A little corner in my blog where I post the first chapter as well as some scenes and dialogues from my fantasy novel, currently titled The Fruit of Passion. Open to discussion and advice.
This is the preface from the fantasy novel I’m working on these days, currently titled The Fruit of Passion. I’ve decided not to include it in the final draft. The story can stand just fine without it. However, I’ve spent too much time on it to kill it. Besides, I believe it’s worth sharing because it explains the genesis of the novel and gives a brief glimpse into the basic storyline.
I’ll tell you a story that never happened, in a time neither flown by nor coming. I’ll tell you about a cloud-cuckoo-land that leapt in front of me in a vision while broad awake. Where girls of flesh and blood never breathed our oxygen and yet, blazed a trail of burning gold in the map of existence that you and I never will in our finite lifespan.
How did this tale come into being? From where did this dreamland spring? How were these magic girls born and came to grasp the light of Creation? In other words, what was the blast of inspiration that electrified my mind like a lightning bolt striking a pine tree during a storm? I owe everything to the exquisite Victorian poetess, Christina Rossetti, and her marvelous poem, Goblin Market.
As someone who appreciates all fine works of art, I couldn’t help but be deeply moved when I read the poem. It so shook me that I lost the ground under my feet. So utterly it affected me that I felt my soul breaking away from its corporeal residence and plunging into a euphoric ocean.
What exactly set my blood on fire? The vivid imagery as if bright colours exploded before my eyes? The sensual, mouth-watering descriptions that made the mellow words roll upon my tongue like the cool juice of a watermelon? The metallic music that poured from each verse like a celestial river? Or perhaps the richness of meaning that calls for various interpretations and, at the same time, eludes them all?
Certainly it was all of the above, but not quite what arrested my attention. For the seed of afflatus lay dormant in the poem’s slippery symbol and, as soon as my mind’s eye caught sight of it, it struck root and blossomed like a rose at dawn. What was this seed? None other than the fruit globes lovely Laura sucked greedily until her lips turned redder than wine.
It was the trope of the impossibly delicious food that captivated and enticed me. I kept thinking about how it would be to write a story that would revolve around such a fruit. A fruit so delightful, lush and nectarous that would make humans dream of it— whether active or asleep—and lust after it to the point of absolute distraction.
Initially, that was the heart of my work. However, as the words metamorphosed into sentences and kept on spilling upon the blank page, I began to realize the material I was in possession of was too raw, almost nude. An imaginary fruit, no matter how flavourful and luscious, wouldn’t suffice.
Thus, the woman in quest of it, Morella, should have a valid reason for her desire. In a nutshell, I had to give her an incentive. Her hunger for it couldn’t be merely an aftermath of yen or even human avarice. There had to be a motive that would drive her forth in the pursuit of her goal. And what could that motive be? Something that would literally bring her to her knees, namely death. But it couldn’t be just any death. It had to be the loss of her most beloved person. Her desire for the fruit would function only as a means for her to achieve the desirable union with her mother.
So, what started out as a tale about a simple trope evolved into something complex and diverse. The fruit was the foundation, but upon it I created— like a tiny spider—a web and within its nets I weaved themes like those of loss and death, passion and futility, consciousness and unconsciousness, mortality and immortality, life and love.
The Fruit of Passion turned out to be much more than my initial conception: partly tragic, partly hopeful, partly dreamlike, partly mystical, partly obscure, partly gothic, partly erotic, partly sweeter than honey from the rock, partly bitterer than cocoa, but overall sensuous and lyrical.
My fondest wish is that you will be able to slowly peel off all these layers, and possibly view it under a different light than I do. And who knows? Maybe in the end you will come to consider this narration your child, too.
That’s the first chapter from my fantasy novel, currently titled The Fruit of Passion.
Chapter 1–The Lost Queen
What hath night to do with sleep?
John Milton, Comus
Deep into the forest the white she-wolf howled, tearing the midnight quiet into pieces. Anna’s eyes flew open in a heartbeat, her mouth awash with the taste of blood. She jerked up from her chair like a spring popping out of a watch. Disoriented, she struggled to suck air into her lungs, burning with such agony as if someone thrust her under water, slowly drowning her.
