All of Our Houses Are Haunted
I just deleted over 20,000 words from my current work in progress, The Seven Lord Ravens.
I have had a heavy heart about a certain transitional chapter, and upon reflection I simply had to admit that it was not working. The words were wooden, the characters stiff, the content implausible. With a strong, practical hand I deleted two chapters and some background info, with intent to let it go until I am finished with other, more important chapters. I am such a non-lineral writer that I find it easier to move from beginning to end and back to beginning before filling out the middle. In this instance, it makes sense to flesh out the meatier chapters and then later, when I have more of path, I can handle the middle.
The Seven Lord Ravens has been a work in progress for too long, and I am anxious to see it come to a closure. I am following the original scaffolding of the Grimm Brothers tale, but am adding additional layers of myth and horror. This process has been heavy and slightly bitter – the words have come slowly, and I am in fear that they are too porous. In an effort to add weight and substance, I am forced to eliminate fluff and impracticality. Oh, well. I’m not the first author and certainly won’t be the last to throw dirty bathwater out the window.
Here are a few words that I kept:
The Crimson Queen
I have received a letter from a woman I once called ‘mother’; it arrived this morning by a carrier hawk. The paper is very light, smelling faintly of lavender and wood shavings; if I press on it too hard with my thumb and forefinger, it will crumble. My given name is written at the top of the page; I stare at it for several long moments. My childhood name has been lost to me, not dared to be uttered in my presence for many years. To see it again, bare and open on the page, stirs an old emotion that perplexes me. I am curious, but wary.
“To My Dearest Abrin”, it begins. I am surprised to hear from this old woman whom I once loved, but now only vaguely remember. Something is either terribly wrong, or else she has encountered a situation which she thinks I might take an interest in. Grażyna Nicolaevna Kotov above all understands the error of my appetites, and would only contact me if something particularly useful to my situation crossed her path. I unfold the paper, and begin to read.
To My Dearest Abrin,
I need you to come and save your mother. A farmer and his wife have paid me a visit, and they have threatened to bring me before the Church of the Seven Kingdoms on accusations of witchcraft. You know what will happen to me if they put me in the prisons. I am old. I need your help.
They have offered me a way out – if I can get the wife pregnant with a female child, they will forgive me and never bother me again. Abrin, dearest daughter, you know that that is not within my ability. But it is within yours.
I implore you to travel home and save me from a merciless fate. They have wealth and power in the village, and seven sons to work their farm. Seven sons… but they are not satisfied. They desire a daughter, and will surrender much to obtain their dream. If you come, they will not be able to deny your authority. They will learn not to threaten helpless old women, as I know that you have ways of dealing with their kind.
In memories and love,
Can it be done? I wonder when I am finished, my cold heart fluttering in my chest. It would take a most powerful spell, a deep and intentional capturing of body and spirit in order to fulfill this violet promise. To do such a task, to grant such a request… the entire situation is absurd. An ancient old crone that I barely remember summoning me home to that backwater village on the other side of the mountains? I laugh, and my sharp incisors press into the soft skin of my tattooed lips. My first instinct is call upon the guards, send them galloping towards my mother and her tormentors with intent to provide instantaneous silence to the whole lot of them; but I am not completely immune to the plea for help from my mother. I don’t like the idea that the useless Church Elders might threaten her with Witchfinders or an inquisition, as if I had no control over either of those circumstances. Even though the memories of my human life are faint, they are not entirely forgotten.
But I find the sordid soap opera of the affair to be quite dull and boring. I do not care to know anymore about the wife’s situation, or why she wants a daughter so badly, nor do I feel any empathy for the old woman with her lengthy history of enemies and sorceries gone awry. There will always be mothers and children and mourning and loss… giving and taking… receiving and sacrificing… And I am not impressed with the pitiful tithing of illiterate farmers; I have no use for physical possessions. I live in a glass palace, high on a glass mountain, surrounded by all of the jewels and furs and servants that befit my role as the consort of a king. What would I do with a field of grain or a herd of cattle?
But there were words here, in the context of the letter, which caught my attention. “Seven sons,” my mother wrote. “They already have seven sons, but they are not satisfied. They desire a daughter, and will surrender much to obtain their dream.”
I exhale. The moon is large in the night sky, and the clouds are transparent. A thought is forming, igniting and burning in my breast, and I smile with razor teeth. I have obtained so much since the initial sacrifice, and yet…
The Goblin’s prophecy had been swift and effortless; I am the wife of the Vampire King. I reign in a kingdom of blood and holograms; all fear me, and all avoid my gaze. I am the Queen of a kingdom of Death, a world that only comes alive after the sun has gone down. I have a crown and a throne and a husband who visits me at his convenience; he is an immortal that plays games with his minions under the fullness of the midnight moon. I am one of the few to have ever seen his face; I find his eyes hypnotizing. But I need new entertainments. There are only so many hunts that one can participate in, only so many deaths one can witness.
So now, via my mother’s letter, an opportunity has come to me from the village of Briarthorne in the southern part of the empire. Suddenly, the words become bright and shiny. An idea is forming at the base of my spine, and it twists and curls around my vertebrae like a creeping parasite. I find myself drawn to this saga, and this village again, but not to bring peace. Never that! Instead, I have been offered the chance to go and mingle among the humans again, dabble in the glorious emotions of pain and desire and throbbing carotid veins. A chance to take times seven what has already been taken from me.
But first – I must see this mother’s face, and know that she understands the depth of her requests, the consequences of what she is offering and the repercussions of what I shall take.
Tomorrow, at dusk, I will leave this valley and travel back to my ancestral home. There are blood deals to be made which can only be sanctioned when gazing into one another’s souls. I call to my servants to pack my necessities for the task into the King’s carriage, and rise to prepare myself for the journey.