Free Fiction Wednesday! Hallowe’en Edition

So I decided to prep for NaNoWriMo by seeing if I could write at least 1,667 words today, and it’s been a success! Hooray! I’ve always wanted to write dark fantasy, and I’ve had this idea in my head for a long time. This isn’t even the complete story, just part of it. If I get some good feedback, maybe I’ll write more of it. There aren’t really any warnings for this part, but if this becomes a serial thing it’s definitely going to take a more….sexual…turn (but NOT before the main character becomes an adult, because that’s just wrong, and possibly illegal, but mostly because it’s WRONG). Originally, I was going to write the whole thing (threesomes and kink included) but then I just decided to write up to 2000 words and see where I was at in the story, and ZOMG cliffhanger!

And before you ask, you might recognize a couple of references to a certain ballad, which was intentional, but the *ahem* creatures in this story are actually a different kind of fantastical race.

Also, no, this isn’t my NaNoWriMo thing, this is just something special I did because it’s Hallowe’en.

As usual, the writing is raw, I am literally cutting and pasting it directly from my unedited Word document.

And so, without further ado, part of a story (also make note of my EXTREMELY SUBTLE SYMBOLISM, IT’S EXTREMELY SUBTLE) Oh, and I have to apologize in advance for the lack of costume porn, I just can’t write descriptions of clothing very well, just picture something utterly ostentatious and you have the clothing down….

The Tithe-Boy

 

They come every year. Some travel in gilded carriages, others on horseback, but almost never on foot. The town has already been informed of their arrival. When the time comes, everyone gathers in the town square in two columns. The mothers clutching their young, and the fathers, some are stoic, others have faces reddened by tears or drink, all are powerless to stop what is about to occur.

They come and take the children, herd them into their carriages or place them astride their horses, and then they head back to their walled city upon the hill, and the children are never seen again.

Generation upon generation has asked Why. Why do they take the children away? Why does no one raise voice or fist against them? I asked it of my grandmother one night, as she sat tending the fire, and she told me the story that every child in the town hears at least once in their lives, that once there was a war between the glittering gods and goddesses and our kind. It has been a war that was bigger than our small town, fought by kings and queens on the field and rogues in the streets.  My grandmother couldn’t remember the cause of the war, only the outcome.

We had lost the war, and so now we paid the price.

“And so we pay, year after year, a tithe of flesh and blood,” said my grandmother. “Never the adults, only the children. The March tried to stop people from havin’ children the one year;, the fool!” And here she spat. “Can’t stop folks from breedin’, ‘an they know it, the bastards. They know it and they come, year after year. Sometimes they only take one, thank the Lady.” Her expression softened somewhat, and she smiled indulgently at me. “Oh, but don’t you worry, pumpkin, any of ‘em tries to lay a hand on you, and I’ll stab ‘em with my needle here. Got the March himself good one time, I did! He’s lucky I didn’t take out his eye, the bastard!”

“Mother!” My mother appeared, bowl and wooden spoon in hand. “Don’t say such things in front of Tom, he needs to learn to speak properly!”

“Bah! You weren’t speakin’ properly when you popped ‘im out! He’s heard it all already!” Grandmother snapped, patting my head. “There now, Tom, you’ve had your day’s fill of sad stories,” she set her needles aside and hugged me so tightly I was certain my bones would break. At the time, I thought nothing of the way she held me to her breast as if she might never see me again, I know better now. “Now run along and help your mother,” she ordered, finally releasing me, and I thought nothing more of stories of war or that curious glint in Grandmother’s eye.

**

My mother wanted me to gather parsley from the garden. She and Grandmother had taught me about all the plants that grew there and their uses: mint to soothe a sore throat, lemon verbena to banish colds, chamomile to summon sleep, lavender to calm the restless. The parsley grew in a corner of the garden. I had a small knife, one my father had given me for a birthday I could hardly remember, and this I used to cut the thin stalks. I took only a few plants; Mother abhorred waste and Grandmother insisted it would anger the Lady if we were too greedy. I did not understand how a few plants in a small plot of land could anger anyone, much less the Lady, but I dared not cross Grandmother, even the March feared her, and the March was the most powerful man in the town.

A cold gust of wind ruffled my hair as I headed back inside. The clouds were black and foreboding, a storm was brewing, I could feel it in my bones.

They came the next day.

I did not see them arrive with their carriages and horses, but I didn’t need to, you could tell it was tithe-day by the furtive glances everyone was exchanging, by the way parents shepherded their children, dressed in their best clothes, as if they were heading to a funeral.

“Come, child,” said Grandmother. “You’re old enough to be a tithe-boy now, and you don’t want ‘em to come huntin’ for you.”

I shuddered. I knew parents who had tried to hide their children, but no one could hide from them, especially not from their sleek hunting dogs, black as a night with neither stars nor moon.

And so I went to the town square and stood with Mother and Grandmother, holding tightly to their hands with the feeble grip of a child, and it was then that I caught my first glimpse of the monsters that inhabited Grandmother’s stories, the ones who extracted their terrible price year after year.

Their carriages were some of the finest I have ever seen. One was of gold and ivory, another decorated in every shade of blue. A third was crimson and gold, a fourth was green and decorated with vines and flowers, a fifth was such a brilliant shade of purple that I decided it belonged to someone important, for surely only a king or queen would use such a regal color. Others were in alternating shades of black and white, one was the grey of storm clouds, and the horses! Never had I seen such fine beasts: black, white, chestnut, some with bells and others without any adornment at all.

