Posted in Stories

Short Story: Blessings and Gifts

“There is a difference between fairy blessings and gifts, child. Both can be equally dangerous, but one binds the recipient in ways worse than death.”

Juniper paused in her sweeping to look up at the old woman. “Blessings are supposed to be given when a child is born, aren’t they?”

That earned her a chuckle “They are, but that’s not what makes them different from gifts. Blessings bind a person to a fate. A role in destiny.”

“That seems like some blessings would make people terrible.”

“People can always be terrible. A blessing of beauty does not give you a good heart, and a good heart does not protect against misfortune either.”

Juniper smiled a little. “I think I’ll be happy I don’t have any blessings then.”

Before her mentor could respond, someone knocked on the door and Juniper jumped a little. The old woman chuckled as she began shuffling towards it. “No blessings, but perhaps just enough bravery to see you through.”

If by bravery she meant the terrible voice in her head that screamed she was doing things wrong, Juniper didn’t want it. She returned to her sweeping as the door opened.

“Ah. Miss Cleary. Come in, come in. What do you have today?”

Juniper usually kept her head down, not wanting to draw attention to herself, but still glanced up at the girl who came in. She couldn’t have been much more than seventeen. Deep shadows underscored her velvet brown eyes and her raven-black hair had been tossed into a messy braid.

“Some carrots. Fennel and anise. A few mouse bones. A yard of spun wool.”

“A yard isn’t much.”

Juniper returned her attention to the floor, sweeping the dust towards the door where she could sweep it out. That would be a sign to anyone looking at they were open for business, for requests for this or that charm or fixed pot, pan or box.

A soft hum came from the girl. “No,” she said and suddenly there was a hand thrust in front of her. “You dropped this.”

The ribbon Juniper had strung in her hair earlier stood out against the sun-graced bronze. Gently, Juniper took it. An odd tingle went through her as her fingers brushed that palm and she pulled back a little sooner than was really polite. “Thank you,” she murmured.

The girl, who Juniper only ever heard as ‘Miss Cleary’ studied her for a moment before she nodded and turned. “I only have a yard for you this week.”

“I suppose I’ll make do. Any twigs?”

“A few.” Miss Cleary reached into her bag and withdrew several. “Apple and pecan.”

“Those will do nicely. It’s almost autumn you know. It’s a season of preparing.”

“For some,” Miss Cleary answered.

The usual rattle of coins as they were counted out filled the small room. Juniper had only just opened the door when Miss Cleary approached again.

“Sorry,” Juniper said. She stepped aside, expecting their visitor to pass by. Yet, the girl paused for a moment, tilting her head a little before she reached in her bag and pulled something out.

“Here. They’re fresh.”

Blackberries. They were all contained in a little glass jar which Juniper took reverentially. “I don’t—”

“They’re a gift,” Miss Cleary said and nodded only once before she stepped out. Juniper stood there, a little shocked before she turned and looked at her mentor, who only grinned.

“I don’t understand,” Juniper said.

“That’s Crystal Cleary. She’s the third generation seventh child of the Cleary family.”

“Seventh children are powerful,” Juniper said as she held the glass jar with its treats a little closer.”

“That they are. And Crystal herself got a fairy’s blessing. She always finds what she needs at hand.”

Juniper was silent a moment before she came around to put the jar on the sideboard nearest the hearth. Perhaps she’d make some tarts later, she decided.

“If she’s fairy-blessed, isn’t she bound to a fate?”

“Of course she is. That is between her and the fairy that blessed her however.”

“What about fairy gifts? Don’t they bind someone?”

“Not at all. A gift from a fairy is freely given, and that is what makes it dangerous. Wrong a fairy, and you may find yourself gifted with something nasty.”

Juniper smiled a little as she looked out the door. “Would it be alright if I made some tarts for her?”

“For Miss Cleary?”

“Yes. She gave me the blackberries, I can at least give her something to say thank you.”

The old woman studied her a moment before she nodded. “I suppose you can. Besides, I know you do love your blackberries.”

Juniper smiled. “It’s a very nice gift.”

_________

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Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Holiday Cheer

The one thing that pained him about Sadie was how expressive she was. Even without saying a word, Charles knew when his ten-year-old wasn’t enjoying the meal prep. It came across in the way she kept her head ducked and inspected her task with care before she actually started it.

