, they scrabbled into the darkness of the wooden box, grey-green bodies on one side, mottled blue-white on the other.
Seraphim then picked up the chessboard, and with his snowy white handkerchief, he wiped the last few smears of blood, and scraps of feelers and chitin off the black and white marble squares. Both the chessboard and kerchief were remarkably clean after the process. He then folded the board in two, and, sliding it into a slot at the base of the polished wooden box, he then slid the panel closed. As he was tucking his handkerchief back into the interior of his crimson coat, he began to hear a noise, and he straightened up.
He could hear a commotion not far off; voices raised. He listened for a moment, then, breaking into a wide grin again, he walked down toward where he could get a better view of the walkway between the wagons. As he leaned against a post, he could see Aphrodite, dressed to kill, floating and flouncing around at the door of her silver and purple wagon. As her perfect slender white fingers caressed her equally impossibly-perfect curves suggestively, she blew kisses to a group of hooting and hollering males on the other side of the fence, who had come down from Ellington to see some of the action unfold. As her bedroom eyes winked, and her luscious body jiggled, she called enticements in a husky voice, promising the lust-crazed crowd untold pleasures and delights, if they would come back on the morrow.
Then, with a crash, the coming commotion grew louder, and Seraphim rearranged his features into stillness.
A figure came into view, pounding its way towards Seraphim’s wagon with obvious determination, and the effect it left as it passed was noticeable.
It was a girl who seemed about sixteen years of age, who, despite her youth, was attractive in the extreme. Although not that tall, she was well-developed, and she moved with an obvious catlike grace that bespoke great strength, as well as agility and speed. She was also strikingly beautiful, with masses of dark golden curls, full lips, creamy-blushing skin and strong cheekbones. As she made her way between the wagons, the attention of the massed males lined up at the fence snapped towards her, and their appreciative gazes all swept wide-eyed and open mouthed over her form in unison. Ribs were jabbed and low whistles popped out here and there, as Aphrodite scowled, and deflated a little at the edges. She turned and disappeared into her cabin, closing the silver and purple door behind her with a sudden thump.
Then one of the young males decided to take a chance, and called out a lewd suggestion to the passing girl. Not slowing her gait or deviating from her path, her gaze snapped towards the heavily-breathing males, and the grins dropped from their faces. The eyes that she stared at them were gorgeous, huge and almond-shaped, framed with long, thick black lashes. They also glowed an almost golden yellow, and seemed to flash with each stride she took. She looked at them for only a few moments, and then her gaze snapped back to where she was going. As Seraphim watched, all the massed men and boys looked down, and shuffled away from the fence quickly, murmuring to themselves, and he allowed himself a small grimace as the girl neared him with an increasing pace.
Within a few strides, she reached him, and she stood in front of him, hands on her hips, golden eyes flashing. Although the clothes she wore were relatively simple, white shirt, black pants and riding boots, and a midnight-blue fitted velvet jacket; they were obviously handmade, and the fine tailoring seemed to fit her stunning young figure as if it had been sewn onto her body.
The ire was apparent on her beautiful face, and her full lips twisted in anger. As they stood there, the two of them, one relaxed, the other tense, the Boke murmured quietly to one side, and another small flurry of coin changed hands. If there was anything they liked gambling on more than a game of chess, it was on the outcome of a showdown between the two masters of the Carnival, Vespasian Seraphim and Excelsior.
“Sourdrop, you gave me fucking sourdrop!” she finally spat at him, “You know what sourdrop does to my eyes!!”
“Well, you said that evendew made your skin blotchy, and it was either that or Orson’s Weed, and you said that make your hair dry out.” He replied in deep, even tones.
Her golden eyes widened and she hissed, “You fucker!” as her right hand raised and clenched itself into a fist. She held herself like that staring at him, tense, almost trembling, before suddenly letting out a cry of frustration and kicking a nearby tent peg with her glossy black riding boot, making the tent shiver dangerously. Murmurs rippled through the nearby Boke once more, and the coin-exchange routine happened all over again.
Seraphim straightened, and began to walk back toward his wagon. “C’mon Celly, I’ve opened a bottle of Ruhmwein you may like to sample.”
Excelsior was the other Carnival Master. She was also Vespasian Seraphim’s best friend, and had been for almost as long as he could remember. As he walked, she overtook him to his right, walking fast and obviously still irate. Coming to the wooden table, she sat immediately in the seat he had previously occupied, and picked up the crystal glass he had previously held, and downed the contents in one smooth combination of movements.
