College of the Crones- revised

tonic

Chapter One- Funeral Part 1

Erin looked over her shoulder, shivering at the icy cloud of death surrounding the somber villagers as they silently filed into the council chamber. She smoothed down her long black dress elegantly trimmed with black crocheted lace and pearl buttons. Her ageless face was hidden behind a veil that cascaded over the brim of a black feather-trimmed hat. She adjusted the hat so that it sat correctly on top of her dark braided hair.  Then she pressed her dress smartly down over her knees and crossed her hands in her lap to ensure no one could see them shaking.

I can’t believe I’m here. She closed her eyes with a sigh, and then opened them expecting to see her husband enter the room, rushing over to comfort her. I can’t believe he’s really gone. When Mikel had first disappeared, she clung to the hope that he would be found somewhere in the hills, injured but still alive. She left early that night from the prince’s ball, with some of their friends. Mikel told her he needed to finish up some business at the castle and would return the next day. He had kissed her hastily, neither imagining this would be their last kiss.

But it was their last kiss, as well as their last embrace, last glance, last smile together. Even now she dared not gaze at his face in her memories. The sharp knives of loss waited in ambush. Instead she took a deep breath and smoothed her dress again. She must remain poised and beautiful, despite her grief. After a few moments, her discipline failed, and her mind returned to that day.

Frantically she had appealed to the prince concerning her husband. The prince and his agents swore they sent Mikel home the next morning on one of the royal stable’s finest horses, but the animal returned to the castle riderless that evening. In response to Erin’s plea, their ruler had sent out his best trackers to scour the surrounding countryside.

No trace of her husband was ever found.

Six months later, she realized that her identity had disappeared on that horse as well. After a childhood spent learning how to become “Mikel the blacksmith’s beautiful wife,” she wasn’t sure who she was supposed to be now. Her husband was different from most of the men in Beautiful. He truly loved her for who she was, regardless of her beauty. Memories of him forced their way to the front of her mind: dancing at her sixteenth birthday ball, riding away in their wedding carriage a few months later, cuddling together by the fire, whispering dreams to each other… The searing pain stabbed her without mercy. Without Mikel, she was a delicate crystal goblet after a party. Stunning but empty.

 

 

Silence

lightbeams

“Do you want me to stop at the store on the way home?” her husband asked from the bathroom as he combed his hair. He waited for an answer and sighed. When would he remember?

He walked out to the kitchen and repeated his question as he put on his jacket and grabbed his lunch. His wife, holding her first cup of coffee in her hands, nodded her head, and handed him a list. Her husband read it, and tucked it into his jacket pocket. She followed him to the front door, where he said, “I love you, see you later.” She smiled as he leaned in for a quick kiss.

After locking the door, she settled into her soft blankets on the couch. It was the beginning of another quiet day, the same as the others since she had come home from the doctor’s office. Her Bible and her coffee eased her into the morning.

About 11:30, her phone rang, and she picked it up to see who would call her. Seeing her husband’s face on the screen, she smiled and set down the phone. I wonder how long it will take him to figure it out this time?  A few moments later, her phone buzzed, and she read the text message.

“Hi, honey. Sorry I forgot and tried to call you. How is your day going?”

She typed him a message back. “All’s quiet on the home front. Getting ready to work on my book.”

A message came soon after. “Have a great day. Love you.”

She typed back. “Love you.”

She opened up her computer and began to work. Her mind wandered as she stared at her first draft covered with red strike throughs and comments from her editor. She drank from her water bottle. Ever since the operation, her thoughts ran deeper and more complex. No talking meant more thinking.  She wondered how people lived without spoken communication.

All of her thoughts, these past two days, had belonged to her. Aside from emails and texts, her world had turned silent. At first she had fought against it, texting her husband at the dinner table to simulate communication. But after the second day, she embraced the peaceful quiet evenings, and listened to her husband instead, encouraging him with a nod and a smile. A hug seemed to demonstrate her support more than her words ever had done.

Turning back to her computer, she started into the tangled mess of words that would become her book. Hours passed as she sorted out sentences, hacked away the excess, and reformed the plot. When she looked up, it was time to start dinner.

Even though her doctor-imposed silence would end after a week, she felt peace like she had never experienced. Maybe those monks had it right with their vows of silence. What had begun as exile from the land of conversation turned into a refreshing retreat.