She glanced at the balcony doors only to find the cream-coloured curtains half drawn. The sky’s blackness was dyed in pastels, oozing a summer sweetness uncharacteristic of April. Charcoal clouds sailed across. As they passed in a fleeting promenade, a vista of dim light and shade flooded the bedroom. The moon shimmered with full brilliancy, the hands of the clock in the wall striking half past twelve.
Anna’s spine chilled as if an icy wave crashed against her back. A horrible sense of unease stole over her, a feeling of dangerous emptiness all around her. With trembling arms, she darted across to the bed. She felt for the queen but her fingers touched only the sheets in a cool heap on the mattress. Broad awake now, an all-consuming dread seized her mind.
The door was shut but not locked. She tried to open it but her cold, sweaty hands missed the knob the first time. Running across the hall, she made a mad dash downstairs and looked in the rest of the open rooms. Nobody in sight. A few seconds slipped and she stood outside the Council Room. She pushed the double doors with all her strength, but they didn’t budge. A vague despair, unlike anything she had ever experienced before, forced her to breathe in long, heavy gasps; her throat smarted with the effort.
Pulling herself together, she marched towards Myrina’s room. Anna let herself in, lit a match and approached her friend’s bed. She grazed her shoulders so as not to scare her. Within seconds, she stirred. With drooping eyelids and constricted pupils, she tried to focus her mist-covered gaze. She blinked in rapid succession until she discerned a slender figure half-reclining over her.
”Anna, what’s going on? Why are you here?” Her voice reached the pitch of a hoarse mumble.
Myrina perked up straight, taking in Anna’s crushed, pale face and disordered hair. Her long, honey blonde tresses looked wild as if wind-blown. ”I thought you stood watch over her, didn’t you?”
Anna’s cheeks turned a ghostly hue. She hung her head and covered her face with her palms, shrinking back to half her bodily size. ”And I made a royal mess, didn’t I?” A swaying smile, tipping towards a bitter edge, distorted the fullness of her lips.
”Let’s just cut to the chase then and be quick about it.”
”Well, there’s not much to tell. And I can’t even spew an excuse to save my hide. I fell asleep. End of story. It was the she-wolf’s howling that brought me back from the dead. I’ve combed every nook and cranny. She’s vanished into thin air, and my mind’s too feeble as to how she did it. After all, the castle at nights is as wide shut as a clam,” Anna crammed all her words in a single blow.
‘‘Ah, to enter is arduous and might take centuries, but to leave is effortless and takes only minutes.”
Anna knelt on the floor between Myrina’s thighs, her hands turned upwards in a supplication. ”You’re our enchantress, cognizant of ways far beyond the scope of mortal knowledge. If you cannot stir up heaven, burn to cinders the spirits of Erebus! But help me find her before all hope perishes. It might not be within our power to drive away her sleepwalking habits, but we’re more than capable of turning danger out of the door in his trembling tatters.”
Myrina blanched. The floodgates of her memory burst open with a bang and she found herself swimming in stormy waters. Ice pierced her veins as the events of the previous weeks assaulted her mind with brutal violence. The shattering of the mirror in the corridor still reverberated in her ears; the queen’s bloody feet and sleep-bound face still mocked her eyes, and her almost fall from the staircase still made her heart shrink within her chest.
Some nights, images of the deflected catastrophe gained on her like ghosts, dogging her with arrows daubed on with the venom of doom. The queen lying lifeless at the bottom of the staircase, her beauty and freshness, instead of vibrating with sweet energy, withered like dry leaves in winter.
”There’s only the Goddess to cry to now, Anna. So pray that all our wishes move Olwen to shed her golden tears or else woe to us all!”
Quick on her feet, Myrina dressed herself with her cloak, seeing as her friend had already donned her own. ”Come along. We’ll travel below the castle where nobody can restrict our movements. My lips are sealed tight and so are yours. Nobody needs to be alerted.”
