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The more things change

Gossip mongers fear
the fairy rath,
where December slows,
women sing at the bail,
warm palms against skin,
cheeks against bovine flanks,
milk sparse in the churn;

gibbous moon rings
fire lit faces,
bare feet scuff cobbles;
superstitious silence
drives poor women
from their homes,
for aren’t they to blame?

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 42

Bea was in a good mood when she woke next morning. It was early but being a Saturday there was no need to dress and rush off to school. Outside she could hear the birds were waking. Bea yawned and rolled over to look at the ceiling. Everything in her room was familiar and comfortable. The dressing table and mirror, the clothes rack that held her dresses and her school bag was in the corner where she had tossed it last night.

She lay still with her eyes open and went through the events of the pat week. Her ankle still hurt a little but she had been able to walk on it. Josh had been so sweet coming over to see if she was okay. But what was up with Emily?

Bea sighed and slid to the edge of the bed. She walked over to the window. The sky was a pretty shade of pink this early in the morning. Over the garden Bea could see sunlight just hitting the spire of St Brigid’s Church peaking over the treetops. From a distance she could hear waves crashing on the beach. The tide must be in ― that’s when the waves sounded loudest. A ribbon of mist hung in the air above the beach. The morning’s stillness reminded her of something, but as usual it hung tantalisingly out of reach.

She picked up her dress and tiptoed across to the bathroom. She didn’t want to wake her grandmother so early. Bea dressed by the light coming softly through the window. She walked barefoot down the stairs to the front door. Bea paused for a moment to listen, but the cottage was silent. She closed the door softly behind her and filled her lungs with fresh morning air. It made her feel alive. The grass was damp and cold on her bare feet. She smiled and thought how her grandmother would scold if she knew. ‘You’ll catch your death of cold, child,’ Gramma would say. Bea walked across the garden to the gate that led down to the beach. She enjoyed being on her own. The day was starting to brighten. Bea paused at the top of the stairs and watched the waves. It was so peaceful.

She followed the path that led down from the back of the cottage. Small pebbles crunched under her feet as Bea reached the beach. The walk along the shoreline was her favourite and she headed toward the rocks at the northern end of the beach. Fishing boats were pulled up on the shore, turned upside down and strewn with drying fishing nets.

Bea knew she had been here before—some time ages ago. She just didn’t know when. The sound of the waves crashing against the pebbles reminded her of something she couldn’t quite remember. It was just another dim memory from somewhere in her past. As she made her way around the upturned fishing boats she turned and looked back toward the cottage at the top of the slope. A curl of smoke was rising from the chimney and Bea thought about her grandmother inside. She hoped she hadn’t disturbed her.

Bea moved further along the beach, reaching the tumble of rocks along the edge. She lifted her skirt and tenderly climbed amongst the rocks, carefully placing her feet away from the slippery moss.

It was then she heard the voices ― two male voices coming from a cave at the bottom of the cliff. One of the voices sounded cultured, aristocratic, while the other was a gruff seaman’s voice.

‘Don’t worry, m’lord. We can slip in under darkness and nobody will know anythin’ ‘bout it. You can trust us, m’lord.’

‘Very good, Wells. The French ship will anchor offshore next Sunday night. There will be a package to be collected from me at the manor. Do you think you can manage that?’

Bea crouched down behind a rock. She wasn’t used to coming across people on the beach. She thought of it as her beach. Her heart was racing. She was sure she recognised one of the voices, but she didn’t know anybody in Nangle, did she?

‘This package is very valuable but also delicate. You must take good care of it. The French captain will know what to do once you have her ― it, the package ― on board. Tell the captain I will follow next se’nnight and payment will be made in full once I know the package has been delivered. Do you have all that, Wells? You know what will happen if you fail me.’

‘Yes sir. Sunday night it is, to be sure. You can count on me, sir. I won’t fail you. That’s a promise.’

‘Go carefully with your promises, my friend. Just deliver the message and be ready for the package.’

The voices fell silent for a moment. Bea strained her ears to hear. Cautiously she peaked around the rocks to find the small cave was empty. There was no-one there.

Today’s world

where Monday is a long time ago
economic powers military might
worries persist leaders
global disorder runs across borders
nothing like a war for votes

at its heart oppression
shadowy threats overt
the complex truth

child breathes poison air
women, children, religion
oppressed

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 41

The mountain peaks were shrouded by mist at this time of year. The sun was a soft golden globe hanging low in the sky and the water of the stream was cold and grey. All was quiet except for the faint sound of a girl’s voice singing as she made her way along the path toward the stream.

Ailis’ heart was full of love and her face shone in the dull morning light. Only last night Rogan had proposed to her and she had been breathless as she replied with a whispered ‘yes’.

She had woken early in the morning so she could get all of her errands done before her father returned from his blacksmith’s forge to have breakfast. She wanted to put him in a good mood for when Rogan comes to ask for her hand.

Ailis stopped to pick some wildflowers and placed them in her hair. She walked with a light-hearted step and smiled as she thought about the secret kisses Rogan had showered her with last night. She was excited to think of being the first of her friends in the village to be married. Most of them still hadn’t even held hands with a boy yet.

She reached the edge of the lake and stooped to fill the heavy wooden bucket. As water streamed over the edge of the bucket she struggled to lift it again, when a rough hand closed over hers. She turned with surprise as Rogan placed his lips against hers and the bucket fell back into the water.

‘Rogan, look what you’ve made me do!’ The bucket had begun to sink and Ailis pouted with her hands on her hips.

‘You are out early my love. I was hoping I might catch you before I saw your father.’

