Portrait of a Witch

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Alouette Arsenault was cursed with the ability to paint anything.

That’s the way she looked at her talent. Her work was so realistic it actually looked like photographs of people and landscapes.

It was the people part where the curse came in.

Alouette was a simple country girl born in the south of France in 1565.

When her mother was burned at the stake for being a witch, she was taken by her aunt Aimitee, who raised her from an infant in a hut located in the middle of the Aquitaine forest.

It was her ability to depict things around her in charcoal at an early age that caught Aimitee’s attention. She watched Alouette draw imaginary friends and the world around her with pride. She was a born artist who deserved to work in more lasting mediums.
When Alouette turned fourteen, Aimitee took her to Paris. She had a brother who lived there, and he took them in. With his help, and the money Aimitee made sewing people’s clothes, she was sent to a nearby art studio.

As the only female there, she suffered constant indignities, but the master, Ferdinand Elle, let her stay after interviewing her aunt. When shown examples of her work he was impressed. He saw something that none of the jealous young male artists in his studio had going for them; Alouette was a natural artist with an exceptional eye for detail. It was that eye for detail that most impressed Elle. He was astounded at the confident ease with which she quickly rendered her work. His instinct told him she was something special. Otherworldly even.

Using oil on canvas, Alouette painted her first portrait at fifteen years-old. It was of a minor city official. Elle allowed her to have the commission, and to paint her customer in the studio. After studying the client’s face, she saw a hint of a shy smile. When she was finished the client was overjoyed with her work. From that point forward he was a transformed man. Where once he spent all of his time worrying about things, he was now impossibly happy. His life transformed.
Of course, the client sang Alouette’s praise to everyone who would listen. It wasn’t long before new clients came in asking for her at the master’s studio. It came as no surprise to Elle who decided to charge her rent for the use of the studio, and materials.

Alouette didn’t make the connection with how happy her first client’s life became. How could she? She never saw him again. Nor was she aware of her second clients transformation who insisted she paint him frowning (he said it was an aristocratic pose). When his portrait was complete his normally mild nature turned into a combative one.

This went on for over a year. She painted clients whose lives changed for better or worse afterwards. Leading a hermit-like existence she was content to stay in her little bubble and paint. Elle watched proudly as each work became a masterpiece.

But people began to talk, and compare results among themselves after Alouette painted their portraits. Some noted that there lives had improved and they were happier. But others talked about people being so sad after getting their portrait painted, they committed suicide. Rumors spread claiming that she worked for the devil and had signed an evil pact with the dark lord. Her growing infamy swirled through the streets of Paris, fueled by fears that she was practicing witchcraft on them.

People became more and more concerned it was the devil’s work. Worse, it was a very superstitious time in Europe, where hundreds of women were being burned at the stake, hung, or drowned in trials designed to see if they were a witch. The mania descended upon Paris like a plague with groups of witch-hunters prowling the streets.
Alouette quit painting portraits the moment she heard the rumors. When she began refusing to paint anymore clients Elle took her aside and asked, “What’s happening little one?” even though he’d also heard the rumors.

“I cannot paint any longer master Elle,” she said.

“I knew you were a witch a long time ago. That’s because I’m a warlock!”

“Witch!” she cried out in shock. “You mean, I’m really a witch?” she sobbed.

“Yes. calm down my dear. We have work to do. I’ve been meaning to tell you this. Trust me. It will be your greatest work, I assure you. Now listen to me. One of the many reasons you’re such a talented artist is because you have a great memory.
“We must put this memory to the test. I will walk with you through town and you must pay attention to everyone you see, especially city officials. Fix their faces in your wonderful  memory as we stroll through the streets.”

It only took her three days to finish the painting. It was massive. The largest in the studio. It was full of all the people of Paris. They all had big smiles as they went about their daily routines. Elles hid the final product, which was titled, “Gay Parie in the Springtime,” in a secret vault below the studio. As long as the masterpiece remained intact, peace and tranquility would be assured for all Parisians. The witch hunts came to a halt afterward.

The mania that had infected the city was gone, allowing Alouette to once again move freely about in society. But her desire to paint was no longer there. She became wary of her powerful ability to affect people’s lives and eventually decided to quit painting altogether.

Her gratitude to Elle was endless. The old warlock had taught her many things. By revealing her power he opened up her inner eye, unlocking mysteries from her unconscious mind. When the time came to move on Alouette wept and kissed her mentor.

She left Paris for the countryside to live with her aunt Aimitee, disappearing into the dusty footnotes of history.

As It Stands, I’ve often wondered why there weren’t more women artists during the Renaissance period in the western world.

