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Tag: AdvenTale

Buri and the Winter dark

Buri took his wet boots off, climbed up on the stool by the fire, and hung them up to dry on the smoke rack.
“I hate this.”

“It will be better when snow comes,” his mother said. “Dryer and brighter, and the cold bites less.”
“Soon,” Buri nodded.

But no snow came. Every day Paws, the old cat, looked out the door at the grey and rain, and gave Buri a disapproving stare.

Then one night, Buri woke up with the cat sitting on his chest.
“Get dressed,” Paws hissed.
“Wha- why?”
“To find Winter.”

Buri quietly followed Paws to the door, lifted the latch, and paused. The moon shone on an unfamiliar, snowy landscape.

“Am I dreaming?”
“It’s a door,” Paws said, “it can open to anywhere. That’s what they do.”
The cat stepped out. “Let’s go.”

Buri closed the door behind him. “So where are we?”
“In the land of Winter.”
“Are we allowed here?”
“I’m a cat,” Paws said.

The hard crust on the snow was strong enough to walk on. Paws led Buri up a ridge, from which they could see a grand castle.

When they got closer, they saw the castle was in disrepair; turrets fallen, the gates askew.
“This is not good,” said Paws.

There were icicles hanging from the roof.
“Those shouldn’t be there,” Paws said.
“Why not?” Buri asked.
“We must hurry!”

In the great hall, a pale figure in once-white robes sat on a throne, a diamond crown in his lap.
“Hail Winter,” Paws said.

Winter gave the cat and the boy a tired look. “I am busy. Go away.”
“You are missed,” Paws said.
“You lie. You are a cat.”

Paws tilted his head. “So I hear.”
He turned to Buri and whispered, “Be kind, be patient, and close the door behind us.”

“What?” Buri said.
“An ill shadow lurks here. I’ll try to lead it away, so you can talk.”
Paws nodded to a side door. “Go.”

Buri hurried to the side and looked back. A sinuous shadow crept over Winter’s neck and ear as Paws approached.
“Go away.”

Paws ignored Winter’s words, but crouched down, tail wagging, and stared intently at an ice shard in front of the throne.

Paws pounced. The shard shot away. He ran after, slipping on the icy floor. Winter watched his antics and began to smile.

The shadow seemed to pull darkness in. It grew, took the shape of a huge dog, then leapt at Paws.
“Go away!” it roared.

Paws ran towards the door. Buri pulled it open, waited for the dog to chase Paws through, and slammed it shut behind them.

The hall felt less gloomy as Buri walked to the throne. “I miss you.”
“Why?” Winter said.
“Snow makes the world brighter.”

“The days are so short, my snow won’t make a difference,” Winter said.
“They grow longer,” said Buri.
Winter looked at him.

“I heard nobody likes me,” Winter said. He weighed the crown in his hands.
“I do,” Buri said. “That’s what I came to say.”

“You don’t have to come,” Buri said, “or stay long, but we’d be glad to see you.”
He bowed, and walked out of the castle.

Buri found the door in the snow, and it still opened to home. He sat to take his boots off, and Paws jumped up on his lap.

Boy and cat sat in silence, listening to the fire. After a while, there was a soft whisper outside, as snow began to fall.

This story was serialised in 25 daily tweets from MicroSFF, December 1st to 25th, 2017, tagged with #AdvenTale.

Announcing AdvenTale 2017

As is traditional, I will post a 25-part serial story, with a daily episode posted at 5pm GMT, in the run-up to Christmas. The episodes will be limited to 123 characters each, as they will be numbered and tagged with #AdvenTale (that’s the tradition, so I’ll stick with it despite having more characters on Twitter now). I hope you’ll enjoy it.

(I hope I’ll manage this. Last year I wasn’t sure I could fit the story I wanted to tell in the limited space. This year I only got the idea a few days ago, and will be playing catch-up. But the first episode is written and ready to go, at least.)

I’ll post the collected story after the last episode is sent, on Christmas Day.

Last year’s: Unn and the cold fire

The 2015 story: Gry and the Mountain King

The 2014 story: Moa and the lost sun

And the 2013 story: Tam and Lin and the Queen in the heart of the forest

Unrelated stories will be posted when an idea strikes, as usual.