‘You will catch it if my father sees you with me.’ Her laugh was musical and Rogan grasped her around the waist and kissed her again.

‘Stop that,’ she squealed. ‘What about my bucket?’

Rogan bent to retrieve the sunken bucket. ‘Come, my sweet. You have work to do.’ He took Ailis’ hand and together they walked back toward the village.

The village was nestled around a small, windswept cove. Through the mist could be heard the roar of dark waves crashing on the pebbly beach. A path led away from the village toward the mountains where the shepherds took their flocks during the warmer months when the grass was flush and green. But they returned to the valley farms when the autumn mists began to descend.

Rogan was one of the shepherds and he had recently returned from several months in the mountains. But there was wasn’t much to occupy a shepherd during the winter months and he spent his days finding excuses to be alone with Ailis.

Ailis looked at him secretly as they strolled along the country path. He had wild black hair that shaded his mysterious eyes. Those eyes always seemed to be looking straight through her and Ailis shivered every time their gaze met. She never knew what he was thinking, but she felt hypnotised by his eyes; trapped by his gaze like a frightened deer; stripped naked so that he could see her soul — and then the spell would be broken by his rough kiss.

As they reached the door of Ailis’ cottage, Rogan bent to kiss her again.

‘No more until you have spoken to father,’ she said. Rogan grinned and Ailis curtseyed as she slipped through the door into the white washed cottage. Ailis closed the door and leaned against it with closed eyes and sighed. She had never been so happy and now all her dreams were coming true.

She pushed a lock of hair back into place and began to tidy the kitchen and prepare breakfast. The cottage was simple as befitted a blacksmith, but Ailis always kept it neat and tidy. She had been the housekeeper since her mother had passed away. Ever since then it had just been Ailis and her father.

Rogan stayed outside the door of the cottage for a moment, listening to Ailis singing as she worked inside. He picked up a stone and began tossing it in the air and catching it again. The ringing of the blacksmith’s hammer on the anvil punctuated the peaceful village air and Rogan turned away from the forge. Now is not the time to face the blacksmith, he decided.

Book review – Ink by Alice Broadway

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Ink was such an interesting book that I was captured immediately. In the world of Ink a person’s every action is tattooed on their skin. I had to close my eyes to imagine what this must look like – actually, Ink would make a fabulous graphic novel. While I have never even thought about getting a tattoo this premise of the novel made it sound like such a beautiful concept. I couldn’t stop thinking about what tattoo would represent my story.

But then there was the sadness. The book started out with Leora mourning the loss of her dad, and this thread ran through the entire novel. At the end of their life a person’s skin was flayed (didn’t want to think about that for too long!) and turned into a book of their life, tattoo’s and all. The trouble begins when your story needs to be assessed by the government (never a good thing!) and there seemed to be something wrong with Leora’s dad’s story.

As if dealing with her loss wasn’t bad enough, Leora had to learn some things about her dad that might mean he wasn’t the perfect guy she thought he was. And what did that mean for Leora herself?

There were dystopian undertones to this novel, although I felt it wasn’t so strong that I would call it a dystopian novel. All the right ingredients were there – an overbearing government, too much public scrutiny of individual actions and lack of privacy, severe consequences for stepping out of line, and, of course, outsiders that had been banished from society and treated as a threat to the proper order of things. These people were the ‘blanks’. They didn’t have tattoos. Their skins were unblemished and for this they were hated by the society of Ink. To be a blank was the worst thing in the world so what if you found yourself sympathising with the blanks?

There were also religious undertones. Throughout the novel Leora questioned her beliefs. Everything she had ever been told might well be a lie. What if her dad had committed some crime? What if she didn’t want her story written on her skin? What if she wasn’t who she thought she was?

I was surprised by the ending (which is a good thing) but at the end of the novel I wasn’t quite sure what message Alice was trying to convey. I think it is okay to question your beliefs, to search for your true self and what is most important to give your life meaning. Perhaps it’s that the people who are different from you are not so different and not as bad as they seem.

I hope there is more to come from Alice Broadway. She is such a beautiful atmospheric writer. I know I wanted more of Leora’s world. Perhaps an Ink 2 where Leora discovers more about her true self by moving out of the confines of her society.

Fantastic book. You should definitely read it!

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 40

Bea hurried to catch up with Emily.

‘Emily, wait up. We need to talk.’

Emily tried to hurry away. She didn’t want Bea to see the tears that were forming.

Bea grabbed Emily’s hand to stop her.

‘We have to get to class.’ She turned but Bea held her hand tightly.

‘What’s going on, Em?’

Before Emily could reply, Anar appeared in the corridor.

‘Well!’ exclaimed Anar. ‘If it isn’t the lesbian witches. You two disgust me.’

‘Why don’t you just leave us alone, Anar?’ Beatrice quickly let go of Emily’s hand.

‘Just leave it, Emily.’

‘No,’ Emily almost shouted. ‘I’m done with running away. It’s time you learned a lesson.’ She reached out and stroked Anar’s hair. ‘Such pretty hair —it would be a shame if it all fell out.’

Anar’s eyes smouldered.

‘—and that pretty face of yours, Anar—I would hate to see it all covered in spots before your next party. Too bad you don’t know any protection spells.’

Emily raised her hand and began chanting, ‘Princess, princess, let down your hair. By the light of the moon you will find yourself bare. By light of the moon you’ll be covered in spots.’

Light shone in Emily’s eyes. She finished and laughed as she took Bea’s hand and walked away.

‘How dare you!’ she heard Anar call after her, but she sounded more distressed than angry.

Miss Elizabeth stood at the window of her classroom and watched the girls go their separate ways. This was getting out of hand.

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