The Winter Festival – Harmatia Short

Howell was singing loudly in the front-room as Rufus stepped into the house, the snow clinging to his raven hair.

 

“Sweet boughs of Holly
to make the lord jolly,
And ivy all over the ’ouse!

Spiced mead and wine
And roast ’oney-swine
And a kiss when the sun goes down!

Season of ends, is just the beginning
And in spring will rise up the sun
So, sew your seeds now,
while you all be merry,
And at harvest a baby will come!”

 

“What are you singing?” Rufus demanded, stamping his feet as he unfastened his sodden cloak. Howell looked over his shoulder with a large smile. He was decorating the threshold with wreaths of holy, mistletoe and ivy.

“Tis an ol’ spell, Love,” Howell said, “for a warm Winter Festival.”

“Sounds more like a sex song in disguise.”

“Aye, well, you would think that.” Howell leant forward and accepted a quick kiss from Rufus, brushing the snow out of his hair. “But the Winter Festival means more to us down ‘ere than it does to you fancy folk from the Capital.”

“Is that right?”

“Tis. Our traditions are old and sacred.”

“And dirty songs are part of that?”

“Nothin’ dirty about love-makin’. Well,” Howell pulled off, “success?”

“Success.” Rufus held up his bag, pulling it open to let Howell expect the contents. “I managed to get all the ingredients. And I deserve high praise, because it was no easy feat.”

Howell picked through the food, running his hand over the packages of meat and game. “Aye,” he said, softly. “This’ll be a feast.”

“You know there are only going to be three of us, don’t you?” Rufus let Howell take the bag. “This is a ludicrous amount of food.”

“Tis a week of celebration, and the season of uninvited guests—the food won’t last, I promise.” Howell patted Rufus’s stomach. “Maybe we can fatten you up for the colder months to come.”

Rufus huffed, but didn’t say anything as something small and fast came shooting down the stairs toward him.

“Papa!”

Joshua flung himself from half-way up, and Rufus almost had a small heart-attack as he dove to catch the six year old. “Oof!”

Joshua squealed with delight, wrapping small, strong arms around Rufus’s neck. “Papa!” he gabbled. “There’s a troop passing—can we go? I want to see them!”

“A troop?”

“Actors,” Howell clarified. “Puttin’ on the Seven Days.”

“They’re performing here?”

“Nay—down the valley, in Tromoth.”

“Can we go?” Joshua begged, and Rufus tensed, hesitating. Joshua sensed his uncertainty immediately. “Please!” He wrapped his fingers into Rufus’s collar and looked him deeply in the eye. “Please!”

Rufus felt something unnatural tugging inside of him. Joshua had reached into his head and was forcefully trying to shove his uncertainty away, and draw out Rufus’s never-ending desire to please his brother. Rufus frowned. “Joshua,” he scolded, “I’ve told you not to use your powers like that.”

Joshua’s presence in his head snapped back out, and his brother blinked rapidly. “Sorry,” he said, and Rufus wondered whether he’d done it intentionally or not.

“I told him we’d talk about it with you,” Howell said gently, still holding the bag of food.

“I suppose you want to go?” Rufus didn’t intend it to come out as snappish as it did.

“Tis the season of story-tellin’, and the lad’s not seen any of the Seven Nights.”

“I’m not sure those performances are appropriate for a six year old.”

“He won’t pay mind to the parts which don’t mean anythin’ to him. An’ I only propose we go to see the first one—they’re performin’ one each for every day of the festival, startin’ tomorrow.”

Rufus slowly put Joshua down. “Take my bag to the pantry,” he said.

Joshua obeyed without a word, apparently keen to show what a well-behaved a good boy he was. Rufus waited until he’d left the room.

“Tromoth is a proper town,” he said.

“Aye, ’tis—but not so big I imagine there’ll be Magi frequentin’ the ol’ harbour theatre, especially not to see drunkards in costumes tryin’ to remember their lines.” Howell crossed the room and pulled Rufus’s hands clear from where he’d started to run them up through his hair. “Tis a fishin’ town, Love. Not fancy enough for your types.”

“They’re not my types.”

“Nay,” Howell chuckled, “I suppose not.” He cupped Rufus’s face. “The lad’s got a real longin’ for it.”

“He deserves to go,” Rufus agreed. “Perhaps you can take him. Alone.”

“I’m loath to leave you, Love.”

Rufus groaned. “Is it worth the risk?”

“The performance, no? But to be free for a night, Rufus—to unshackle you from ’idin’, I’d like that.”

“I’d like it too. But—”

“I know.” Howell pulled Rufus’s hand up his mouth and kissed it. “I’d rather you safe.”