Unn and the cold fire

The fire had died when Unn woke; even the embers were gone. She found the flint and steel on the shelf and lit an oil lamp.

There was a patch of ice by the hearth, and hairy frost around the door. Unn sighed, put her coat on, and built a new fire.

“Not dead yet?” a voice called from the smoke-hole in the thatch.
Unn looked up, but only saw the dark sky.
“Who’s there?”

There was a rustle from above, then silence. Unn woke her father, who went out to check.
“Nobody, no footprints, nothing.”

Unn went out and looked around. The snow was pristine, and nothing moved, except a jay and a magpie chattering on a branch.

“Was it you?” Unn asked the birds.
The magpie laughed and flew off, but the jay turned around to look at her.
“Was it who?”

Unn stared at the jay. “Did you say that? Can you talk?”
“Jays can mimic anything,” her father said.
“We can,” the jay said.

The jay laughed, sounding just like Unn’s father. “Not every visitor leaves footprints in snow.”
Then it, too, flew away.

That evening, Unn’s father did not go to bed. Instead, he sat by the fire with an axe. Unn hid under her blanket, sleepless.

In the middle of the night, the door opened. A large figure, white and sharp, entered.
“Hrimthurs!” Unn’s father exclaimed.

The frost giant lumbered toward the fire and stared at the flames.
“So pretty,” it rumbled.
A puddle formed where it stood.

Unn’s father sat still. “The fire will die,” he said.
“You make more,” the hrimthurs said.
“But if the fire dies, we die.”

Water ran down the frost giant’s face.
“That is sad,” it sighed. “Where are other people, who make fire? I can go there.”

Unn’s father said nothing. The house grew colder, the fire shrunk, and soon it died. The hrimthurs left, without a sound.

The next morning, Unn lit the fire again, cut up a sausage, and went outside. The jay and magpie watched from the branch.

“Are you magic?” “All birds are magic,” the magpie said.
“Except ducks, of course,” the jay added.
“Yes. Is that sausage?”

Unn gave them sausage. “Can you stop the giant?”
“Only gods can,” the magpie said.
“But before you die…” the jay said.

“What?” Unn asked.
The jay looked away.
“My friend wants to try on human form,” the magpie said. “Want to swap bodies?”

Unn stared at the birds. “Would I be magic?”
“Well… you’d have magic,” the jay said.
“If you’re strong,” the magpie said.

She had an idea, and told the birds. “Will it work?”
“Yes!” the jay said.
“No, your colours are too dull,” the magpie said.

In the evening, Unn went outside. The jay landed on her head, she felt the world fall, and then she sat on a girl’s head.

The magpie sat next to her, spread its black, lustrous wings, and embraced her. She began to shimmer. Then they flew north.

For hours they flew, higher and further. Then Unn used her borrowed magic to leave a bright, shimmering trail in the sky.

“So pretty!” the hrimthurs said.
It headed north. Unn flew on, pushing until she almost fainted, painting heavenly waves.

“Glorious!” the jay said when she returned. “I want to do that!”
“Next time the hrimthurs comes,” Unn said.
“Every time.”

This story was serialised in 25 daily tweets from MicroSFF, December 1st to 25th, 2016, tagged with #AdvenTale.

Gry and the Mountain King

The Mountain King ruled the lands around his lonely mountain, everywhere his goblins and trolls could reach in darkness.

At times, Gry and the other children would look south to the mountain, scare each other with gruesome tales, and giggle.

The village was safe. The slow trolls could not reach it, not even in the longest night. But one day, Gry noticed something.

At noon, when the winter sun hung low over the mountain, the shadow cast on the plain seemed to reach closer than before.

“It is because the days are getting shorter, silly,” the grownups said.
They could not see the shadow’s shape was wrong.

Next day, Gry put her skis on just before sunrise, and headed south. Nobody was faster than her. And nobody else cared.

Gry’s skis carried her swiftly across the plain, towards the east of the mountain, in case there were trolls in the shadow.

When she got closer, Gry studied the shadowed side. There were many long grooves in the snow, leading up towards the summit.

She hurried up the slope, but the mountain was much higher than she thought. She only reached the summit when the sun set.