 

 

 

A Perfect Day

working

The 5:10 a.m. alarm wasn’t as shrill as most Mondays. Instead of stretching out my back and doing some twists in bed before my feet hit the floor, I jump up and out to the kitchen to turn on the coffee. Aside from the whispering dream of walking all the way into the mountains to visit my grandkids (Where does that come from?), my mind is as clear as a desert sky. It’s going to be a perfect day.

I’m busy constructing my husband’s lunch as he emerges from the bathroom. His ham and cheese sandwich looks more purposeful than usual. I even remembered the mayonnaise today. This morning, I even take time to make peanut butter celery sticks. My husband looks awake and ready for his forty-five minute commute to Murrieta.  He watches me curiously as I wrap them in foil.

“Why didn’t you stay in bed? I could have made my lunch this morning,” he says while wrapping me in a hug.

“I needed to get up,” I insist. “It’s going to be a perfect day.”

He nods with the understanding he alone has of the innermost workings of my mind. After pouring his coffee into his travel mug, and thermos for later, he gathers up his lunch and keys, kisses me, and heads out the door.

My day begins with devotion and meditation time. This involves a stack of pillows, a fleece blanket, a steaming bowl sized cup of coffee, and my Bible. Time to mentally and spiritually prepare for the day.

Some time passes, and I don’t look at the antique clock on the mantle once. This is a perfect day, and I don’t care about watching the time. When I’m ready, I unwrap myself from the couch and head into the kitchen. Instead of a quick bowl of instant oatmeal, I make myself an egg on an English muffin. I can nibble it slowly while I check social media on my phone. The sandwich actually has time enough to cool before I finish it, but this doesn’t annoy me because it’s going to be a perfect day.

Clean up can wait, and it’s time to plug in my lap top. I haven’t made a To Do List, but I’m not worried. Today I can post on my blog, do revisions on my book, and anything else I feel like doing. I might even watch a movie. Or maybe even DO NOTHING. The scandal of this thought causes me to shudder, but the moment passes quickly as I open up my computer. It’s going to be a perfect day.

The angle of the sun glaring through my kitchen window onto the breakfast bar where I sit typing measures the progress of my day. I write and drink coffee; I plan out my contribution to the Thanksgiving feast approaching in a few days. I pause to consider my own thankfulness. The whirlwind of my life contains many blessings- a husband-friend-partner, six children between us, six and a half grandchildren, supportive family, a teaching career, and the pursuit of a writing career. All of this is time well spent, but I do enjoy my vacation days, especially at the onset of the holiday season.

Today I won’t use my truck. Don’t expect me to call or text you. I might brush my hair, but I won’t put on makeup. When my husband returns at the end of the day, he won’t be surprised to find me curled up on the couch with my Kindle. After all, it’s a perfect day.

 

 

 

 

My first pitch at a writing conference

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Last Saturday was the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Editors Day at Cal State Fullerton. I was excited to hear presentations from the kind of people who would eventually decide the fate of my book. Over the past months I had attended conferences with advice from successful writers that was very practical. But they aren’t publishers.

What do editors and agents really think about writers? I’ve heard horror stories, although my personal experience has been the silence of unanswered queries or generic electronic rejections. Neither of which causes improvement in my writing.

When I received my name tag, my heart stopped when I saw the appointment time for my pitch session with an agent. When did I sign up for a pitch session? I never prepared for a pitch session. All day long, my hands shook as I scribbled notes from the various speakers. Some of the writers won the privilege of sitting with an editor or agent for lunch. However I was not, but later was grateful when my sandwich was spilling over with cream cheese and cranberries. I barely managed to eat it without wearing it for the rest of the day. And I had the opportunity to meet another blooming writer who was just starting down the path.

Much later, in the sleepy hours of the afternoon, it was my turn to walk down the hallway to the small door, and sit down next to the other rustling victims waiting for their turn. A much too cheerful well dressed lady asked my name and checked me off the list.

Then I sat, waiting.

Finally, the group before mine came out, and I noticed that no one was sniffling. I took it as a good omen as I walked in the door.

My interrogator, I mean agent, was a smiling woman with large glasses that made her appear as a young owl. We shook hands, and my story began. What started as an elevator pitch became a complete synopsis, encouraged by her questions. Even though I was a bit rattled, she encouraged me by sincerely seeking to understand my characters and their journey. She made astonishing suggestions that gave me a new perspective on my project. I never felt at any time that she would tell me to stop writing and do something productive with my life.