 

*

 

It snowed all through the night, covering the ground in a thick, perfect blanket. Rufus cut a path from the door through with magic, so that Howell and Joshua could get the horse to the road. Joshua’s hair—dyed freshly black—peeked out from under layers and layers of clothing. They were always wary of winter colds and fevers, with his lungs.

“Have you got money for an inn?” Rufus asked. “Just in case the snow starts up again and you can’t make it back by tonight?”

“Aye—your Papa’s a worrier, isn’t he?” Howell kissed Joshua’s temple as the boy giggled. “Yes, Love, we’ve everythin’ we need and more. I’ll be spoilin’ the lad rotten.”

Rufus’s heart swelled, and he leaned up and squeezed Joshua’s arm. “You behave now. And have a good time.”

Joshua nodded. “I will, Papa.”

Rufus stood and watched them ride away, until the white landscape swallowed them up.

 

*

 

He spent the majority of the afternoon preparing the food for the next few days. He’d bought several books for both Joshua and Howell—as ‘story exchanges’ was one of the key traditions of the season—and bound them together with ribbon.

Howell had already seen to most of the decorations, but Rufus quickly found himself outside, gathering more material, until it felt like there was more of the garden indoors than out.

When he was finished, he practised his fiddle, read, attempted to take a nap, read a little more, played more fiddle, and finally abandoned all hope of distracting himself and went outside.

Darkness had descended quickly, the day hours shortening, as Athea’s reign won over the sky. It was bitingly cold; as Rufus trudged through the snow, his magic gathered to him, fighting off the worst of the chill. He walked down the path along the back of the house, toward the sparse woodland. Perhaps he could make snow sculptures. With a little magic he was sure he could crystalize them into ice, as clean and beautiful as diamond. There had always been ice sculptures at the Winter Festival in Harmatia—huge displays, each more intricate and wonderful than the last.

Don’t think about Harmatia! He forced the thought from his mind, but it was wistfully replaced by another…The smell of spiced soup rising from the kitchen to his small, crooked bedroom in their house above the tailor’s shop. Was there snow in the capital? Were his parents clearing the streets today, as he had cleared the path? How would they be celebrating the first day of the Festival? Would they go to one of dozen theatres in the city? Would they go to an ale-house, or tavern to hear a story-teller? What books would they exchange?

The longing for home struck him so hard he almost doubled over. Rufus gasped, arms clenching tight around his chest. Home. He could see it so clearly. The shop. His bedroom. His parents sat together in the kitchen.

And that wasn’t it, because he couldn’t stop the images of castle either—bedecked in light, hundreds of candles filling the feasting hall, decorated in green and red and white with huge wreaths. And his friends—Zachary, Marcel, Emeric…

Jionathan.

The spell was immediately broken. The longing for home gave way to something sharper, and more familiar.

What did it matter if the castle was dressed and beautiful? It was an empty promise. His ‘friends’ had betrayed him, he’d been divided from his parents and Jionat was gone. Forever.  Not home. Not anymore. Never again.

Something cold and wet touched his cheek, pulling him from his thoughts. He blinked, and looked up. It was snowing again. Rufus sighed and glanced back up the path he’d come. Distantly he could see the house, a dark speck against a royal blue sky. He didn’t want to return yet, and so he slowly lowered himself to the ground and watched the silent descent of snow across an untouched world.

*

He wasn’t expecting to see fire-light as he approached the house, an hour later, soaked and cold to the bone. The back door opened and Joshua came charging out. Howell followed with a lantern in his hand.

“There you are, Love! You ‘ad us worried!”

Rufus was thrown off as Joshua caught him around the legs, almost sending him toppling back into the snow. “What are you two doing back so early? I thought you wouldn’t be home for another few hours or so.”

Joshua didn’t reply, his face buried in Rufus’s waist.

“Oh well,” Howell said, shrugging, “we got ‘alf-way through the first performance, and this one suddenly announced it was time to go.”

“Didn’t you enjoy it, Joshua?”

Joshua pulled away only so far as to be able to look up at Rufus. There was something shrewd about his expression, an intelligence beyond his age. “I wanted to go home,” he said, simply, and he hugged Rufus again.

Oh. Rufus felt a lump forming in his throat, and had to swallow down the wash of emotion that welled up inside. Oh. That’s right.

It was stupid, how his little brother could come to the answer before Rufus did—how he could solve the problem so simply. Rufus had longed for home, and Joshua had brought it. Rufus felt that cold, hard sadness in him melt away just a little more.

“Come on now,” Howell said, smiling knowingly, “’ow’s about you two get inside before we let the whole winter in. I think I might have a good story to share instead, fit for weather!”