(1st published May 2017, As It Stands)

The King’s Search For Meaning in Life

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King Sith lit the funeral pyre and watched the smoke waft heavenward joining the gray sky in a sad goodbye.

Without his wife he had no taste for life. His was devoted to her, and although they never had children, they were happy. Like him, Astoria was a warrior of renown. They ruled the small kingdom of Dashtorium on the coast of the great Sammian Sea. Under their benign rule there was prosperity and no wars. People of all races mingled peacefully in the busy trading port.

But a sudden chill took his darling wife Astoria one day to the kingdom of the dead. The people grieved with their ruler, as she was universally loved. Sith was so distraught that he stepped down from his throne and urged the people to find another ruler. He was committed to wandering all of Tanus in search for a meaning for his now empty life. Taking his staff, sword, and a small bag of supplies he mounted his favorite gray Stallion “Thunder Walker,” and went east into the unexplored world beyond Dashtorium’s boundaries.

With no kingdom to look after his thoughts turned to subjects he seldom spent time on before. He recalled stories of mysteries like the singing trees of Lastoic and enchanted forests where men disappeared, never to be heard from again. Of the endless deserts of Terrost, where strange creatures survived in the blazing temperatures and would eat anything that moved. And the frozen mountains of Airon where giant hairy creatures walked upright and formed communities in the frozen tundra.

He rode until the sun grew weary and started its descent. He stopped just short of a dense forest in a grassy meadow. Dismounting, he saw something slide through the tall grass parting it slightly, as it moved away from him. The mages told him of many fantastic creatures on Tanus that no man had yet encountered. Through their magic they conjured images of them for him. One was massive creature than slithered on its belly and had no legs. It’s diamond-shaped skull was packed with rows of sharp teeth used for tearing apart its victims. Sniviets, as the mages called them, could get up to 20-feet long and their body was thicker than a man’s torso.

Sith watched the blue grass ripple in the opposite direction with relief. He suspected that he almost got to meet a Sniviet. Getting back on his horse he rode around looking for a clearing. Darkness had almost settled on the land when he found what he was looking for. A defensible position with a clear view. There were several large boulders and he made his camp with them to his rear. Nearby there was a small river that flowed south. He led Thunder Walker to it and dismounted. As the horse drank he stood there with his staff of light scanning the banks looking for any movement. After both were refreshed they went back to the camp. Sith slept lightly with his inner senses on alert. He woke up twice during the night after hearing blood-curdling screams come from the direction of the nearby forest.

Sith was awake before the sun rose. By the time he ate some bread and cheese, darkness was in retreat and a glowing red and orange ball was climbing upward into the gray sky of the new day. Thunder Walker was nibbling on a patch of grass when he mounted him and headed for the forest. Once they were under the full canopy of trees he dismounted and walked. The forest floor was uneven with scattered rocks, thick undergrowth, fallen trees, and unexpected depressions disguised by blankets of colorful leaves.

The further they went the darker it got until no sunlight could struggle through the dense canopy overhead. Their only light was his staff that glowed brightly, its aura surrounding them in a protective yellow glow. Thunder Walker snickered nervously as they plunged further into the unknown.  With his staff pointing the way they carefully made their way into the soundless interior. Hours passed before they heard a strange melody above them and a gentle breeze whispered between the trees. Voices sang his name softly…invitingly.

A warning went off in Sith’s warrior brain, and he held his staff over his head and spoke the spell of protection. Just in time. The tree limbs that were wrapping around him and Thunder Walker suddenly uncoiled and retreated back to their source. A screech of anger split the night! They wasted no time and left, eager to get beyond the deadly embrace of the trees of Lostoic. Hours later, Sith saw the light at the end of the forest and his spirits improved. It was past the days zenith, but still light enough to look for a place to camp in the valley before them. Thunder Walker sensed his mood and eagerly picked up his pace.

A riot of color greeted Sith’s eyes as he marveled at the shimmering red, green, blue, and purple plants and ground cover before them as far as the eye could see. Gentle hills covered in orange flora with small caves surrounded the valley. The sky was still a bright blue in spite of the gathering dusk. A sweet scent wafted on a gentle breeze as they ventured forward. With night rapidly descending Sith sought out a campsite and settled on a cave tall enough for them to stand in. Being new to the area he wasn’t going to let Thunder Walker out of his sight. After strapping on his feedbag with a ration of grain in it, Sith dined on a hunk of spicy Curbra jerky. He washed it down with water. By that time Thunder Walker was done and he took the bag off.

“Stay alert tonight, my friend,” Sith warned him while petting him affectionately. “I too, shall sleep with one eye open.” Wrapping his great cloak around him, Sith lay down on the hard ground and quickly fell asleep.