When I rejoined my newly met companions back in the lecture hall, I couldn’t stop smiling or writing down notes from my interview as fast as I could. It was all I could do to remain in my seat, not jumping up to return home and start making changes to my manuscript immediately. Why had I been so frightened? My new agent friend cared as deeply as I did about stories. Apparently that was the reason she worked in the publishing industry.

Writing needs feedback to grow just as flowers need water to flourish.

Friends

beach

Your friendship starts small. You dip your toe in and cringe. “Too cold!”

Disappointed, she pulls away, giving you time to adjust. After a while, she creeps up again, this time with lacy froth.

Your feet stay in. “It’s not that bad.”

You follow after your new friend as she leaves again. Roaring with laughter, she hugs you tight, almost knocking you off your feet.

“Too much!” you complain, and this time she wrestles you down to the sand. Gasping for breath, you’ve had enough, and you turn away. Gently she holds you, pulling you toward her as your feet sink in the soft sand. Wave after wave, she tries to convince you to come back and play with her.

But you’re finished. It’s time to get out of the ocean and relax in your beach chair. Time to read about other friends’ lives.

Plain Old Lucy- Scene Two

nc-food-and-beverage-pub

Setting- O’Connell’s Pub in New York. The buyers, except Candy, are sitting at a long bar on stage left. There are a few tables stage center stage. Mr. Green is sitting by himself at one of the tables. There is a bartender behind the bar.

SUSIE

Where is our socialite? I called the office, and Lucy’s dimwit assistant said Candy’s last appointment was at 4:00.

DAVID

Relax, Susie. This is supposed to be team building time. Have some peanuts.

(Candy walks in with huge shopping bags. She’s dressed all in black with a pale pink knit cap.)

CANDY

The party’s on! I’m here!

SUSIE

Oh goody.

CANDY

Sorry. I wasn’t planning on shopping, but Angie told me about this sale at Macy’s and I couldn’t resist.

LUCY

Hi, Candy. How were your appointments?

(Everyone ignores Lucy’s question.)

DAVID

How was our fabulous buyer’s day in market?

CANDY

Fabulous, of course!

LUCY

I found some new jeans at Hot Jeans for the Back to School catalog. They have zippers on all the pockets.

SUSIE

I was at Hot Jeans looking at the Back to School sweaters. They showed them with some new zipper pocket jeans. I worked a great price with my friend Anna. Could be a great outfit for the catalog.

DAVID

Awesome, Susie! That’s what I’m talking about- teamwork! I’ll send Lucy over there tomorrow.

LUCY

Hey, I saw them first! Is anyone listening to me?

(No one reacts to Lucy’s protest. Instead they talk amongst themselves.)

(To herself) I can’t take this anymore. It’s like I don’t even exist! I wish I could be beautiful!

(She notices a man sitting in a booth. He looks at her, and beckons her over to him. Lucy hesitates, but gets up and joins him at his booth.)

Are you a jeans vendor?  I’m with my buying team right now. I can’t really talk.

MR. GREEN

No, I work in a very different business. I came over when you called.

LUCY

Sir, I’ve been sitting with my co-workers. I haven’t used my phone since we arrived.

MR. GREEN

Oh I heard you loud and clear. Especially the part about your wish. Came straight away, I did.

LUCY

(embarrassed and confused) You heard my wish? That’s ridiculous. No one usually listens to me, well, except my assistant.

MR. GREEN

That’s where I come in, Miss Lucy. It’s my profession, you see. Granting wishes.

LUCY

How do you know my name? (She looks around the pub suspiciously.) Where are the cameras? Is this one of those makeover shows? Did Sean put you up to this?

MR. GREEN

(chuckling) Makeover? My services are much more powerful than hairstyling and makeup. My colleagues think I’m foolish to deal with humans, but I find it rewarding. I sell glamour.

LUCY

You’re a magazine editor? I don’t understand.

MR. GREEN

Long before fashion magazines, Brazilian blow outs, and mascara, I’ve been transforming women into irresistible beauties. Glamour doesn’t just change your looks- it changes how others look at you.