Seraphim settled into the seat opposite her, and as she blew violet smoke from her full pinks lips, they darkened, as if a massive rush of blood has just flowed towards her luscious mouth. In fact, her whole countenance deepened in color, her hair now a gleaming golden nut-brown, skin a soft peach. Her previously golden eyes had stilled and become a warm brown. She held up the crystal glass, now empty, and studied it as Seraphim had before.
“Nice,” she breathed, her melodious voice even changed to a deeper, huskier tone, “Is this from Singh & Vernassus?”
“Yes. I was saving a few bottles.” He answered, as he refreshed her glass as well as pouring a new one for himself with the bottle and glass a Boke had brought by. They sat there watching the sky, now velvet black and studded with streaks and whorls of diamond-like stars, as the Boke trudged around nearby, unloading and distributing the contents of the stack of crates and boxes, some of which shook and grumbled, or made other odd noises as they were moved.
Excelsior, (she had no other name, but was known sometimes as Celly, to those few that she permitted to address her as such) had been a part of the Carnival for the last 15 years. Before that time, her position had still been held by an Excelsior – her father.
Her father had been a robust, cunning man who seemed to be somewhere in his late fifties, as he had seemed to be for as long as anyone in the Carnival could remember. One day, fifteen years ago, something happened, something strange and something fantastic (not even Seraphim himself had really been permitted to know the all the proper details), and Excelsior had disappeared. A few weeks later, as the caravan of wagons was taking root in another town (they had grown tired of waiting for him at the previous one), Excelsior herself had walked into the middle of the bustle, and taken over her father’s life as if he had never left. At the time she had arrived, she appeared to be approximately ten years of age, and although people at first thought there was little actual physical resemblance, the way she acted, and the things she said left many people either shaking their heads in wonderment, or shivering in fright. Not only did she take over almost every task in Carnival management that her father had, but she also took on every debt, credit, old score, favor, bargain and fight. Since her arrival, she had aged slowly through her pubescent years, and blossomed into young womanhood, but that didn’t stop any single member of the Carnival respecting her for the fearsome creature she was.
“Why Ellington? Why now?” she asked suddenly, and Seraphim shifted in his seat uncomfortably.
“Because it has to be done, and you know it.” He stated quietly, “Besides, Mr. Beleura is running low on stock in some areas.”
She breathed out forcefully, and they both remained there, quiet for another few moments, before she spoke again.
“You remember what happened last time.”
“Yes,” he replied softly, “I know.”
What no-one else in the Carnival knew, was that Excelsior herself was her father. She remembered the events of seventeen years past, because she had been there herself. Or at least, she remembered her father being there.
Seraphim was not sure of precisely what had happened that day when Excelsior had left, nor of exactly what Excelsior had become, or now was, but he knew that the being that sat beside him contained every single memory and experience that his good old friend had. She had proved it to him on many occasions, and he had learned, in the most part, to treat her just as he had treated the great man she used to be.
She was also very much a young girl.
“I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all!” she pouted, “Besides, now I’m going to have to wear eyeshades for the whole of opening day, and probably opening night too, knowing the dose you gave me, and you know I hate that!”
“I’m sorry, Celly.” He replied, “I had to make sure you would sleep through the turn-off.” He sipped from his crystal glass slowly. “And as for your eyes, you could always ask Aftie for some of…”
“NO!” she cut him off abruptly, and she slammed her crystal glass down on the wooden table so hard it shattered. Crystal shards tumbled over the edge of the wooden table, as the glowing purple liquid slopped out and formed a fizzing, shivering pool that held itself together with a strange force. She stared at the glittering glass fragments with a mixture of shock, anger, and something else that was unidentifiable, but cold.
She stood up suddenly and faced him, her coloring once again lifting to fiery golden tones.
“I don’t want to have any part of this!” she steamed indignantly, her eyes flashing as she stamped her foot. Abruptly, she turned where she was standing, and stalked off, muttering darkly to herself.
Seraphim sighed, and drained his glass as he watched her retreating back. She was so like, and yet so unlike her previous self. He was worried. He needed her help on this one. It was important.
He began to whistle to himself, a soft, winding, haunting melody. The remaining crystal glass in his hand seemed to sing along with him.