In the last light, Gry saw an enormous pile of large boulders at the top of the mountain. Trolls moved in its shadow.

Gry hunkered down and watched as a few more boulders were piled on top.
“It is done!” a big troll shouted. A cheer went up.

The trolls left. Gry waited a while, then hid her skis in the snow. Moving softly, she followed the trolls down the slope.

The last sliver of the moon gave a little light, guiding her on the path. That, and the sound of music, led her to a cave.

The cave led into the mountain, to the Mountain King’s great hall. Goblins fiddled, and trolls danced around large fires.

On his throne of human skulls and bones, the King sat singing.
“In the darkness we will come, we will kill, we will eat.”

“In the darkness we will come, and steal the human babies!” the Mountain King roared with the music.
The trolls sang along.

Gry cowered outside the entrance to the hall. She had to stop the King’s plan to put her village in the mountain’s shadow.

She fumbled around to find some stones and gravel, then took a shaky step into the hall and hurled a stone at the King.

The stone hit right on the King’s large nose, and he yelled out in pain. The dancing stopped, and Gry took a deep breath.

“I bet you can’t hit me with a stone!” she shouted. Then she ran.
Behind her, trolls trampled goblins to chase after her.

Gry ran up the path. At the top, she turned, and saw a horde of huge trolls come out of the cave. She threw stones at them.

She hurried to her skis, and threw her last stone. It bounced off a troll and hit the rock pile. She pushed off, downhill.

The trolls picked up rocks to throw after her. She pushed to speed up, and swerved from side to side to avoid getting hit.

The further away she got, the bigger the boulders the trolls hurled. She skied on until she could no longer feel them land.

The plain was strewn with boulders, and the top of the mountain had its usual shape again. Gry smiled and headed for home.

This story was serialised in 25 daily tweets from MicroSFF, December 1st to 25th, 2015, tagged with #AdvenTale. Here those tweets have been collected to give the full story.

Moa and the lost sun

Moa woke to mooing. She wrapped her blanket around her like a shawl, put her feet in her clogs, and went to milk the cows.

Life moves slowly in winter. Moa took the milk to the cold cellar and returned to bed, to wait for sunrise. It didn’t come.

The sky above the smoke hole in the thatch remained dark. Moa’s family would not wake from their sleep, despite her crying.

Moa dried her tears. Then she hung the lamp from the door on the billygoat’s horn, filled his panniers, and lead him east.

They made good progress through the snow. Soon they came to the bridge over the river.
“Hello,” Moa called. “Master Troll?”

The troll climbed up.
“Where’s the sun?” he said. “I can’t sleep in darkness.”
“I’ll find out,” Moa said. “Will you help?”

They reached the mountains, and climbed slowly, carefully. When they reached the summit, they saw a faint light in the east.

“Is that light small, or far away?” the troll asked.
“It is in the valley,” Moa said. “Unless there’s a hole in the world.”

Moa filled the lamp, then led the way down the mountain. I’m not afraid, she told herself. I have a billygoat and a troll.

As they drew nearer, the troll stopped. “Listen!”
There was a low, rumbling sound. Moa looked at him.
“Not me!” he said.

The light, and the rumbling, grew stronger. At last they could see a huge wolf, holding a shining globe as large as Moa.

“What do we do?” the troll asked.
Moa hesitated. The wolf was bigger and scarier than the troll. “Let’s ask it. Politely.”

“Excuse me?”
The wolf turned to look at the three of them. “No, excuse me,” it smiled. “Did my rumbling belly wake you?”

Moa couldn’t stop the question: “Are you hungry?”
The wolf laughed and looked from her to the billygoat. “Yes. Yes, I am.”

Moa did not know what to say to that, but the troll pushed past her.
“So bright,” he said, then curled up and fell asleep.

“Do you know where the sun is?” Moa asked.
“I caught it,” the wolf said.
“Is that it?”
“In a sense.”
“But why?”
“To eat.”

“You can’t eat the sun!” Moa rushed in and hugged the glowing sphere.
The wolf smiled and lifted his paw; the sphere rose.

The sphere was warm and soft. Moa held on, terrified, as it slowly floated upwards. The wolf stood, mouth open in a grin.