“Why so glum?” he asked and she looked up from where she’d been carefully crimping a pie as instructed.

“What’s glum?”

He laughed. “It means you’re unhappy. Something bothering you Sadie-bug?”

She considered it while she turned the pie one last time. “We’re making a lot of food,” she said.

“Yes,” he said.

“But it’s just you and me,” she said and looked at him. There was trouble in her earth-toned gaze. “Not even Uncle Marshall this year.”

It surprised him. She was a social butterfly, as evidenced by the fact that at ten, her list of phone numbers was more than double his and her weekends were rarely ‘free’.

“Well, it’s a holiday for family.”

“Uncle Marshall is family,” Sadie said.

“Yes, but he has other family.” He had to be careful about that. She was by no means an unintelligent child and if she started asking how closely related they were to her ‘uncle’ she was going to uncover a whole other set of problems.

“Family we don’t have?”

Time to head off that conversation. “Honey, what’s going on with you? Why are you so concerned with it?”

She shrugged a little as he came to sit in the chair next to her. “It’s just, this is supposed to be for families, right? So…where’s the rest of my family? I don’t have grandparents or…or aunts or anything. Just you and Uncle Marshall.”

Expressive as her body language could be, getting actual information out of her verbally sometimes felt like panning for gold. It was all in the tiny things.

“What’s that ‘or anything’ you’re so concerned with?” Charles questioned. Sadie didn’t look at him. She’d finished crimping the pie, and the fork she’d been using showed him only a warped reflection when she turned away. “I can’t fix a problem if you don’t tell me about it.”

Another moment of silence. “Where’s my mom?”

That was a blow and Charles had to inhale a little. He’d been hoping she wouldn’t ask, even while he knew eventually Sadie would. Explaining what had happened with her mother was an involved tale.

Even for a ten-year-old that could and did pick up on things she shouldn’t have.

Especially for a ten-year-old that had told him before which kids in her class weren’t getting enough lunch and which ones were being hurt at home.

He must have taken too long to respond because she sighed. “You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

“Hold on, a minute,” he said. “You surprised me, that’s all. Come on, turn and face me.”

Sadie obliged but he could tell by her face she wasn’t happy about something.

“You’re smart enough and old enough to know that sometimes moms and dads don’t stay together,” he said. “And sometimes when that sort of thing happens, there’s a lot of nastiness involved.”

“They get divorced,” Sadie replied, almost matter-of-fact. There was an underlying question in her tone that indicated she wasn’t sure where this was going.

“That’s only when they get married,” Charles said. “I…I never married your mom. I asked her a couple of times, and we were going to, but we ended up not.”

“Then where is she now?”

“Well,” Charles said and had to pause before he exhaled slowly. This was the one thing he hadn’t ever wanted to tell Sadie. “The truth of it is honey, your mom fell in love with someone else, and she decided he was a little more important to her than you were,” Charles said.

He could tell she was processing it, but the look of shock on her face broke his heart. “She didn’t want me?”

“She…no. She decided she didn’t.”

Sadie was silent for a long moment. “I’m going go play in my room,” she said.

“Okay.”

His heart squeezed, painted as she wandered towards her room and closed the door softly. He couldn’t do anything to alleviate the pain of knowing that at least one parent had abandoned her.

Reminded of the whole mess, Charles sighed and looked over the dishes still in the middle of prepping. He knew there were others in the fridge, waiting for tomorrow when they would start cooking. These were the ones he wanted prepped ahead of time—the cheesecake, and the pies, mostly, but also Sadie’s favorite cheesy potatoes.

He took time putting everything up. The pies were stacked on wire racks, repurposed from their usual cookie-cooling days so he could more on the shelf. The casserole sat on the shelf below that, covered in tinfoil already. The turkey and the ham were similarly ready, though both still packaged up and waiting to be prepped for tomorrow.

There was plenty of other items—fruits and veggies to be displayed as snacking foods, potatoes for more mashed. Eggs, cooling from this morning and waiting to be deviled or mashed into egg salad.

In fact, the only thing they seemed to be missing for tomorrow’s feast, was ice cream to top the pie.