The morning light was accompanied by birds happily singing about the new day. They came out of the cave and into the blue sky blinking at the brilliance of the morning light. As Sith looked around he felt a presence. Then he saw them. They were half his size. Little naked humanoids. Male and female. There were thousands gathered outside the cave. All patiently waiting for Sith and Thunder Walker. One of the little people stood in front of the assembly. This spokesman tried a couple of languages before settling on Sith’s native Orzath. He was slightly taller than the rest and a darker green.

Greetings Lord, we have been expecting you,” he said while bowing before him.

Who are you?” Sith inquired.

“The Amsoest. We are the last of our kind and live peacefully in this valley of our ancestors. We have been waiting for you to deliver us from our enemies mighty lord!”

“What enemies? Of whom do you speak?”

“Everyone who comes into this valley to hunt us for sport. In recent times we’ve suffered terrible casualties as they kill and enslave us for their amusement. Our elders have been predicting a champion for many years. When they sensed your noble and honest aura, they also sensed your sadness.”

“This is so?” Sith wondered.

“It was ordained,” the speaker solemnly said.

Sith looked up in the sky and saw white puffy clouds appear directly overhead. As he watched the clouds formed into a figure he recognized, Astoria! She smiled down at him and her lips parted in greeting. Thunder Walker pawed the ground as Sith smiled back and shouted, “I love you!” 

The people looked on in awe.

When the cloud melted away and the sky was clear again, Sith addressed the people. “You’re right. This is my destiny and I gladly accept it. Henceforth, a long as I live, I will be your protector against those who would do you harm.”

And, so it was.

As It Stands, we all need to have some meaning to our life.

The Great Goblin Invasion

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In an age of magic, long before mankind learned to walk upright and come out of trees, there was a fairy dynasty, The House of Nim, that ruled in an age of peace and posterity.

It was an era where warrior wizards roamed the land and fought evil where they found it. Goblins gathered in packs and hunted unwary travelers, often just killing them for the sheer joy of it. Forests were homes for ogres who fought one another when there was no one else to attack. The clannish brutes leaders were smart enough to keep their subjects concealed in the vast forests, and not to go looking for enemies.

One of the largest cities at the time, Shambhala, was in the Kingdom of Rathan, ruled by King Auth. It was a trading hub and a crossroad for other communities. The city was surrounded by a great wall and had a castle in the center where the king lived with his large family.

North of Shambhala, were the famously fertile fields of the fairy territory ruled by the House of Nim. They stretched out as far as the eye could see. Fairy’s had been cultivating it since the dawn of time. Most of the inhabitants were farmers who seldom used their wings. The royal family, and select members of the court, not only used their wings, but they also practiced ancient magic to protect their kingdom. They considered themselves warrior-scholars who stood up to enemies, but never sought them out.

Towards the end of the third millennium, before the great asteroid struck and nearly destroyed the earth, ragtag bands of thousands of roaming goblins became organized under a dark sorcerer named Zargot, whose mother was a rogue fairy and father a renown goblin warlord. The combination made him stand out among his peers, and most feared to even be around him. His temper was legendary, but his ability to organize achieved something never attempted before; a united goblin attack against a city, Shambhala. As far back as memory served, the goblins were hit-and-run road bandits with bad attitudes. The times were changing under Zargot.

In the Kingdom of Rathan, the royal family consisted of three sons, and three daughters. All were related to the fairy community of Nim, but did not have wings. Their grand wizards studied under the mages of Nim.

Among the royal children, there was one who was a rebel. His name was Tarn, and he always seemed to do the opposite of his siblings, a passive group. His aggressive personality worried his parents early on, but as he grew older he demonstrated that he could serve in the kingdom’s best interests. He was the only child that wanted to travel so his parents indulged him and made him an ambassador to the House of Nim. He insisted on traveling there by himself, secure in his ability to defend against any attacker.

He traveled light with only a forest green cape, over his plain brown tunic. With a short sword, and a water flask in his broad belt, he set on down the road. Tarn’s knowledge of fruits and plants made it easy for him to live off the land as he walked towards Shambhala. He meditated as he walked, a trick he learned from his master at an early age. The road he traveled twisted like a snake through fields of grain and flowers spread out across the massive plain. As the sun shrugged and slowly went down, Tarn heard something that instantly put him on alert. The sound of grunts coming from nearby were headed towards him! He got off the well-beaten path and slipped into a field of grain. Raising his hands over his head he muttered an incantation of disguise and stood still, becoming one with the tall stalks that surrounded him. Just in time. The goblin army had sent out scouts and they were everywhere. Some passed within inches of him, unwary of his presence.

