Barefoot Poetry

SS Matthews

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Vale of the Fallen Moon (intro)

Wearing a blouse of linen dyed blue, paired with black ox-hide trousers and riding boots, the stranger sat astride a tall stallion the color of an autumn sunset. His hair, a shade of pre-midnight, hung straight past his shoulders, framing sharp, pale features and eyes that mirrored the sky. Coming to a halt, his hands came to rest upon the stallion’s back. Slumped slightly forward, the boy could see either the over-long hilt of a sword, or possibly the stump of a demon’s wing protruding over his shoulder. Whichever one it might be, thinking the Angel of Death was upon him William wondered why the devil was smiling.

“Do you have a name boy?”

As if searching for a memory distant, the boy hesitated a moment before pronouncing, “My name’s Will.”

“That’s a fine name for a brave lad. You are alone and very far from your village?”

“I can look after myself.”

Appreciating the boy’s defiant tone, the rider thought that at one time he would’ve answered very much the same.

“Who do you safeguard?” The rider voiced the question with a tone that would not brook evasion.

“Only the witch.”

“What witch is that?”

“The Singing Witch.”

Clamping a hand to his mouth, as if trying to trap a secret already set free, a chagrined look crossed Will’s face. Rowan could tell he was ready to run.

“My name is Rowan. I’m not after your witch, but your snare on the hillside has entangled a dancing hare. If you don’t mind some company, I’ll build a fire while you fetch it?”

“You’re not here to take me?”

“No Will, I’m not here for that.”

SS Matthews


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This stand alone short story is chapter 2 of Wolfe’s Bane


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A Lady of Winter Moon (conclusion)

plum tree
Part 10

Why the wolf should manifest now, taunting him with visions of the wild was a mystery of synchronicity and his reaction to its call was nothing short of instinctual. Whether real or imagined, the hail to wander stirred his blood with a restlessness that refused to be quelled. Neither could he dispel the strong sense of impending change that it brought. Considering what the event might foreshadow, it wasn’t until the moon slipped behind the western peaks that he managed a short, but troubled sleep.

Awakening with a protuberant root digging irritably into his back, he abandoned dreams of distant adventure to the startling sound of an angry shout. Thinking the voice raised in distress belonged to Wan Lo, for a moment Rowan wondered if he truly was awake. Only once in three years had he heard the old man say anything, exchanging at the time, a quip shared with Tzu Tam and followed with laughter. Astonishingly though, it was Wan Lo, verbally challenging someone approaching the gardens.

Vaulting to his feet, Rowan nearly toppled over from a sudden rush of lightheadedness. Struggling to retain his balance, he cursed the miserable timing of the malady. Surely the monastery must be under attack, but spreading his feet into a defensive stance was more to combat his incessant swaying than anything else. Forced to stare through a veil of falling, swirling leaves, he was able to make out the elder Lo. Apparently alone, inexplicably the man was frantically waving his arms about as if attempting to ward off an angry wasp or invisible spirit.

There was no one else within sight. No marauders, bandits or imperial guards were threatening an attack and Rowan’s puzzlement only deepened as the breeze rising from the valley floor signaled another fleet of red and brown leaves to set sail in the air. The briskly wafting zephyr responsible for their animation did not bear any taint or trace of the foul odors expected to accompany a fighting force. Everyone knew that soldiers groomed themselves so poorly and lent even less attention to their mounts, that a group of any size would likely be detected by their stench before they were seen.

Never the less, there was something familiar carried on that fateful breeze; Golden Rain and Bell flowers mingled with something else. This was a far more intriguing scent than those belonging to the herbs, for they were used by the monks in their tonics and teas. The underlying scent was more distantly memorable, feminine and intoxicating.