Ice cream, he decided, and maybe something to cheer up Sadie. It wasn’t much, but maybe she’d perk up once she was able to look over the holiday decorations.

“Sadie?” He knocked on her door softly and it took her a moment to open it. He could tell she was still upset and smiled. “We forgot something when we did the shopping.”

“Like what?”

“Can’t have apple pie without vanilla ice cream on top, now can we?”

It was such a tiny smile. “I need to get my shoes.”

The drive was a short one, and with a holiday station turned on, Charles was glad to see a little more cheer as it spread over Sadie.

Finding the ice cream wasn’t hard to do, and Sadie ranged down the aisle a little while Charles lingered near the ice cream bars. He knew they really did have enough food at home for the rest of the week, but an ice cream sandwich sounded like a perfect reward for all the work they’d put in to prepping today.

From the corner of one eye, he saw Sadie as she opened a freezer door to reach up for the ice cream. It must have been farther back on the shelf and he saw her step back, the door slapping shut in defeat.

Time to go rescue her from a too-high shelf, he decided.

Someone else had seen her plight though. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen, but grinned as he opened the door and fetched it down. “That the one you need?”

“Yes. Thank you!”

“Alec, I already told you no.”

He knew that voice and turned, startled to see someone he was certain wouldn’t have been in town: Marshall’s sister.

“Hi, Lila,” he said.

Lila blinked and looked at him before she laughed. “Hi! I didn’t even recognize you for a minute. I see I’m not the only one leaving the holiday shopping to the last minute.”

He laughed as Sadie came over, her prize in hand. “Yes and no. We got most of it done the last couple of days, but needed just a couple odds and ends.”

“Who’s this?” Sadie asked and Lila laughed.

“I’m Lila. I helped Charles with the landscaping for the restaurant.”

“You’re the one who put in the gardenias! Hi! I’m Sadie.”

Charles laughed as the boy sauntered over to half-glare at Charles. “This is my girl.”

Lila beamed. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sadie. This is Alec.”

The boy responded with a faint nod. “’Sup?” It earned him a faint sigh from Lila and Charles laughed.

“Thank you for helping Sadie, Alec,” he said.

“No problem.” He said and half-smiled at Sadie. “She almost had it. Just needs another inch or so.”

She beamed and looked at Charles. “How long is going to take for me to grow an inch?”

“With my luck? You’ll grow an inch the week after we get you a new jacket for winter,” he said.

Lila laughed. “That’s how it always works,” she said. “We’ve got just a few things left to get, so we’ll get out of your hair.”

He noted the shopping list in the front of the cart, how short it was. A tight budget, perhaps? Or just a very small celebration. His gaze traveled to her hands, noting the lack of a wedding band.

“You know,” he said and glanced at Sadie. “Sadie and I are doing the holiday with just the two of us. You guys are welcome to join us.”

“Please do,” Sadie said. “Daddy made four pies and both turkey and ham.”

Lila laughed and glanced at Alec, who shrugged. “I like pie,” he said noncommittally.

“Then…I think we’d love to,” Lila said. “If you’re certain. It’s just Alec and I this year as well, but we don’t want to impose.”

“You’re not imposing. You’re invited,” Charles promised and glanced at Sadie. “Besides. Sadie’s right. I may have gone a little overboard on cooking.”

Lila laughed. “We can probably help with that.”

Maybe it wasn’t her mom, but Charles smiled as Sadie grinned, immediately launching into a detailed accounting of everything they already had and asking how Alec liked his turkey—what kind of gravy did he prefer? Did Lila like apple pie or cherry?

No, he couldn’t replace her mother. But maybe, just maybe, he could prove to Sadie that there were more people who wanted her around than the one who’d abandoned them both.

_________

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this short story you can find more over on my short stories page. Alternately, you can get exclusive stories and early access by supporting me on Patreon. 

Happy Holidays!

Posted in Stories

Short Story: Gingerbread

“The end.”

“Momma,” her daughter said. “There’s not really a house made of candy in the woods, is there?” Concern made her eyes wide.

A laugh escaped. “It wouldn’t last very long if there was, now would it?”

“No.” Her son cut in matter-of-factly. “All the animals would come and eat it.”