Tarn listened to their grunts and made out enough to know an army was nearby and moving toward his city! He fought against his natural impatience until he was sure it was okay to suspend the spell, then turned around and ran back home as fast as possible in the darkness. When he approached the gates of Shambhala he called out to the guards, “Open up immediately!”

The commander of the guard doubled the sentries and made sure they were all heavily armed with axes, spears, and arrows. With the goblin watch set up, Tarn went to King Auth and asked for his advise.

“What shall we do, sire?

“We must see how large this army is. Our defenses are set and we are ready, my son. I’m so glad you’re all right, and were able to come back and warn us,” the old king said with pride in his eyes.

In the followings days, thousands of goblins surrounded the city walls. Their numbers increased daily as the defenders looked on. Finally one day the sorcerer Zargot appeared in front of the main gate. He called out to King Auth to surrender and for his subjects to become his vassals. The king, surrounded by his children and wife on the main palisade, drew his sword and waved it high.

“Leave here, with your ridiculous demands, and go back where you came from!” he warned the sorcerer.

Zargot spread his arms beneath his black cloak and flew up to the top of the palisade and hovered in front of the royal family.

“This is your last chance. Resist me, and I’ll share your flesh with my minions!” he roared.

Tarn raised his bow and notched an arrow as Zargot flew back to his goblin army. When he let go of the arrow Zargot turned and caught it in mid-air. He cast a spell and the arrow flew from his hand with a life of its own, back towards the front gate, striking one of the king’s son in his throat! The queens wail of grief was drowned out by the masses of goblins screaming war cries as they ran toward the front gate and the two side gates at once.

The rear wall faced a forest populated with ogres. The stretch between the forest and the rear wall was the distance that a good archer could shoot an arrow. It was a neutral area avoided by travelers, and contained large quicksand pits. Even the animals avoided the area.

The goblins threw themselves at the walls, raising hundreds of ladders and scurrying up them like giant worker ants lusting for blood. The carnage went on until the sun set and darkness descended like a cloak over the countless bodies. The goblins breached the wall twice during the battle, but were turned back both times by counter attacks led by Tarn.

That night a council was held by the royal family and the kingdom’s three wizards. They knew they couldn’t continue to have so many casualties. Over half of the defenders were dead, including two of the king’s sons and one daughter who fought fiercely on the palisades with the warriors. It was decided that Tarn would leave immediately for Nim to get help.

He had to sneak out by the back wall. The other three were too heavily populated with the goblins army. It meant he would have to travel through the forest and circle around towards the Kingdom of Nim. He slipped out a secret door and stopped long enough to cast a simple spell that illuminated the areas where there was quicksand. Passing by them he entered the forest and set a steady pace while listening and looking for ogres.

He heard them before he saw them. The ogres were arguing about something around a campfire. Twice the size of goblins, ogres were powerful but slow. Their fierce appearance was enough to intimidate smaller foes. There was also one other thing about the ogres, they had an excellent sense of smell that was highly attuned to fairy folk and goblins. The same time he saw then, they smelled him and came to their feet. He backed up to a tree and cast a spell of invisibility just before they lumbered past him. Drawing his sword, and relaxing the spell, he came up behind one of them just as he turned around and plunged the blade into his massive chest! His death cry brought the other two over before he had time to disappear. One of them threw an ax at him and barely missed. Tarn charged the ogre before he recovered from the throw and drove his sword into his heart. The last ogre grabbed Tarn by the shoulders and threw him like a doll at a tree! Blocking the pain, he got up and ran for his life. The ogre soon gave up chasing him.

By the time Tarn got out of the forest it was daylight. His whole body ached, but he remained focused on his mission and headed towards the fields of grain that led to the Kingdom of Nim.

The mages of Nim were waiting for Tarn when he arrived.

“We know what Zargot has done. Know then, that he was once one of us many eons ago. But his dark side got the better of him and we forced him into exile on the Island of Narta. However, he grew strong enough in the passing of time to break the spell bonds holding him there. What is happening now is his revenge. We hope you and your people will forgive us for what’s happened. We go now, my fellow mages and I, to confront Zargot and stop this invasion of your city.

“Can I go with you?”

“No. The high magic that’s going to be involved would kill you outright. Instead, lead our warriors to confront and destroy the goblin army that threatens your great city.”

And, so it was.

The great goblin army was destroyed, and the evil sorcerer Zargot was defeated by the mages of Nim. But the story doesn’t end there. Tarn goes on to more adventures and becomes a legend in his time.

As It Stands, I just had to get my fantasy on here. Hope you enjoyed it.