The Door: Hiatus Week 1

Content Notes: death and arson references

As the first flames began flickering in the windows, Elisabet turned her back on the manor. The fire would take care of all the evidence. By morning, nothing would be left of her family’s crimes. They, like the rest of her family, would be nothing but smoke and ash.

It was a long trip from that once-proud manor to the antiquated cottage hidden deep in the moor where her many-times great-grandmother, the first Elisabet, had lived. The cottage, passed through the female line for years beyond reckoning, belonged to her. Everything else of her family’s wealth and holdings would go to a distant relative. Elisabet wished them joy in it.

Thoughts of her ancestor, family tales, and the simple cottage from which everything began distracted her from blistered feet and the English weather. Her wild appearance kept others on the road from approaching her, though whispers warned that if she stayed in any one place too long, she would likely be locked up as a madwoman.

When Elisabet reached the cottage, she nearly wept. The door hung off the hinges, and several areas needed new thatch, but otherwise, it seemed intact. In spite of her mother’s neglect, it could still be a home to her.

A small, smokey fire cleared the room of pests, and a sturdy branch braced the door closed. Clearing the chimney would be a long day’s work, but with the holes in the thatch, she could safely leave a tiny fire going to cook dinner and keep her warm through the night. There was no mattress, and the wood-and-leather bed was rotted to pieces, but she had slept on the ground enough nights that she wasn’t bothered. A good night’s sleep and she would be ready to start turning the rundown cottage into a home.

She woke to sunlight creeping under the door. Confused, she looked around and remembered the cottage. Great-grandmother Elisabet. The end of her family. Standing up, she stretched and looked again at the door. It was on the wrong side of the building. On its hinges. Turning around, she saw the door–the real door–braced closed and sagging. No hint of sunlight crept through the gaps between the door and the wall.

She looked again at the new door, impossible door, bright shining door leaking the light of a beautiful summer day. Panic took her. She tore the brace from the door (the real door) and ran out onto the moor. The full moon shone overhead, giving further lie to the sunlight creeping into her new home. From where?

She didn’t know. She didn’t want to know. Her parents had proven, and proven well, that there were things man (and woman) was not meant to know. That such things might have invaded her last haven…

Creeping inside, she grabbed her blanked and scuttled back out, onto the moor. Sleeping under the stars seemed a very good idea.

The first rays of dawn woke her the next morning. No more strangeness had occurred during the night; aside from dreams, her sleep had been peaceful. The morning light shone into the cottage through the east-facing doorway. The far wall, facing the sunset, was blank of door and window alike. Just as it had been when she first entered the cabin late yesterday.

Just a dream, she told herself. And knew she was lying.

That morning she wandered the moors gathering wild carrots and berries and other wild-growing foods. In a few days, she would need to find the nearest village and purchase food and other necessities with the small amount of coin she had taken from the manor. For now, she lived off the moors and blessed the old gardener who taught her about the plants that were safe to eat, and which to avoid.

When she had food for a few days, she gathered rushes and reeds. The scraps of the old bed went out the door into a convenient ditch for the small animals of the moor to make what they could of it. Piling the rushes and reeds where the bed had been made a reasonably comfortable bed for the night. More reeds and twigs, and a sturdy branch, let her make a start on clearing the chimney. Several old birds’ nests later, she had made progress but still had a ways to go. And she didn’t dare fix the thatching until she had a working chimney.

Thankfully, the skies stayed clear, and she would have at least one more rain-free night.

After a simple dinner, she bedded down for the night and told herself fiercely to close her mind to strange dreams.

Sunlight shining on her face–sunlight shining from the west–woke her once again. Gleaming brightly under the door.

The next morning the door was gone again. If she had any faith in pastor or priest, Elisabet might have sought one out. Instead, she did the only thing she could: ignored it. She walked into the nearest village, where the tale of her recent orphaning and retreat to the last of her family’s properties bought the sympathy and support of the village matrons. Over the next days, the men and boys in the village got her roof thatched and she bartered one of her old-but-still-fine dresses to the dressmaker for a bed to sleep on. With seeds from the village, she started a small kitchen garden. Within two weeks’ time, she had a snug little home.