“Indeed they would. There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s only a story meant to pass a little bit of time between supper and bed. Which is where the both of you need to be.”

“Already?” Her son’s smile faded into a pout.

“Already,” she said and stood up. “Kisses and then into bed. I’ll tuck you both in shortly.”

They sighed but accepted a hug and a kiss. Already she could tell her son was sleepy, his steps shuffling over the floor. He might protest bedtime the most, but he rarely stayed awake more than a few minutes passed it.

She tucked him in first and wasn’t surprised when he was almost immediately asleep. “Good night my gingerbread boy,” she murmured and then crept over to his sister’s bed.

Her daughter lay awake, staring at the ceiling. “You’re sure there’s no house made of candy?” her daughter asked and she chuckled as she sat on the bed.

“I’m sure. Did the story scare you too much?”

“I’m not scared. Not much.”

She laughed and bent down, pressing a kiss to her daughter’s soft hair. “I promise. No houses made of candy and no greedy bakers looking to gobble up sweet children, either. Besides. You know I’m a baker. Do you think I could make a house out of candy?”

Her daughter smiled and relaxed a little. “Maybe,” she said and rolled over. “Your baking is always so tasty.”

“And that’s why it never lasts long around here. Good night my gingerbread girl.”

She slipped out, looking at them for a few minutes before she closed the door.

A sigh escaped as she moved to the kitchen. All too soon it would be time to get up and start the morning’s baking.

For now however, she moved to the ancient brick oven and looked in at the ball of dough she’d left rising.

“Perfect,” she said as she pulled it out. “You don’t need to be all that sweet, but just a little bit of cinnamon and some sugar.”

She worked with care, her hands folding and pulling the dough into the perfect shape. Skill and practice made it possible to form ears and a tail

Finished, she smiled as she opened her cabinet for one last tiny bottle. It was nearly empty, and to anyone else it looked like plain sugar. There would be just enough left to sprinkle over a single baked good.

Just enough for a cinnamon roll.

The last few sparkling grains tipped out onto the cinnamon roll before she eased the sheet into the ancient oven to bake.

Her boy had wanted a pet for so long and her daughter had loved seeing the butcher’s cat.

The problem was, she had to be careful what she allowed them to be exposed to. As her son had pointed out, some animals would happily gobble down candy and sweets. She knew more than a few people would.

A faint meow from the oven and she looked in seeing the cat as it began rising properly and turning golden brown. It would still be a while, but in the morning she would have a perfect cat for her sweet children.

“A cinnamon roll cat for a gingerbread boy and a gingerbread girl.”

___________

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Posted in General

An Announcement

Over the last couple of months I’ve had some very serious constraints placed on my time. Thankfully, the blog wasn’t one of them, largely because of the weekly updates to Seventh. I still managed to find a little bit of time to get some work done on the mountain of projects I have.

That however, is something I want to address. I do have a huge amount of projects that are in a constant state of limbo. Some of them are things that I need to redo. Others haven’t even been finished. And others need polish and preparation before I show them.

It’s a lot of work I want to do, and enjoy doing. Work that needs time to be finished and completed. And that time is all so easily taken up by other things such as a day job so I can pay my bills.

Which is what brings me to the point of my post.

I need time, but time is a precious thing and unfortunately, there are other responsibilities that require my time. I refuse to stop writing. I refuse to give up and let it be a hobby or to let all of my work sit in a folder and collect digital dust. So, with that in mind, I’m opening an option for myself, to be able to use the work I enjoy to at the very least, keep the lights on here at the Written Vixen.

I’m launching a Patreon.

What that means is that if you choose, you can help me pay bills without having to keep you guys waiting around for an update to a story. My first goal for having a Patreon is to be able to earn enough to completely turn off all advertising here on the Written Vixen. That works out to ten dollars a month for my current hosting and domain costs.

If you’d like to support me, you can do so here or by clicking the Patreon Logo above. Supporting me means you’ll gain early or exclusive access to my shorts and any future serials I release. You’ll also have exclusive access to some of my worldbuilding notes.

Having a Patreon changes almost nothing. I will still post short stories, prompts and regular posts here. If you choose to support me, it simply means that I’ll be better able to continue creating and providing content for you to enjoy. Eventually, it will also mean I can start offering more content. You’ll probably start to see reminders and links at the bottom of my shorts and on my about page, but nothing else will change.