LUCY

You can change how other people look at me? Without a makeover? That doesn’t even make sense. Look, mister, there must be a catch. I’ve been a buyer too long to not recognize when something sounds too good to be true.

MR. GREEN

My customers are always satisfied with the results.

LUCY

(She sits and stares at Mr. Green. Then she looks over at her co-workers, who are deep in conversation and don’t even realize she’s gone. Then she turns back to Mr. Green.)

Even if I believe you, which I’m not sure that I do, how much does this “glamour” cost? My credit cards are all maxed out.

MR. GREEN

Not a problem, miss. I don’t want your money.

LUCY

How can I pay you then?

MR. GREEN

I always find that if customers really want your product, they’re willing to pay anything. You’re a healthy young woman. As short as human lives are, you still have at least 50-60 years ahead of you. All I require for payment is one year of your life. It’s a small price to pay for continual success and the adoration of everyone you meet. Even David will notice you.

LUCY

How do you know about David? (She looks over at David at the bar who is listening attentively to Candy.) One year of my life? What kind of a payment is that? Are you crazy or something?  (She stands up.) I’m going back to my group. You’d better be gone before I rejoin them, or I’ve have the bartender throw you out.

MR. GREEN

Calm down, my dear Lucy. There’s no need to get worked up. You called me, after all. Sit down, and think this through. (She reluctantly sits back down.) I know this is a big decision. Take your time. Glamour is a big step. Think about what it would be like to the center of attention. How successful you could be. Everything you ever wanted- fame, romance, power.

LUCY

How would I put on this “glamour?” Do I need to drink something foul, or have an operation? I hate hospitals!

MR. GREEN

Relax! All I will need is a few strands of your hair.

LUCY

Hey, you’re not making a clone of me, are you?

MR. GREEN

(chuckling again) Don’t worry, my dear.  I don’t believe in that test tube stuff! That magic’s too risky! Now, are you willing to pay my price, or are we done here? I’ve got other customers to see.

LUCY

(Still not really believing him, she pulls out a few strands of her hair and hands it to him.) Not sure I really believe you, but I’m just desperate enough to give you a chance. What’s one year anyway?

MR. GREEN

(He rubs the hair between his palms, mumbles a few words, and then extends his hands toward Lucy.) There, it’s done.

LUCY

But I don’t feel any different. (She pulls out a mirror out of her purse.) I look exactly the same! Are you a con man?

MR. GREEN

I’ve dealt sincerely with you, my dear. Go over and rejoin your friends. You will see the fruit of my labor.

LUCY

You’re a strange man, Mr… I don’t even know your name.

MR. GREEN

(rising to his feet and taking his hat) You can call me Mr. Green. I’ll be in touch.

(He leaves)

LUCY

(to herself as she walks back to the bar) Mr. Green, really? In an Irish pub? Sounds like some kind of faery alias or something. Why did I even talk to him?

(Suddenly, the rest of the buyers stop talking amongst themselves and turn to stare at Lucy like they have never seen her before.)

LUCY

(Feeling uncomfortable) Why are you guys staring at me? Is there something on my face? (She starts rubbing her face.)

DAVID

Excuse me. I didn’t mean to stare. May I ask you to join us?

LUCY

(sarcastically) Very funny, guys. I’m plain old Lucy, remember? The one you always ignore?

CANDY

(Surprised) Lucy? Wow! What a makeover! You look as fabulous as me!

SUSIE

(With respect) There’s something different about you. Not only the way you look, but there’s a fierceness about you. No vendor would have a chance against those piercing eyes.

LUCY

(To herself) Mr. Green was right. (To the others) Come on, everybody. It’s still the same old me. You’re just seeing me differently, that’s all.

DAVID

Please join us! We were just talking about the Back to School catalog. We’d all like to hear your ideas.

(Fade to black)

Plain Old Lucy- A Modern Faery Tale

nc-food-and-beverage-pub  Here is the first scene from my one act play about deals with faeries:

Scene 1

Setting: the buying offices of Lucky 17. Grey cubicles, open side to the audience, separate the buyers from each other, but when they stand up, they can see each other. When the characters are talking to each other, they are standing up, and when they are talking to themselves and the audience they sit down. Inside the cubicles, there are desks, chairs, and computers. Each cubicle also has a rolling rack with samples of clothing on it, except Candy, who has purses and belts hanging on hers.