And still, each night, the mysterious door appeared.

One full day, she sat and thought. She had left behind all the books, all the scrolls and palimpsests. Every bit of writing or knowledge her family had accumulated over the years had burned with the manor. Everything but the knowledge within her own mind.

Ignoring the door had done nothing. An exorcism, by a true man of faith, might work. Assuming the door was demonic in nature. And assuming a true man of faith could be found. Plastering over the door might work. Or might not.

She could continue ignoring the door–and hope that it would not ever open of its own accord. She could leave the cottage, strike out alone with no home and no family for whatever life a woman alone in the world might make. Or she could confront the door, open it, and discover for herself just how dangerous its secrets were

That night she did not sleep. She gathered about herself salt from the sea, scraps of iron from the blacksmith’s forge, rue and rosemary, and every other scrap of protection she had ever heard of. Most would probably be useless, but without knowing what was on the other side of the door, she couldn’t know which.

She carefully latched and barred the cottage door (probably rehung, finally) and sat down on her bed to wait.

The hours crept past slowly. Always before she had been asleep when the door appeared. This time she remained awake and watching. Just as she had begun to wonder if the door would appear at all, a point of light appeared at the floor and stretched into a line. The line turned and traced the outline of a door. For a moment, the light blinded Elisabet. Then it was just a door, and the bright summer sun shining under it.

She rose from her bed and lifted the latch. It wouldn’t move.

None of her thinking or planning had prepared her for this. However, she tugged and pulled, the latch would not lift. The door would not open. She tried each of her protective charms in turn. Of course, her bit of iron scrap had no effect on the iron latch, but neither did the salt or rue or anything else.

She sat back down on the bed and started at the door. If the latch wouldn’t lift, then perhaps she didn’t need to worry about the door. After all, with the latch down, nothing on the other side could open the door. She hoped.

The more she thought of it, the less she trusted that thought. Seductive thought. But if the door could simply appear out of nowhere, who was to say that the latch couldn’t open on its own? Not her — she had seen far too much.

Not sure what else to do and unwilling to stare at the impossible door any longer, she got up and left the cottage through the real door. Outside, the stars gleamed brightly, and a thin crescent moon gleamed with the promise of light that never reached the dark moor. It was quiet. The wind blew gently, stirring her hair without disturbing the grass and heather.

What was on the other side of the door?

A sudden thought had her running around to the back of the cottage. There! The other side of the door. The impossible door faced out from the cottage. A faint light shone from under the door, nowhere near as bright as the summer sun which crept out from under the door inside the cottage, but there should have been no light at all–her fire was banked and dark.

Heart in her throat, she walked one careful step at a time up to the door and knocked.

Something moved inside. The latch lifted.

Elisabet held her breath as the door opened, spilling light across the dark moor.

On the other side of the impossible door stood a tall, imposing man with long, flowing hair and a sharply pointed nose. He filled the doorway so she couldn’t see what was on the other side, but she heard bird song coming from somewhere nearby “Elisabet,” he said.

She stared in shock, then shook herself. “Yes. I am sorry to disturb you.”

“Did I not warn you? Did I not tell you that one day you would return and beg me to lift the curse you begged me to gift you with? As I told you then, there is nothing I can do. What you have crafted, you must endure.”

And the door closed in her face.

Flabbergasted, stared for a minute. Then pounded on the door. When there was no immediate answer, she pounded again. And again.

The door opened, and she stopped herself just before she pounded on the fool’s nose. He glowered down at her, and she spoke quickly. “Pardon me, but I think you may have me confused with someone else. I have never seen you before in my life, and I am simply trying to find out why your door keeps appearing in my cottage.”

“You are not Elisabet?”

“Well, I am an Elisabet, but there are lots of Elisabet’s in my family, going all the way back to my several-times great-grandmother Elisabet, the first to leave this cottage. But the family has returned to the cottage frequently. Is it possible you were thinking of another Elisabet?”

The man suddenly became far less imposing, seeming to shrink in on himself. “I…suppose it might. You say it was your many-times grandmother who left the cottage to fall into ruin?”