Even if you don’t support me on Patreon, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you. Simply by reading what I write you’ve given me an enormous amount of support. Thank you for encouraging me to continue writing and creating. I’m looking forward to sharing the next big project with all of you.

 

Posted in serial, Seventh

Seventh Part Twelve

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine | Part Ten | Part Eleven

One final brother. Her youngest brother. Crystal felt her heart skipping a beat as Blake led her back between the columns. This time, Lucinda stood next to the throne and hummed a little, idly stroking Clay’s long hair.

“One dwarven coal for the release of your final brother,” Lucinda said.

“One coal,” Crystal said and opened her coin pouch. Even now she could feel the heat through the tough leather. She doubted the purse itself would be usable after this, but it worked for what she needed. “For one brother.”

Lucinda laughed and clapped her hands together. A table, with a single metal plate appeared before them. Each stone leg had been carved intricately. As Crystal watched, the rest of the items she’d gathered appeared, though she noted the apple had begun to sprout, the seeds pushing out of its body and creating woody tendrils.

Hesitantly, she opened the pouch and deposited the coal on the plate.

“Done,” Lucinda said and clicked her fingers.

Clay stirred a little. “Where…Where am I?”

“Your freedom has been paid for,” Lucinda said sweetly and he stood, shakily.

“It’s okay,” Crystal told him and held her unburnt hand out as he stumbled towards her. She smiled when he took it and pulled him to stand behind her. “We’re both free to go.”

“Ah, don’t forget. We have one final deal to work out,” Lucinda said.

She’d almost been hoping that with her items, Lucinda wouldn’t need to worry about getting a bride for Blake still. Vain hope, she knew, but squeezed Clay’s hand.

“I need to return my brother home.”

“He is awake and capable of leaving on his own terms,” Lucinda said and then paused and smiled. “Ah, but I suspect you have a friend coming. Perhaps the same fairy who’s been such a help.”

“I haven’t sought any aid from any fairies,” Crystal said and glanced at Blake. Did he count as fairy aid?

“No?” Lucinda said and a faint gasp made Crystal turn.

Juniper, dressed in the plainest of her skirts and holding a lantern. Lucinda laughed and in an instant stepped out of the shadows right behind Juniper. A touch and Juniper scurried forward, away from Lucinda.

“She’s not a fairy,” Crystal said. The sharpness of her tone belayed some of her fear as Juniper gripped her waist with one hand.

“How certain are you of that?” Lucinda asked. “Here she comes, of her own power, to seek out someone who should be damned.”

“Crystal,” Clay said quietly but she shushed him as Juniper pressed closer.

“Flint came back,” Juniper said. “And told me you’d traded my ribbon.”

Crystal hesitated and nodded. “I did,” she said. “I didn’t have anything else he’d accept.”

“Are you certain she’s no fairy?” Lucinda hummed and Juniper looked up, almost frightened. Crystal put a hand to Juniper’s side, wishing she could give her the strength to stand up to Lucinda.

“I’m no fairy,” Juniper said. “But I know what fairies look like. I know the rules they’re bound by. And I know you are no true fae.”

“Oh, you’re clever.” Lucinda said and smiled as she leaned down, her fangs gleaming in the light of Juniper’s lantern. “And if I’m no fae, what am I?”

“You’re blessed,” Juniper said. “The same as Crystal. Only your blessing was to sleep for an eternity, only to be woken by a true prince. You knew. So when you were sixteen, you went searching for a way to break free of the blessing. There’s only one creature no fairy will bother if they can avoid it.”

“Dwarves,” Crystal said.

“Indeed,” Lucinda said. “Seven years of labor to break my curse. But dwarves have very little need of human hands, so they only used a day here and there, over seven centuries. When at last I had been freed of it, I had spent so long in the shadows and under the ground everyone had forgotten me in the land above. My curse was broken, but I was still doomed to life alone.”

“And thus, you went looking for the dwarves again.”

“And found something even better,” Lucinda said. “My curse called for a true prince, and a prince I found. A fae prince.”

“A prince of the dark court,” Juniper said quietly. “The stories and facts get blurred, but I can guess at them.”