The scene opens with all the buyers in place, all on their phones. From stage right to stage left you have Candy, Susie, Lucy and Sean, and then David. David’s desk is fancier than the others.

SUSIE

(On the phone) I don’t care if there was a labor uprising, the boat sunk in the harbor, and there was no paperwork at the dock for customs! Those tees better be in my warehouse by tomorrow morning at 7 am or the entire three orders are cancelled! (She listens for a reply) And stop that whimpering! I’m running a business, not a support group! (She slams down the phone)

CANDY

(On the phone) You’re so funny, Angie! I want to place a reorder on those earrings. I sold them out in the first week. Of course, that’s not surprising- I told you they would be hot! (She listens) You can ship them today? That’s so cool! (She listens) Of course I’d LOVE to see that new musical when we are in New York this Friday. I thought no one could get tickets. (She listens) Front row center- how awesome! See you Friday then, bye bye honey. (She hangs up, jumps up and does a happy dance)

(To Susie, standing up looking over the cubicle) Guess what, Susie?

SUSIE

(Standing up to look over the cubicle, with a sigh) What now, Candy? You dyed your poodle purple again?

CANDY

No, it’s better than that! Angie from Angie’s Things is taking me to see that new musical             when we’re in New York this week! Isn’t that crazy?

SUSIE

Personally, anyone who would choose to associate with you in public would have to be crazy.

CANDY

You’re just a crabby kitty because your catalog order is late.

SUSIE

It’s not my fault! Those importers we use are idiots! They can’t even keep their workers under control for one important order. I’m never buying anything from them again.

LUCY

(Standing up to join their conversation) Maybe you should check into the source I found   for jeans. I know they have a knit line that seems well priced.

(They totally ignore her and go back to work)

CANDY

Hey Susie, maybe you should check out the source Lucy found for jeans. They also have   a knit line that looks cute and well-priced.

LUCY

(Sits down in frustration) That’s what I just said. They never listen to me.

SEAN

Ignore them, Lucy. You don’t need to do their work for them.

LUCY

I know, but I’ve worked here for 5 years, longer than Candy, and I know things! My jeans business has been decent. I just wish someone would notice me.

SEAN

By someone, you really mean David.

LUCY

 Shhh! Sean, not too loud. His desk is right over there. Of course, I’d love to have a           real conversation with our boss, who wouldn’t?

(David walks in, papers in hand, purposely.)

DAVID

Attention everyone! Here are your plane tickets and hotel confirmations for New York. Tuesday morning we’re meeting at the fashion office at 8 am sharp, no excuses. Make sure you bring your fall plans and assortments. (He passes out papers to each of the buyers.) Also, there is a mandatory meeting at O’Connell’s Pub at 6 pm.

CANDY

What fun! But what if I already have plans for dinner?

DAVID

I know you have a very busy social life, Candy, but our team needs some bonding time. After 8 you’re free to do as you wish.

SUSIE

 I’m not sure I want to be bonded to anyone on this team.

CANDY

Don’t be a party pooper! It sounds like fun. Lisa from Tinkles told me that O’Connell’s is an “in”place right now. An old-fashioned tavern with gourmet food, all the right people will be there.

LUCY

 It will be great to hang out with each other outside of work.

(They all ignore her.)

CANDY

 It will be great to hang out with you guys outside of work!

DAVID

That’s the spirit, Candy! You’re our Lucky 17 cheerleader!

SUSIE

(sarcastically) Go team go!

 

LUCY

(sitting down and talking only to Sean) Everything I say- someone else gets the credit for it!

SEAN

 Now, now Lucy- you’re getting upset over nothing.

LUCY

What about the pencil jeans from last year’s Back to School catalog? I found them first,   but Susie brought in the sample to the catalog meeting. Everyone was so excited that David demanded that I order 5000 pairs. They sold out to the last pair at regular price!

SEAN

Well, that was your idea first, but it all worked out, didn’t it?

LUCY

And what about the corduroy jeans for the Christmas catalog? I wanted to shoot the pink color for the cover. I tried to convince everyone but no one listened. Then Candy showed her pink knit scarf at the Monday meeting, and David asked for the pink corduroys to shoot with her scarf.

SEAN

But those are only isolated incidents. Come on, Lucy. You are a talented buyer. No one can take that away from you. If people don’t listen to you, they just don’t know what they are missing.