“Not quite. It was my many-times grandmother who moved away, but the family has always made sure the repairs were kept up and the cottage was in good condition. Until my mother, that is. She didn’t want to be bothered, and the cottage was in a dreadful state when I arrived.”

“And why did you return?”

“Well it’s all gone now, isn’t it? My mother and father were fool enough to play with things no one should touch, and got themselves killed by one of their magics gone awry. I burned down the manor to be sure none of the evil they dealt in would escape and have only the cottage left in the world. Your door frighted me badly, appearing as it did. I want no more truck with such things as my parents dealt in, and having a door appear in my cottage every night was rather disconcerting. Especially when I didn’t know what was on the other side.”

The man humphed. “Well, now you know.”

“Indeed, I do.” She cocked her head to the side. “Might I trouble you to ask if it would be possible to stop your door from appearing in my cabin? It’s a tad disruptive, especially when I’m trying to sleep.”

“No.” He looked down his rapier nose. “Now leave me alone.”

The door slammed again, and this time Elisabet left it.

Her strange neighbor–for so he apparently was, in some odd manner–was a prickly man. But he certainly didn’t appear to be a threat. And if his door only ever opened to the outside of her cottage. Well, that was a strange thing, but the world was full of strange things, and a door that opened on the outside of a cottage was far less threatening than one that opened on the inside. She wondered for a moment what it looked like inside her cottage when the door was opened outside. But she had some knowledge of such matters; most likely when the door was open, her cottage wasn’t inside. Instead, his cottage was inside, and her door would be missing entirely. Maybe she would test that one day.

When he was in a less grumpy mood.

This one is longer than I usually like to send, but I figure I all y’all a bit of extra. This piece came from a writing prompt on Tumblr. I’ve always wanted to do more with Elisabet and her grumpy neighbor, but never really figured out what.

On a Trip to London Town (A tease)

Sorry folks. That family emergency I mentioned back in August? Well it kind of ran into September and I’m still getting back on my feet. One of these days I’m going to rebuild my buffer so I can get back to posting consistently for y’all.

In the mean time, here’s a piece from a few years ago. Ol’ Robin has long been one of my fave tales and one of these days I’m going to do something with him. Sadly, this won’t be that something. I find these days I’m mildly allergic to stories involving The Good King. So Good King Richard will have to find something else to do with his time when I get around to writing about Robin again.

Content notes: violence, hunting

There was a young man once, of good family, though fallen on hard times. When he came of age, he left his home, bidding farewell to his old father, and set off for London Town, seeking his fortune there as young men are wont to do. He carried with him a yew bow and a score of cloth-yard shafts, as well as a gift of coin from his father to see him through his journey. With his good bow and his skill, he had high hopes of winning a place in the king’s service.

Fate had other plans for him, however.

On the second day of his travels, he passed through Nottingham town, ‘twas market day, and being heavy of purse and light of mind, as men of that age are, he thought to pick up some trinket in the market. However, it was no trinket that caught his eye, but the bright curls and laughing eyes of a young maid. She saw him as well, and despite the disapproval of her nurse, winked and flirted with him from across the market square.

Well, he needed no further encouragement, I assure you. Darting around carts and between stalls, he quickly made his way across the square and found a spot next to the market stall where the maid’s nurse was bargaining for fresh herbs.

She made a slight curtsy when she saw him, and he bowed in reply. “What do you here, goodsir? I fain I have not seen your face before.”

“Sadly, no, lady, as my father was not wont to come to town, and I perforce remained with him, but now I make my way to London town, to seek service with the King.”

“And what is your father’s name goodsir?”

“My father is Robert of Locksley.”

“I have heard of him, a noted scholar.”

“Indeed – as his son is not, a disappointment to him, I fear.”

“Surely – ”

So caught up were they in each other they neglected to notice the nurse had finished her bargaining. Horrified to find her charge speaking with a strange man, she bore down upon them like a ship under full sail.

“My lady Marian! This is not seemly! What would your father say!”

As the nurse hustled the maid Marian away, the young man called out, “I hope I may see you again… Lady Marian.”

The nurse screeched in offended proprietary, and then they were gone.