“Guess away. I can tell you now. He offered me a kingdom, in exchange for binding myself to him. I would have a kingdom, and he would have a queen. He never told me it would be in the cold, quiet dark of the earth.”

“Then why go looking for a bride for Blake?”

“To make her own agreements work,” Blake said. “If she can find a bride for me, then she goes free, human once more.”

“Indeed,” Lucinda said. “Thus, in exchange for all my power as a fae, you will bind yourself to Blake, Crystal Cleary.”

Juniper gasped. “You can’t!”

Crystal however, smiled. “And that is where you’re wrong,” she said. “You cannot make deals in Blake’s stead.”

“By right of mother’s law, I can,” Lucinda said and Clay leaned forward slightly.

“Crystal, you’re not able to be a bride,” he said quietly. His whispered words pitched upwards and Crystal smiled as she turned to Blake.

“Well then,” she said. “I pose a question to you.”

Blake smiled, almost as if he knew what she would ask. “Ask it freely,” he said.

“What will you offer my wife to make me your bride?”

Wife?” Lucinda shrieked and Juniper clutched at Crystal.

The smile on Blake’s face grew. “I’d wondered,” he said and bowed. “I am afraid, I can offer her naught, but the ribbon traded earlier, three buttons and a penny.”

In his hand, the tiny items Crystal had traded him for his aid appeared and he held them out to Juniper. “Will these suffice to break your binds to your wife?”

Juniper shivered. “No,” she said.

Lucinda shrieked and Blake closed his hand around them again. “Pity. I have nothing else to offer you.”

“You cannot do this,” Lucinda snarled and Crystal pulled Juniper closer. “You are the perfect bride.”

“Except that I am already married,” Crystal said.

“Which you did not disclose!”

“You did not ask.”

“You wear no ring.”

“On the contrary,” Crystal said and reached into her shirt for the leather tie she wore her ring on. “To protect it from damage, my wedding ring rests with the rings my parents wore.”

Lucinda hissed. “I should trap all of you here.”

“You will not,” Blake said.

“And why is that?” Lucinda demanded and Blake smirked.

“If you do, you break the deals you made with Crystal in exchange for your items. The apple will die, ceasing to grow. The bag of your snow will no longer work, and the dwarf’s coal will grow cold.”

“I will have my freedom!”

“You will not!” Juniper snapped. “You have broken one blessing upon you already. For that reason alone, you are bound to the agreement made with the fae prince.”

“And who will call upon him?”

“No one needs to call upon me. I sense my wife’s distress, and forever dutiful, I go to her aid.”

The lantern on Juniper’s belt flickered out, and Crystal held her tight, glad for the hand she still had around Clay’s fingers. Hard as she tried, her eyes couldn’t see in the darkness.

A faint click and then the lantern relit itself. Blake sighed before he held Crystal’s lantern out to her.

“A pity,” Blake said as he plucked the bag of snow from the table. He opened it and upended it.

“It’s broken,” Juniper murmured.

“No, it’s not,” Crystal said. “Blake just took it. It wasn’t traded.”

“And so it wasn’t,” Blake said. “I do think however, that you will need to be returning. Sun-up is soon.”

Crystal hesitated and nodded. “We do,” she said.

Blake however, held out a hand. “In exchange for taking the three of you to the entrance, I request only a trinket.”

“A trinket,” Clay demanded.

“A trinket,” Blake said. “A piece of thread, a bone and perhaps a spare coin.”

Crystal smiled and opened her bag. She didn’t need to think too much and reached in, pulling each item out easily. The thread caught for a moment, but the mouse’s skull and the spare coin were easily deposited into Blake’s hand.

“One piece of thread, a mouse’s skull and a spare coin,” Crystal said. “We’re agreed.”

“Then allow me,” Blake said and bowed. The lantern flickered out again and Crystal squeezed Juniper.

The light, when it came on again, showed them facing the entrance. “He just…” Clay said and looked around.

“He did,” Crystal said. “I don’t know why though.”

“I can take a guess,” Juniper said and kissed Crystal’s cheek. “But guesses are offensive, and I’d rather not do that if we can avoid it.”

“Agreed,” Crystal said. “Let’s go home.”