LUCY

They don’t listen to me because I don’t stand out, that’s all. I am plain and boring. My ugliness prevents everyone from noticing me.

SEAN

If you were really that hideous, I think they would notice. You’re beautiful, in your own unique way. They just don’t take time to really see you.

LUCY

 I’m not even remarkably ugly! I wish I was as glamorous as Candy, and or as assertive as Susie- then David would notice me!

SEAN

I’d be careful what you wish for, my friend. Wishes have an awful way of coming             true.

(Black out)

The Dragon of Doubt

The hardest part of being an unpublished writer is the doubt. Even though you may try to surround yourself with your companions (spouse, coworkers, friends, writing groups) eventually you must face it alone.

A writer must be as brave as a knight on a quest. Stories are adventures, but the greatest adventures contain dragons and trolls. That’s why writers wear armor and carry big swords. Every time I sit down at my computer, I am ready to do battle.

In the middle of an early chapter, a huge Doubt Dragon swoops down on me. “Hey, I’m trying to work here!” is the sharp edge of my sword that bounces off the dragon’s diamond scales. “But you’ve never published the first book! You’re wasting your time!” the creature roars, its fiery breath scorching my cheek with truth.

Desperately, I glance down at my armor for strength. The plays I’ve written and performed for over 1,100 children are reflected in my breastplate. The chain mail peeking out from the joints remind me that my story is worthy. My helmet whispers that my story must be told, in my way.

The Dragon regards me with hesitation. I have not fled in terror. I cannot. For I have not chosen to be a writer- writing has chosen me. With renewed strength, I thrust my sword once more, this time piercing the creature’s critical eye. With a piercing scream, the Dragon beats its wings raggedly and flies away.

Victorious once again, I return to my work. After I clean my weapon, of course.

dragon

The College of the Crones- Chapter Three

Masquerade Ball

Although there were nightly parties at the prince’s castle, everyone’s favorite event was the harvest festival masquerade ball.  All the landowners and townspeople came dressed in elaborate and often ridiculous costumes. The prince chuckled to himself as he pictured it. For most of my subjects the foolish apparel is an improvement. Except for the ladies, of course. At least the ladies, thanks to his beauty potion, did not offend his sensibilities.

All the preparations were complete for the masquerade ball. The prince’s castle had been decked with garlands of ivy and flowers. From the kitchen came a whirlwind of noise and aromas, escalating as the hour of the guests’ arrival approached. The band was tuning their instruments. Court ladies reclined in their dressing rooms, allowing their servants and handmaidens to add last minute details to their costumes. All the lanterns and chandeliers had been lit. The castle glistened like a giant star upon the hill. Since it was the end of the harvest season and winter was approaching, it was already quite dark and crispy cool. It was the perfect night for a ball.

The prince relaxed in his sitting room, his chair facing a crackling fire in a massive stone fireplace. The fireplaces were always roaring in his private rooms. He thought himself quite a handsome sight with wavy black hair that brushed his shoulders, a neatly trimmed beard, piercing green eyes, and a prominent nose. Still, he was too thin, despite his feasting, and not as tall as he would have liked. His narrow pointed ears he kept hidden under his hair. He didn’t need to draw attention to the few differences between mortals and faeries. His people thought his never-ending youth was due to another potion that he kept for himself. If they discovered he was a faerie, they wouldn’t be so eager to trust him.

He didn’t like to reflect on his long centuries in the Fair Lands, but as the days grew shorter and the nights longer, he could not help but brood and think gloomily on his once perfect life. And, being immortal gave him endless years to think on what he had lost. This world was a desolate wasteland, cold and dry in comparison to Faery. No one, man or faerie, could leave that perfect place behind and be satisfied elsewhere. That undoubtedly was the reason he had been exiled rather than destroyed. The King knew this would provide long years of punishment.

But I’ve done the best I could to adapt to this barren land.  He set himself up as a ruler, after disposing of the prior occupants of the castle, and began winning the countrymen’s favor. To those with no conscience, he offered positions as his personal guards. Their obedience could be guaranteed with gold.  He also hired soldiers to keep the peace, and administrators to keep order in the outlying villages. After the wild abandon of Faery, he needed structure around him. It made him feel like he still maintained some measure of control over his life.