Anna nodded, seized the burning torch outside the bedroom and hurried towards Myrina. The lower part of the building was equally divided into several cloisters. Hands interwoven tightly like a pair of frightened fugitives who had to remain hidden from view, the women found the door that led straight to the cavern. They trod lightly, shuddering every time the doors they left behind grated on their rusty hinges, and entered the vault. From the sunk in roof a few rays of moonlight glided through the clouds into the dismal space, bathing it in an opalescent glow.
”Why does it feel like we’re the Oceanids attempting to retrieve Persephone back to the land of the living?”
A muffled laughter tinged with anxiety tumbled from Myrina’s mouth. ”Each to their own queen. And we have ours to awaken to life.”
They advanced further, a single goal crowding all of their thoughts. The dark labyrinth into which they descended curved into chaotic twists and turns that appeared to go on and on forever. The last one funneled into a subterranean passage ending in a trapdoor. Myrina faced no difficulty in lifting it up it since it was already ajar.
Anna gripped her from the elbow. ”Where’s the key? And why’s the trapdoor unlocked? Someone has walked down here before us.” Her features brightened in a strange fashion. ”It seems our queen’s very intimate with the secrets of her home.”
Myrina shrugged. ”The key would be enclosed in one of the bricks around us, I suppose. Doesn’t matter though. Unconsciously, she made our work less difficult.”
”The route of her escape is too calculated and secretive to be unconscious in her current state, don’t you think?”
”Indeed. I can’t fool you on this, Anna. I’ll let you in after we get her back to safety. But now let’s not waste another second here.”
Myrina let the trapdoor fall back soundlessly as they climbed up their way to the sacred temple, bringing a slice of human breath in the peaceful place. Slithering like serpents along the centuries-old shrine, they supported their weight against the stone façade. With half of the ridge built out of glass, streaks of starlight smeared out across the nave, the arches and the proud pillars.
Myrina circled around Caledfwlch— the altar in the form of a crystal sword— before lacerating her palm as well as Anna’s on its keen rim. The sword’s surface soaked in their blood drops and the crystal shook furiously in a luminous explosion of amber ribbons as the sun was reborn and rained down on it its light.
Flashes swirled and unwound before her at a blistering pace like someone unrolling a thread from around a spinning top: green and blue, leaves and the gargling flow of water, a petite shadow stumbling in the night, scraps of crimson fabric and naked feet sinking in the soil, boats rocking in the peaceful port, the sense of sharpness and the foreboding of a vague threat.
Myrina snatched one of the twin, blazing torches from the altar and, careful not to squash the pure white lilies that sheathed its base, scooped up a couple of the oval, crystal dice that bolstered the mirror-bright weapon. With Anna’s help, she repeated the sacrifice, chanting thrice, ”By blood written, unwritten by blood. May Olwen turn the wheel for the rise of the sun.”
Myrina then handed one to Anna and caged the other within her still open palm. ”The Goddess unlocked the portals, and I stole a glance into the arcs of the recent past. Here we split. I’ll take the forest. The dock is yours. If you spot her first, press your wound on your crystal once more. The magic will take over on its own from there.”
They scattered, each to her destination. Anna disappeared from sight, her movements as swift as a feline, while Myrina took off at a gallop, parallel to the trail of the long line of the sacred grove channeling directly to the clearing. Oak leaves along with pine needles wedged under the sole of her black boots. The moonbeams cast faint shadows from the thick foliage of the nemeton to the earth and, every time a sliver of light drove out the darkness, her heart pounded in her mouth in hopes of catching a glimpse of the queen’s silhouette.
Her anticipation bore no fruit. The nightingales had fallen dumb, the vigilant owls fixed in an unnatural thrall, the crickets quiet. Even the giant oak tree in the centre— a millennium-old— that usually hummed with a vortex of shunnache was sleeping the sleep of the enchanted. Only the white she-wolf that prowled high upon her cliff after every sunset, now rested on her hind legs, watching her with flaming eyes. Head raised, ears flat against her neck, she let loose her piercing howling endlessly as if possessed.