But, for all the beauty of the horses, none could hold a candle to the riders who sat astride them.

I was certain they were illusory, or ghosts, but as I watched them dismount and emerge from their carriages, I was certain they were gods and goddesses who deigned to walk among the mortals of this town. They were pleasing to the eye in a way that I could not articulate then and I find difficult to now, a certain symmetry in their faces that appeared in every visage I glimpsed, regardless of their coloring. I saw hair so yellow it bore more resemblance to lemons than cornsilk, and red the color of freshly spilled blood, one lady who was clearly of the nobility (judging from all the pearls she wore) had locks the color of the summer sky! Their eyes were no less diverse in shade, from pale ice blue to the softest shade of pink, honey-gold and crimson, black as darkest night. They were clad in a diverse range of fabrics: taffeta, silk, satin, velvet, one wore a thick cloak of black silver and gold dangled from ears, rubies and emeralds adorned throats.

And then they began to move.

They moved like dancers, dancing to a tune that we could not hear. One of them, his hair the shade of the fuschia flower, cut close to his scalp, paced up and down the rows of children like a farmer inspecting cattle. Some found their tithe-boy or tithe-girl right away; others took longer, weaving in and out of the rows like snakes. You could tell when they found one that was to their liking, though, because their mothers would scream, or their fathers would cry out, and one or both would beg them to release the child.

But once chosen, they never relinquished a child, merely handed them into their carriages or set them upon their horses.

I was no less immune to inspection. Some preferred to keep their distance, sizing me up. Others stood so close I could smell their breath, scented like roses or peppermint or spring rain, or like ashes and burnt bread. One thing they all had in common was the way made much use of their sense of touch. They would reach out to grasp the hands of their peers and they walked, leaning in close to whisper something to their companion, a finger would graze my shoulder. There was nothing indecent about it, and later I would learn that sometimes one could only detect the presence of certain magics by touch, but we were unused to such frequent contact, and when one believes that they are surrounded on all sides by monsters, one cannot help but flinch even if the touch is chaste.

When it seemed as if most of them had returned to their vehicles, some with empty hands, I dared to hope that I was not one of those who would be chosen, that I could return home and be with Mother and Grandmother and gather parsley in the garden.

But then the door to the crimson and gold carriage opened, and I knew instantly that I would not be one of those lucky children.

His hair was the color of chestnuts, but his eyes were golden with—I noticed as he came closer—flecks of red. He wore a velvet jacket of deep purple with a white cravat. His breeches and stockings were black, and he wore no other adornment besides a ring on one finger and a necklace made of linked gold chain from which hung a blood red stone set in gold. He seemed subdued next to some of the others, who almost seemed to be competing to see who could wear the most outlandish ensemble. I would later find out that that was not so far from the truth.

I watched as he gazed at the columns of people, calm and focused. Someone brushed against my shoulder, but I paid them no heed. My eyes were riveted on him, I did not think I could tear them away if I had wanted to.

And then our eyes met, and I saw an emotion I could not name flicker across his face for an instance before he strode towards me.

We stood there, him gazing down at me, I gazing up at him, boy and creature from the direst of tales.

“Come,” he said.

Mother dropped my hand as if she had lost a game of some sort and had to relinquish her prize, but Grandmother held fast to my hand. “You cannot take him,” she said, calmly but firmly, as if she were negotiating for a sack of flour instead of her grandson.

His gaze flicked to her. “You know we must,” he said.

They regarded each other for a long time, and then Grandmother let out a great sigh and released my hand. “Go with him, Tom,” she said, and then she drew me into an embrace, squeezing so hard I thought she would squeeze the air from my lungs.

Mother did not move. She did not speak, only glared at the golden-eyed god as if her gaze could cause him to wither and die where he stood.

“Come,” he said again, and this time he took my hand. His was gloved, but I could feel the heat of his body through it. The last thing he did before he took me to his carriage was to lean in and whisper something to Grandmother. It sounded like “I am sorry,” and then we climbed up into the crimson and gold carriage and he pulled the door shut behind us. It would be many years before I ever saw them again.

As soon as the door to our carriage closed, the host began to move. The golden-eyed god sat across from me, I looked down at my feet and fought the urge to burst into tears.

“I know you must be upset,” he said, and I heard compassion in his voice, though I had thought it impossible that monsters could feel compassion. “My name is Fulgaris, Lord of Blood and Ashes. You are safe now.”

I could not hold back my tears any longer, and I began to sob. “I want Mother, and Grandmother!” I cried. “Why did you take me away from them? What do you want?”

Fulgaris had a book in his hand. He had not had one before, and had not noticed one when we entered the carriage. “What is your name, boy?”

I looked up at him through my tears. “T-Tom,” I said. “Where—where are we going?”

“To the City “–and here he said a word that I did not know, the name of the city, I assumed—“where you shall begin your training at my estate,” he said it as if it was something I should have known, but of course I could not have known. By then, the story of the war had been told by so many tellers that the true purpose of the tithe had been obscured.

“Training?” I think my confusion must have shown on my face, for Fulgaris, Lord of Blood and Ashes, set down his book. I was later to learn that when Fulgaris set down a book he was reading, he was very annoyed indeed.

“Training, i-in what?” I asked, curiosity overcoming sorrow.

“Magic, my tithe-boy,” said Fulgaris.

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4 thoughts on “Free Fiction Wednesday! Hallowe’en Edition

  1. I’d definitely like to read more. The world and characters in this story intrigue me. (Just so you know, I came across your writing and your blog through Dear Author’s First Page critique feature, after reading your first page submission.)

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