Far below, Moa could see the troll sleeping, and the billygoat standing forlorn. The wolf looked up at her. Then he leapt.

The wolf seemed to grow as it rose, maw gaping wide. The enormous jaws enveloped Moa and the sun, then closed around them.

Darkness fell over the world, and the ground shook when the wolf landed again. The troll stirred, then woke.
“Not again.”

The troll took a firm hold of the wolf’s tail and yanked it, hard. The wolf raised its head to the sky and howled in pain.

When Moa saw the jaws open, she bent her knees, pushed hard against the wolf’s tongue, and jumped, the sun ahead of her.

Once she was clear of the wolf’s teeth, Moa shoved the sun up and away. She watched it rise as she was falling, and smiled.

Her mother nudged her. “Sun’s rising, wake up.”
Moa sat up in bed; heard her dad ask:
“Why is the lamp on the goat’s horn?”

This story was serialised in 25 daily tweets from MicroSFF, December 1st to 25th, 2014. Here those tweets have been collected to give the full story.

Tam and Lin and the Queen in the heart of the forest

They say that in the heart of the forest, there’s winter in the middle of summer. Tam went to see if the opposite was true.

He challenged the forest. His mighty sword vanquished his foes. A boy and his stick, leaving frosty nettles broken behind.

“Where to, soldier boy?” a magpie laughed.
Tam bowed. “To summer, sir.”
“Then march on, and get your warmth from the Queen.”

“Why the hurry?” a squirrel asked.
“I go to the Queen,” Tam said.
“Have a care, she’ll heed your words, not what you say.”

In the heart of the forest, Tam stepped off snow onto lush green moss. Leaving winter behind, he shivered, then marched on.

The Queen welcomed him to her court. “What does this noble knight bring us?”
Tam thought, then kneeled. “I bring my sword!”

There’s a too brief bliss of peace you can enjoy before you realise it’s caused by something missing. Like a young brother.

Lin tracked her brother; the snow made it easy. Harder to make herself follow, into the deep forest, where loneliness howls.

“Where to, fair maiden?” a magpie laughed.
Lin frowned, hidden in coat, scarf and hat. “Why do you ask?”
It flew, laughing.

“You seek the boy?” a squirrel asked.
Lin stared at it. “Hm?”
“The Queen took him. Have a care, trust only what you know.”

Lin hesitated where winter seemed to end; she recalled tales of false promises and lifetimes lost. Then she stepped across.

Every few steps, a garment would vanish or change. Lin arrived at the Queen’s court looking like a princess. She shivered.

The Queen welcomed her. “What boon would this fair maiden ask?”
“I demand my brother!”
“Of course! A knight for the lady!”

The Queen took Lin to a long row of identical soldiers, standing to attention. “Choose any you like. But choose only once.”

The soldiers all stared straight ahead, without meeting her eyes. None of them looked like Tam; none would recognise her.

“Maybe a kiss would wake them to you?” the Queen said. “Maybe your… favour would?” Lin bit her tongue to avoid screaming.

Lin walked up and down the line of soldiers, looking and thinking hard. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one shiver.

It is winter, regardless what it looks like, Lin thought. She took the hand of the shivering soldier. “I choose this one.”

“Blood knows blood,” a magpie laughed. “and you shall have none.”
The Queen ignored it. “Well chosen. Now do not lose him.”

They ran, hand in hand, the soldier and the princess. Around them, other solders ran in silence, fading away one by one.

They ran, and snow began to cover the ground. It hid a crevasse, which her soldier tumbled down, his hand torn from hers.

All the remaining soldiers jumped into the crevasse. Then all reached up, mutely asking Lin take their hand, pull them out.

“Where is blood?” a magpie laughed.
One of the soldiers drew his sword and pointed it at Lin. She grasped the sharp blade.

Eyes closed, Lin pulled at the stick in her hand, pulled her brother up by his toy sword. When she looked, he was himself.

They hugged, then began walking home through the darkening forest. A magpie laughed behind them, but they didn’t look back.

The first advent tale. This story was serialised in 25 daily tweets from MicroSFF, December 1st to 25th, 2013. Here those tweets have been collected to give the full story.