Seconds went by in a blur as Myrina hustled along the assorted, broad-leaved trees. The river bubbled, its song ever-changing, jouncing between murmuring in hushed tones and resounding with vivacity; now and then the outflow doubled its volume, boomed against the rocks on each bank and swept down the ravine.
It was because of the call of this wild siren that she missed at first the crystal’s vibration. Only when the water sank lower within its natural barriers, did she register the slight tremors that run through her fingers. Her hair stood on edge. She picked up the hem of her nightdress and hurtled like a Dahl’s whip snake towards the sea.
Meanwhile, Anna passed through the streets, crossed the purple bridge and went down the stairs. She lingered at the edge of the cliffs above the salt-encrusted pier and looked across the coastline. The Port of Cayo was slumbering and so was the rest of the island of Rumia. Only the wash of the restless waves on the shore echoed around.
Her gaze roved up and down the landscape as if she were about to leave her homeland behind and wished to brand everything to memory. Dispirited, she turned to leave when a narrow strip of golden glimmer from the lighthouse hit her straight on the face. Momentarily blind, she tried to shield her eyes. After a few seconds her vision adjusted and she lowered her hands. It was then that the band of light scattered upon the rocks below and on the left side of the pier.
Among the alternating shadows, she discerned a lithe figure, crouching and crawling on all fours like a toddler. ”Morella!” Anna uttered a cry of joy as tears sprang from her eyes. At once, she pressed the crystal deep into her open wound, delighting in the fresh jolts of pain that suffused her flesh, and flew down the steep path to the pier.
Time was suspended; the distance seemed to widen with each step she took. Legs quivering, ribcage hurting from her laboured breath, she bucketed over the lightweight, wooden structure until she came to an abrupt halt at the edge of it.
Morella was still on her knees as if praying in ecstasy before the lifted veil that revealed the great god Pan himself. Writhing, crumpled against the valley of the night, her back naked and arched downwards, her dark head splashed under the heavenly fountain of southern stars.
Anna stared at the queen, seeing a face carved out of oblivion. Her glassy eyes housed the deepest folds of a dream, and the universe in its totality was shut in the stream that flowed from her mouth with unbridled lust.
”…the fire i’m the fire of the world the invisible bridge i shall cross to see where the walking shadow rests when the dusk falls yesterday today tomorrow creep along running in words unrecorded water doesn’t soothe but burns my soul love’s a bloody sky and i’m its beating heart and the stars those lovely stars fall from her mouth no more it’s the great deep calling to me beyond sunset sunrise deserts hillsides mountaintops vineyards gulfs cool shades of green forests oceans tides…”
Soon, she fell into silence as if someone erected a dam before the torrent of her unmarshalled thoughts. She nestled herself on the smooth surface of the rocks upon which she had shinnied, and continued with her much fitful sleep. Anna snaked close, took off her cloak and flung it over the young queen, patiently waiting.
Some passages from the second chapter of my fantasy novel, currently titled The Fruit of Passion.
Morella awoke with a lovely smile full of sweetness towards Anna. Weren’t they together when she turned in? But she didn’t breathe in the scent of sunshine that flowed freely from her bedroom, for that of coolness, salt and seaweed kindled her nostrils. The lulling murmur of the sea caressed her hearing as the very image of her surroundings chased away the fogginess of her mind.
”How did I end up here?” Someone’s arm looped around her elbow and she angled her neck to see who it was. ”Myrina?” She struggled to tear through a smoky cloud of incomprehension.
”You were walking in your sleep again. Do not fret though. We’ll soon return,” Myrina said and curled her hand around her waist to lift her up.
”Yes. Please, please, we need to get home.” Morella rose in a great rush. Shadows quaked in her look as if she had just been brought back from a dreadful dream where she was a butterfly trapped inside a spiderweb. She faltered in her steps—still not free from the remnants of her uncanny experience—and clung to them both like an oyster on a reef.
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Morella whipped around. ”Trickster! How easily you can make one hand one’s trust to you in a golden goblet!”
Myrina’s lips quirked. ”But I am your trickster. Confidence is always an elixir granted and never ripped. Nobody will scream perfidy.”