Most landowners and peasants were won over easily when they learned of the astounding powers of the prince’s tonic. His potion making prowess had afforded him the perfect weapon. Once the people learned what the tonic could do, his position as their leader was secured.

Of course, I am perfectly suited to be their prince. His charm was legendary. Everyone loved him. Why wouldn’t they? He gave men beautiful wives, and women beautiful parties. That they gave up certain things for these pleasures seemed a logical and fair trade to him.

A quiet knock roused him from his daydreaming. “Your Highness, carriages have been spotted on the road. Your guests are arriving,” a small voice called through the door.

“I’ll come down when I’m ready, not a moment before,” he replied. He picked up his feather-covered mask and put it on. He admired himself in his golden full length mirror. Two bright green eyes twinkled at him from behind black feathers and an orange beak nose. He was clothed completely head to toe in black leather. Who could resist me? He attached his feather cape and the costume was complete. Tonight he would reprise his role as the Raven.

The College of the Crones Chapter Two

What follows is the second chapter of my novel The College of the Crones.

Funeral

Seated in the front row, Erin looked over her shoulder, watching the somber villagers file into the council chamber. She smoothed down her long black dress elegantly trimmed with black crocheted lace and pearl buttons. Her ageless face was hidden behind a veil that cascaded over the brim of a black feather-trimmed hat. She adjusted the hat so that it sat correctly on top of her dark braided hair.  She pressed her dress smartly down over her knees and crossed her hands in her lap to ensure no one could see them shaking.

I can’t believe I’m here. She closed her eyes with a sigh, and then opened them expecting to see her husband enter the room, rushing over to comfort her. I can’t believe he’s really gone. When Michael had first disappeared, she clung to the hope that he would be found somewhere in the hills, injured but still alive. She left early that night from the prince’s ball, with some of their friends. Michael told her he needed to finish up some business at the castle and would return the next day. He had kissed her hastily, neither imagining this would be their last kiss.

But it was their last kiss, as well as their last embrace, last glance, last smile together. Even now she dared not gaze at his face in her memories. The sharp knives of loss waited in ambush. Instead she took a deep breath and smoothed her dress again. She must remain poised and beautiful, despite her grief. After a few moments, her discipline failed, and her mind returned to that day.

Frantically she had appealed to the prince concerning her husband. The prince and his agents swore they sent Michael home the next morning on one of the royal stable’s finest horses, but the animal returned to the castle riderless that evening. In response to Erin’s plea, their ruler had sent out his best trackers to scour the surrounding countryside.

No trace of her husband was ever found.

Six months later, she realized that her identity had disappeared on that horse as well. After thirty years of being “Michael the blacksmith’s beautiful wife,” she wasn’t sure who she was now. Not a mother-her children didn’t need her anymore. Tom and Katherine were grown up and married with families of their own. Michael was different from most of the men in Beautiful. He truly loved her for who she was, regardless of her beauty. Best friends from the start, they did everything together. Memories of him forced their way to the front of her mind: dancing at the balls, playing as a team at the croquet tournament, holding baby Tommy in his arms. The searing pain stabbed her without mercy. Without Michael, she was a delicate crystal goblet after a party. Stunning but empty.

Even though his body was never found, Michael was declared dead, in accordance with the law in Beautiful. Because of Michael’s great service to their village, the mayor wanted to make sure the blacksmith had a proper memorial. It would also serve as the public declaration that Erin’s period of mourning was over and the time for courting had begun. Her training told her she needed to remarry soon so that she could maintain access to the tonic. Time was running out for her beauty. Every morning she checked her face in the mirror for wrinkles.  But Erin knew that a new husband and beauty tonic that came with him would never cover the ugly pain in her heart.

Some of the wives came forward to offer their condolences and admire her fine mourning clothes. Michael would have loved this dress. It contrasts perfectly with my pale skin and pink lips. Her neighbor Madeline approached her with hugs and kisses, wishing her good fortune in seeking her next mate. Adele, already a veteran of six marriages, tried to introduce her to a potential suitor, one of her distant relatives. How can they be so cold? My husband of thirty years is suddenly gone, and they choose this moment, his memorial, to begin the matchmaking. 