“That sounds perfect,” Rufus said, and stooping down he picked Joshua up, and stepped into the threshold, into Howell’s waiting arms.



 

Wishing you all a beautiful Winter Festival of your own. May the holidays be full of friendship, love and beautiful stories.

diverse-fairy-tale-project

Mag Mell Publishing is currently looking for authors to contribute to our Diverse Fairy Tale Project!

What is the Diverse Fairy Tale Project?

From 2017, Mag Mell Publishing will be putting together our own anthology of our favourite Fairy Tales. The twist—the project is all about diversity. We’re looking for new, fresh versions of these popular stories that will represent minorities – including having POC and/or LGBTQA+ main characters.

We are particularly interested in hearing from minority authors who would be interested in contributing a short story between 3,000-8,000 words. Authors will be paid between £10-£20 ($12-$24) per story.

This would be a Kickstarter funded project. Authors would not be expected to undertake any work until funding and payment was guaranteed for them.

To get involved, or find out more about the project,visit our webpage here!

THE HARMATIA CYCLE – PUBLISHING NEWS

Hello my wonderful readers!

I have some very important news for you all. Last night, my Publisher The Zharmae Publishing Press announced that they would be closing down. As of the 31st of August, The Sons of Thestian will no longer be available for purchase.

The news came suddenly, but fortunately I have a back-up plan, which I will now be implementing.

For those of you waiting for Blood of the Delphi, it is still going to be released! I have decided to self-publish my work, and though I may have to push the publishing date (possibly to December), I am going to be fighting tooth and nail to make sure that the book is released this year!

What’s more, I will be publishing the 2nd Edition of The Sons of Thestian hopefully at the same time, for any who want a new, matching set.
I will be working on making sure the prices for the books are lower, that the quality is higher, and that they are more easily available for anyone who wants to read them.

As I try to sort through this process and get everything together, I
cannot guarantee that there won’t be further delays. These delays are as frustrating for me, as they are for you, and I hope you will all be patient with me. Your readership, your support, is incredibly important to me, and I want you all to know how much I appreciate it and your loyalty.

I hope you will continue to support me, and my work. I will post updates as regularly as I can, and the moment I have more information, I will make it available.

In the meantime, you can expect the following from me:
1) I will be publishing a short-story with the Random Writers this September. This is a short based on my next project The Kestrel Saga, and I am incredibly excited to share it. More details to follow.
2) I will be releasing images for the Cover-art for Blood of the Delphi, and will be commissioning new matching cover-art for The Sons of Thestian, which will also be released soon.
3) I will be working on designs for merchandise, and other nick-knacks for any fans who may be interested (Message me, and tell me what you’d like! – Notebooks? Stickers? Badges? Posters?)

I am, as always, open to any questions or queries, and will remain highly active in the coming months. I will be seeking the advice of other writers who have gone down this path, and will be doing my upmost to get it all right and perfect for you guys.

Again, I ask your patience during this time, your continued support and thank you for everything you’ve done so far. I have some exciting plans for the future, and I hope you’ll all be there to see me realise them!

In the meantime, if you would like to keep track of what’s happening, please show your support by subscribing to my monthly newsletter here!

Many thanks everyone!

Before I’m Twenty-Five

Time, when you’re young, tends to give you the impression of being endless. At five years old, an hour feels close to a day, and a year is practically a century. Being asked ‘what did you do over your holiday’ is the adult equivalent of ‘where were you at 5:45 pm on the 12th of February 1996?’

My point is that even when you’re ten years old, life doesn’t seem to go that quick, and it feels like you’ve got all the time in the world to figure everything out.
In my case, ten year old me had some very exact ideas about what I was going to have achieved by the time I was twenty-five. Twenty-five, to me, was the pinnacle of adulthood. By twenty-five, I was going to be famous, be married, have children, a house of my own, and adoring fans, and then I’d have plenty of time afterwards to enjoy it all in luxury.

Well, I’m twenty-three now, and my ten year old self is still tapping her foot, waiting on a lot of things. Apparently, in order to fulfil myself, I have one hell of a busy schedule to catch up on in the next two years.

It may seem silly to some readers, especially anyone older than me, but you have to understand that from my perspective twenty-three is the oldest I’ve ever been, and that the ten year old inside of me is incredibly demanding. Call me idealistic or foolish, but the self-expectancy I placed on myself from a young age has never really gone away, and even though a lot of my goals have changed, I still have that internal list of ‘Things to do before I’m twenty-five.’