”As long as you drink with care.”
”I’ve developed no taste for the high of intoxication.”
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The women advanced into the queen’s bathroom. A cozy space built out of marble and stone sheltering a natural, sunken pool in the form of a circle. Four pillars around the tepid water of the bubbling spring supported a dome upon which an ancient emblazonment sparked in vivid colours: amidst a thick, emerald foliage a pair of white-milk antlers dominated the scene while a raven and a wolf skirted it right and left respectively.
Easing the nightdress out of her body, Morella dropped it on the floor with a flutter. She loosely twisted her hair high and fastened it with a couple of hairsticks. She drifted into the bath, her chemise molding upon her flesh like the moon lapping at the sea. It rippled on her arms and legs every time she streched and bent them. Myrina and Anna followed her example, each helping the other shed off their nightdresses.
Morella floated on the water’s surface, her gestures lethargic, her eyelids a banner at half-mast. Myrina dipped her head next to her earlobe, bringing herself flush against her back. ”Are you clean enough?”
”Clean as a rock under a fall.”
”Your bed awaits you then. You should make the most of your time.”
Morella started flopping around, struggling to squirm out of Myrina’s embrace, until she disentangled herself. ”Hop off to bed? To sleep? Once sleep called sweeter than life, more peaceful than death. But now life’s crueler than death and sleep even more unforgiving. For in my sleep dreams creep in unbidden, and I’m but a pendulum swinging in between the splinters of life and death. Dreams that electrify my blood only to leave me hovering above the edge of my last breath.”
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Anna grew sombre around the mouth. ”What madness it is to love something born out of clay.”
”Do you want to know what’s madness? Loving someone is madness. Not loving anyone an even bigger one. And the maddest of all: not to be able to love.
”Love’s a dreadful bond for sure,” Myrina went on, shaking her head vigorously. ”But here’s the rub: the true tragedy is to take arms against the natural order of things, to raise our fists and strike against death. Oh, yes, that is madness at its most unadulterated form.”
”Though my beloved has perished, my love shall not,” said the man and the sorrow spread her wings and flew away from his soul. ”Her name I shall engrave where no hand shall ever erase it.”
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So, he endeavoured to etch her name upon the cliffs looking down on the shore. And he worked the moil, chipping at and eating away the hard rocks with diligent strokes. And her name gleamed there in large letters, between the ever-stormy sea and the restless wind.
And every morning, the man sat down upon the cliffs, admiring his craft and gazing at the sea. And the longer he gazed at it, the more his initial sadness perched once more atop the branch of his soul.
”Is there anything in this world that lasts forever? Is there anything that dances away from mortal touch? As sure as I sculpted the rock, the sea one day shall devour it with her salty mouth.”
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”If I’ve been a fool, then the wise ones shall show me the way.”
And the man left his hut to seek the wise ones. And huddled inside a cave— beyond the misty valley—he found them.
And the man genuflected and said, ”Wise ones, spare some of your time to listen to the plight of a common man. She whom I loved is lost, but my love shall not lie shrouded in a chilly grave.
”I’m but a humble servant of those the light and the truth serve. You who speak the language of the Gods and your eyes are wide open, you who partake of the most secret of the secrets, send some of your light my way and tell me. Is there anything in this world that lasts forever? Is there anything that dances away from mortal touch? What’s the one thing that time shall not wither upon which my beloved’s name I can chase?”
And the oldest of the wise ones spoke in turns. ”One bite of the lotus fruit, and the bliss of oblivion you shall taste.” And another, ”The embrace of a living woman the phantom of the other to rest shall put.” And another, ”Go forth and wake not the dead. The key that unlocks the door between the wax and the wane of life may not be found in mortal possession.”
And the youngest from the wise ones—a maiden on the verge of adulthood—parted from them and came to stand before the man. And her words she darted towards them, though her look was a spear that pierced the man’s soul in half, ”Though wise you’ve been pronounced, hollow verses you cry out. Are lovers not rivers that violently rush and merge into each other? Oblivion, replacement and the great knowledge of the Otherworld. That‘s not the answer to his heart’s longing. That’s not the answer to the question his lips uttered.”