Certainly this aroma did not belong to any woman of the valley, for rarely did they bathe. Lacking any trace of their pungent earthy-ness, this scent reminded him of the painted ladies of the city, their subtle perfumes, adornments and lace. As a second wave of dizziness washed over Rowan, he wondered if that sweet smell might have something to do with his vertigo and possibly coincide with the odd behavior of the leaves.

Once free of their moorings, leaves were generally inclined to flutter to the ground, not spiral in a maelstrom with him standing at its core. Whirling in hyperbolic arcs through the air, their rushing almost seemed a whisper of warning. This particular dawn was, after all, herald to the autumnal equinox, a day which the farmland folk believed to be the most magical time of the year.

For those living in close communion with the earth, understandably this was a season of celebration and of special spiritual significance. The gathering of the harvest directly related the gain of one’s labors. Although Rowan didn’t pretend to uphold any belief in the supernatural, if he had, he might not have been quite so wonder struck at the events that followed next.

This concludes A Lady of Winter Moon, but the story continues with The Gate of Demons! Stay tuned for lots of occult mystery and mythology. There’s more to come!

SS Matthews

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A Lady of Winter Moon (cont.)

plum tree
Part 9

Like a phoenix of discontent, invariably the urge to wander would arise from the ashes of summer. With every return, the season would work to pry him from complacency until he was wracked with wanderlust. Once awakened, autumn’s imperative took a supreme and sustained effort to subdue. Only through discipline was he able to deny its allure, but with the autumnal equinox on the morrow, the desire to roam was proving difficult to oppose. This year it was going to be harder. Not because of any momentous event, or sudden discovery, but due to an errant sound in the night.

Distracted by unruly visions, he’d found sleep a distant hope and listless steps carried him absently to a spot beneath the plum’s thinning canopy. The bare patch of soil, nestled between her third and fourth largest roots was just large enough for a comfortable cross-legged posture and this is where he sat. This was the spot that seemed to attract him whenever his mind became conflicted. Sitting quietly beneath her boughs, if sleep should find him unwary and seduce his mind into dream, he could lean his back against her bark and feel her comforting presence.

For Rowan, this particular spot possessed an additional uniqueness. When at rest, he could feel the movement of the earth below him, the life it contained and a flow of energy welling from deep underneath. He’d reported the sensation once to Tzu Tam and being forever enigmatic, the master had smiled knowingly before replying that this was where the earth spoke to Rowan and he should listen to what was said.

Tonight however, even his technique of stillness was failing him. With the moon just short of full and newly risen over the crest of the mountain tops, she captured his full attention and held it fast. Like a flood of parasitic mites, he could feel her rays fall upon his skin and creep beneath, seeping into his blood. The feeling was so disturbing that he felt sure his restless soul was attempting to migrate from his body, to rise on moonbeams and wander among the stars.

Holding tightly to his bond with the tree and the soil in which she rooted, so that he might not inadvertently become lost in the night sky, it was then that without warning the forlorn howl of a solitary wolf echoed into the valley. Descending from the surrounding heights, the sound sent an involuntary shudder along his spine. It was a voice so thoroughly mournful and alien to the vale, that even though it arose from miles away he stood to stare among the moonlit peaks.

Originating from well beyond sight, he waited to see if the sound would come again. As though being hailed by the elusive lupine, its voice plucked unexpectedly at a responding chord. Bidden to arise from some secret or forgotten corner of his psyche, an image began to form in his thoughts. In his imagination he could see the wolf standing on the pinnacle of a barren peak, its back arched in silhouette against the otherwise black backdrop of night. Its muzzle lifted in answer to Luna’s call, implored her also to descend and grace the mountain slopes with her dangerous light.

The vividness of this fanciful image defied it being entirely conjured out of whim. There was mystery here urging him to dream-walk, to investigate and become part of its unfolding. Surrendering the pretense of composure, Rowan stood and started to pace. Not once since his arrival in Xi Tian had he heard the voice of a wolf ring from the surrounding mountains and awaiting further conversation, he felt inexplicably sad when the call did not repeat.