Michael was Erin’s first husband. Will I ever bond with another mate only to lose him as I did Michael? He carried my heart away with him that night. I have nothing left for another.  In a culture where arranged marriages and third and fourth husbands were the norm, it seemed love was a luxury few women enjoyed. But for Erin, life would forever be divided into two parts: life with Michael and life without him. Her loss was a fortress surrounding her, separating her from the kindness of others. She refused to be comforted, preferring instead to remain captive in sorrow.

After some crone singers opened with a solemn song, the mayor began the memorial, saying many fine things about her husband. He praised Michael’s every accomplishment, from the shoeing of the prince’s famous steeds to the construction of the elegant village clock. After he was finished, the prince’s representative delivered a stirring eulogy praising the marvelous weapons Michael had forged. Erin’s children and grandchildren sat dabbing their eyes and sniffing. She sat apart from them, trying not to get caught up in their grief, having too much of it herself to take on more.

Next was their son, Tom, who shared his memories of working by his father’s side. Michael had been a craftsman concerned with every detail, from heating the forge to shaping a nail. This eye for detail ebbed into his parenting duties as well as he spent many hours teaching his son to adopt standards of excellence. “Hot forge, cool head, steady hand, stout heart,” he’d always said.

Tom had taken over the blacksmith business after Michael disappeared, making his father’s shop his own. He’d even chosen an apprentice, and when his little Tommy was old enough, he’d teach the boy his grandfather’s trade as well.

Erin watched her boy, brimming with pride.  But her face and body betrayed no emotion at all. She knew if she allowed any feelings to show she would lose all control. It was hard enough to keep the knives quiet in her heart without allowing tears to seep through. She had not cried since she was a young girl. Crying made her eyes look puffy. She kept her eyes on their son. He has grown into a fine man. Michael would have been so proud to see how his son is handling the pressure.

After all the words were shared, songs sung, tears wept, and family members hugged, the crones took the children home to bed while the rest headed over to the pub. After assuring her daughter that she would soon join them, Erin allowed herself to relax in the empty room. As difficult as it was to attend her husband’s memorial, somehow now some of the crushing weight was gone.

But now it was time for her decision. She couldn’t put it off much longer. All week long, gentlemen had left their calling cards at her house. The cards sat in a silver bowl in the entry hall where the crone had collected them. Erin had ignored them like unpaid debts. Her friends all advised her that it was time to move on, but she just couldn’t picture herself as another man’s wife. She twisted the large diamond ring on her finger, unwilling to remove it.

But what was the alternative? She feared the day when her green eyes would turn back to their natural brown color. Then the transformation would begin as she aged rapidly over the next two years until she was a wrinkled, hunchbacked monster. Could she face her reflection each day as she twisted up her hair? She imagined one of the house crone’s wrinkled faces in the place of her lovely one. Nightmares on top of nightmares, and I’m not even asleep!

Without a husband, where would she live? According to their laws, the son inherited the shop and blacksmith trade. Her home would be sold to pay the prince’s death tax. Although she could move in with one of her children, they would be forced to hide her because of her hideousness. Forced to disappear from all social life, she would wander as a wraith through the corridors of the house until she perished in her ugliness.

Am I seriously considering becoming a crone? A shiver ran through her as she realized she was contemplating remaining unmarried. She wasn’t a rebel. Her entire life obediently followed the traditions of her people. But her pain gave her courage she had never known. Courage to honor Michael by allowing her beauty to follow him in death.

If she chose this path, there was another place for her. The College.

She had heard that some widows went there and learned to support themselves. They didn’t need husbands to survive. Erin had always admired the crone healers who came to the village to treat the sick and injured. If she studied to be a healer, she could have a meaningful occupation. Maybe her pain could be buried in her studies so that she could feel like herself again. Her children would not miss her as they rushed to keep up with their social lives. Seeing her would prolong their grief, as she was a reminder of what they had lost.

With a sigh, Erin stood up and walked stiffly toward the door. Even as she argued with herself she knew her mind was set. The memorial service made Michael’s death a reality and it set for her a starting point—or a jumping off point, she thought—to begin anew. It was time to leave her locked tower of grief. She would make an appearance at the wake and graciously thank all of her neighbors and friends. After all, they meant well. Then she would return home for the last time. A few items needed to be packed. She would say her farewell to her children and grandchild. At one time she had loved them deeply, but her heart was lost with Michael.  Emptiness drove her to action. She could remain in Riversedge as a shade, but she felt the slightest flutter of hope. It was time to follow it.