”And you,” she said to the man and held his face in her hands, ”who were brave as well as mad enough to dare love and not break free, now your hunter’s bow out you’ve drawn in the pursuit of illusion. To you, I shall say this: the water you might as well make the gulf of your passions, and that your end shall be.”
And the man her advice heeded and left. And from that day forth, countless hours he spent—from sunrise to sundown—on the shore. And his fingers dipped into the sea’s seductive mouth, trying to coax her to sing his beloved’s name.
Myrina’s tale crashed like a tide against Morella’s soul,evoking a recent past full of blurred emptiness and bewilderment.
Her mother, Blodwen, hung on the twilight of her life. She reclined on her bed, her body limp, her face anemic, her voluminous hair the wreath of night. Morella waitedby her side, her hands interwoven with hers, her cheekplaced below the hollow of her throat.
From time to time, Morella lifted her dark head and her otherwise misty eyes raged with fever. She pressed kisses on her mother’s forehead, warmed her impotent fingers with a gentle rub and moistened her chapped lips with a cotton fabric she occasionally immersed into a bowloverflowing with cool water on the nightstand.
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At the first, grayish beam of morning light, the white she-wolf released a piercing, drawn-out cry. And the cry turned into a blade that tore Morella’s insides apart from heart to rib as Blodwen’s body spasmed momentarily and her spirit flew from the rift of the world to the Otherworld.
Morella grabbed fistfuls of her flowing tresses as if to pluck them from her scalp. Her face distorted into a saturnine mask. Her plum-coloured lips—a painful contrast with her skin’s ashen hue—parted and shut, for all the lamentation she could not put to sound had been delivered by the beast.
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‘Did you…did you spend the whole night here on the cold floor?”
Myrina nodded. ”Never left. I hated the thought of you being alone.”
Morella didn’t know whether to weep with relief or scream with despair. Whatever words formed on her palate, she swallowed them back unsaid. A malicious need born out of helplessness surged in her. To lash out, to hurt, to torment, to draw rivers of blood, to inflict misery beyond endurance.
But the devilry that poisoned her mind caused her to freeze with terror. In that moment a harsh realization slammed into her. That passions worked in insidious ways, and one caught in their frenzy played dangerously with the temptation to arouse the same state in all who had the misfortune to share a common path.
How wrong you are, Myrina! We’re never more alone than in love and death. All that we love, all that we dream, all that we hope for, we do so alone. And in the company of another that loneliness is magnified tenfold.
In lieu of voicing her thoughts though, she wound the corner of her mouth into a tender smile and settled for another part of the truth. ”Your friendship could inspire the verses of epic poets.”
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The next morning, a round tumulus was raised over the grave.
Three dusks skimmed since then, during which time passed over Morella like smoke over a screen and a pall of heavy stillness shrouded the island. Every single night she lay awake, watching the shadows in the roof of her own chamber chasing each other. And she fancied that each one of them was the phantom of death, girdling her, giving her a night call in a macabre language she knew not and yet, instinctively recognized.
And at the fourth dusk, the islanders answered her summons, gathering in the courtyard. Erect at the highest step, her eyes registered each and every one of her people, her steady voice sending across a crystalline message.
”I, Morella of Rumia, daughter of Blodwen, proud sister of the Siblinghood of the Sun and each and every one of you who stand before me, pick up the challenge you’ve laid at my feet for the crown as is the custom of our homeland.
”Should I fail the test, I promise to relinquish my claim and hand over the crown to the one you see fit as your true leader. And should I not uphold my vow, may my eyes not behold another sunrise. May night prevail and the moon be streaked blood red.”
Morella repeated the grave words she last uttered to her mother, bowed her head to her people and ended her summons with utter compliance, ”Your wish be done.”
Chapter 5-Part I
Morella walked in the dark. She knew neither the nature of the challenge nor the place, time and duration of it. But breathing as she was under the gray cloud of Blodwen’s passing, all her thoughts burnt with the fire of the promise she had made to her.