A part of me wishes that I could go back in time, and talk to my little self, and explain how things are going to work out. Talk to her about fighting with depression, and bereavement, and the hours spent struggling not to let my dyslexia rule what I could or couldn’t do. I wish I could go back and say, ‘You’re going to make some really stupid mistakes’ and then assure little me that these weren’t a ‘waste of time’ but rather a lesson in how to use it better.

Mostly, if I could go back in time and talk to anybody about my ‘list’ it would be my mother. Because, let’s be honest, little me would nod at everything I told her and take none of it in, because little me is a ten-year old with no perspective of time, and high expectations of herself.

For a majority of my life I was under the impression that my mother wasn’t a great achiever. I don’t mean this in a rude way: she built and cared for our family, and I thought she was invincible, and amazing, and strong. But she wasn’t a movie star, or a big business woman, or any of the other qualities that we place so much importance on in our society. She was just my Mum.

It was only in the last few years of her life, that I really got to talking to her about what she did do with her life. And it was only after her death a year ago that I started bubbling with even more questions about the adventures she went though, and what she achieved.
This was a woman who could speak several languages, was highly educated, with a degree and masters-equivilant from a very prestigious French University. Even the fact she could speak English so fluently should have flabbergasted me, seeing as there wasn’t a drop of English blood in her body. These things never occurred me growing up.

My mother was a woman who had a long line of qualifications under her belt. She went through a number of different jobs, had skills in writing, admin, language, geography and teaching. She could sing, and dance, and my God, but could she throw a great party!
By the time she was my age, she had only just met my Dad. She was studying in the Lake District, taking a year out from France. She ended up marrying the strange Englishman she met at the fancy dress party, and then spent several years on an adventure, travelling and seeing the world.

If we regard achievements as the amount of stories you have to tell at the end of the day, than my mother had one hell of a life.

I wish I could talk to her about it, I wish she could talk me through this transitional period as I try to be both the person I wanted when I was ten, and try to be more realistic with myself. If she was around, my mother would probably scoff at me for my feelings of disappointment and self-doubt. I think the first thing she’d do was remind me of all the things I have achieved.

You see, the list of things to do before you’re twenty-five is always growing. As my life takes me down new and unexpected routes, there are going to be some things on the list that no longer stand for who I am, and others that need to be added.

Ten year old me would have never dreamed that I’d earn a black belt in Karate by the time I was eighteen. Or that I’d get a music scholarship to my University, and start directing my own choir, and writing original music. She wouldn’t have guessed that I would be accepted for a PhD, or that I would start lecturing the year after.

I guess the point I’m trying to make, is that alot of us have a screaming ten-year old in our head that tells us what we should have done by the time we hit a certain marker, but when that voices gets too loud its good to remind yourself of the things you have done. Because at the end of the day, that ten year old has no perspective of the trails and tribulations you’re going to go through, and whilst they can be a good motivator, they have no right to bully you.

Life is not a checklist of things you need to tick in order. Life is a bunch of stories and experiences, some of which come at the worst possible time, and from the least likely places.

So with that in mind, here’s my list of things to do before I’m twenty-five:
1)      Do the best I damn well can
2)      Write a new list for ‘30’

**~KINDLE RELEASE: THE SONS OF THESTIAN! ~**

Front Cover, High Res

The Prince Jionathan is plagued by visions of death. With the King on his death-bed, and the tyrannical Queen in power, the Kingdom of Harmatia lies in peril. Fleeing the city in fear of his life, Jionathan is shadowed by Rufus Merle, a young, secretive magi tasked with bringing him home. Now, with the help of a fearsome sidhe warrior named Fae, they must traverse a dangerous faerie-wood together. Against bandits, faeries and cursed priestesses, these unlikely friends travel a path fraught with danger, not least from the blood-thirsty Night Patrol and the dark conspiracy that shrouds them.

***WORLD PREMIERE*** Sons of Thestian by M.E. Vaughan – BOOK COVER

10866289_765412056861051_2055854932206597175_o

Art by the amazing Peter Brockhammer.

BACK COPY – Prince Jionathan is plagued by visions of death. With the king on his deathbed, and the tyrannical queen in power, the Kingdom of Harmatia lies in peril. Fleeing the city in fear of his life, Jionathan is shadowed by Rufus Merle, a young, secretive magi tasked with bringing him home.

Now, with the help of a fearsome sidhe warrior named Fae, they traverse a dangerous faerie-wood together. Against bandits, faeries and cursed priestesses, these unlikely friends travel a path fraught with danger and a dark conspiracy that shrouds them.

For more on The Harmatia Cycle Books, check out the website at: www.harmatiacycle.com
Like the facebook page at – https://www.facebook.com/Madeleine.E.Vaughan