Somehow, Morella carried the notion that, as long as she didn’t diverge from the path her mother had shown her in life and applied the teachings with which she was raised, Blodwen’s spirit kept close to her, filled with love and pride.
Day by day, Morella ruled the queendom with the help of her court by placing herself in her mother’s shoes, reflecting on the fashion with which she would have handled the affairs of the island. And every time she tackled a task in the manner Blodwen would have mentored her to, she sensed a tiny part of her mother’s essence finding its way back to her through the split of her own soul.
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The well lay within a stone’s throw, atop the highest hill. Built in the shape of a masterly chalice, it sprang from the depths of the earth, its foot rooted inside a triangular, marble slab. Strange patterns, knots and symbols adorned the chalice’s bowl—as bizarre in their origin as in their meaning.
Ffynnon bywyd—the fountain of life—as many had taken to calling it, was the hollowed treasure of the island. Placed in the most prominent position in the land, at the centre of Rumia, whoever stood next to it was offered a clear panorama of all the surroundings—the sea, the woods and the town.
Bathed in the strongest sunlight, the water inside the well shone golden; it gurgled like that of a flowing brook amidst a valley. But something of a most wondrous and strange nature took place that roused everyone’s awe. Though the sun always reached its peak at that particular spot, no living creature—be it human or animal—could ever cast a shadow on the earth.
Blessed with Olwen’s sweet kiss, the islanders had made the well a place of reverence and pilgrimage. After the loss of a beloved, many people visited it to taste its water, so that the shunnache of life once again could course in their blood and soften their sorrow. And that process was repeated noon after noon for three wythnos.
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Morella cooed. ”The love of Olwen be upon you. Who are you, my soul?”
And the girl replied, ”The love of Olwen be upon you as well. My Lady, I’ll gladly tell you my name if you do me the same favour.”
”You’ve never seen me before?”
”No, my Lady.”
”Well, I’m Morella of Rumia, daughter of the former queen, Blodwen. Have you ever heard my name?”
”No, my Lady. I’m Rhinnona.”
”I’ve never seen you before.”
”That’s because I’m not a Rumian.”
”Where are you from?”
Rhinnona looked her straight in the eyes. Morella noticed the girl’s mauve pupils and, despite the pleasant sunlight, a shiver crawled over her spine.
”My home is guarded by a veil, an island half above half below the water where streams never run dry and delight reigns over all and there’s never a want for food and drink.”
”How do you call your island?”
”We call it Dwfn Ynys.”
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Rhinnona spent her mornings in the forest with Myrina, where each taught the other whatever they knew regarding the magic arts; they recited strange verses in languages unrecorded, studied the lifeblood of the flowers and herbs, sang the chief song of the faes, wrote poems with the Kali letters upon the earth and communed a thousand more secrets between them.
She shared her knowledge regarding the healing arts with the healers, teaching them how to enhance the medicinal properties of plants, how to master the power of the silver and gold to cure the sick and how to wield the shunnache of the various gemstones to fix ailments and restore inner peace.
Morella visited the well every noon accompanied by Rhinnona. The girl chatted easily with her, recounting tales from her childhood in Dwfn Ynys. And when nine nights bracketing eight days passed Rhinnona enfolded Morella in her arms.
”My Lady, I thank you for your care and hospitality. My promise holds true. You’re free to seek my homeland whenever you wish to.”
”And how am I supposed to know the location, my soul?”
”Here’s how.” Rhinnona produced a jagged bluestone from her gown’s pocket, circling Morella’s neck with it, chanting rhymes all the while. ”Now you’re carrying the bluestone’s mark like a bandneck. The veil to my world shall be lifted when you rub your hands around you throat—making the bandneck visible—and saying,
‘The deep isle I seek
that rises above the water
where the silver-blonde daughter
the mist and thunder is to keep.”’
Morella nodded and kissed her cheeks. ”I’ll remember you fondly.”
”One day we’ll meet again, my Lady.”
Having said that, a black wind rose from the seaside and a thick fog flooded the valley beneath and the hills above, sweeping Rhinnona away in a milky blur.