As the young man wandered down the road later that day, he reflected on how his dreams could change so suddenly. No more did the miles pass beneath his feet with happy thoughts of rising in the king’s service, earning acclaim and gold, saving the king from an assassin perhaps, or performing some great feat of valor fighting for Christendom in the Holy Land. His thoughts turned instead back to Nottingham Town. “Marian” He tasted the name over and over, sweet and light, a delight to the tongue. Long and drawn out to be almost a song, the short burst of a whispered confidence. A few years service with the king, some small heroic acts, and he could possibly retire with a small barony as a reward for his service, and enough income to think of… dare he even consider… marriage!

So lost was he in happy daydreams that he didn’t see men in the forest until they were almost upon him.

“What ho, fellow. What brings you to the greenwood?”

“Passing through stranger, on my way to London Town, where I will take service with the king.”

The men laughed at this. “Not yet a stripling, and so sure the king will have you? Go back your mother’s apron strings boy, until you can use that bow you carry!”

The young man’s face turned red, pricked pride driving him down a foolish course.

“I wager gold that I can shoot better than any of you or any man in England!”

One of the number, a villainous man wearing stained deer hide breeches and with a scar running across his creek stepped forward.

“I’ll take that wager, boy, and your gold also!”

The young man agreed and began casting about for materials to set up a proper target.

“Just as I thought, a boy, not a man. No man wastes his time on targets – there is the only target worthy of a grown man!”

The challenger pointed off into the forest, where a herd of deer grazed. “Take down that buck boy, and I’ll name you man in truth.”

The young man did not stop to think but strung his bow and fit arrow to string. A moment to gauge the wind, not even a moment to sight, and the arrow was loosed, to lodge firm between the stags ribs. The wound was mortal, and the creature took one fleeing leap before falling dead to the forest floor.

The young man turned in triumph to face his challenger.

“What say you now?”

The villainous man was grinning, as was the rest of the small band.

“I say we have a poacher, worth ten gold crowns if we deliver you to the Sheriff in Nottingham Town. And I say that there are more of us than you, so you might as well come quietly. Boy.”

The young man’s face drained of color as he realized what his foolish pride had driven him to. He turned to run but was felled with a blow to the head. And the world went dark.

He returned to himself, hot and nauseous, the smell of blood in his nostrils and the world spinning around him. He tried to sit but found he was bound – wrapped tightly in a bundle that, to his horror, he saw was suspended by a pole carried between two of the men from the wood.

They laughed and joked as they traveled, and the young man fell into the deepest despair as he realized his predicament. Trussed like a pig for market, he could not escape, and the killing of the king’s deer – all deer were the king’s deer – was a mortal offense. If he couldn’t get away, he would find himself scheduled to meet the headsman in short order.

For a time, he struggled against his bonds, but they proved firm.

He had all but given up when his captors came upon an inn and decided to stop for a meal. Dumping him to the ground, sure he could not get away, they went into the cool of the inn.

At first, the young man thought here might be a chance to escape. Alone along the road, if he could cut his bonds, and run they would never find him. But again, the ties were too strong for him to break.

He fell into a dazed stupor, brought on by heat and shock and hunger. When he was roused sometime later, he thought it was only his captors come to claim him again.

A man, clad in light, was gazing down at him, sternness and compassion both shining in his eyes. A thunderous wind roared in his ears, like the breath of eternity.

“Well, boy, what brings you to this state.”

The young man, shocked to find a seeming angel staring him in the face, lowered his eyes and babbled out his tale, leaving out nothing, sure that if he did, those unearthly eyes would know it.

When he was finished, the man sighed. “You are a fool boy, and worse a proud one, but even a fool can learn. Can you?”

“Yes, Lord! I … I will set aside my pride.”

“The truth of that will be tested, I expect, in years to come. If I free you, will you swear your service to me?”

The young man agreed, eagerly in fact, and suddenly found himself sprawled on the ground. Without standing, he went to his knees.

“If you would have me, Lord, my service is yours, man and blade, until the last breath has left my body.”

The shining one accepted his service and bade him rise, and the vision of wonder faded before his eyes. The shining light had been the sun reflected on armor, the wind the breath of the man’s warhorse in his ear.

Once again shocked, feeling the world spin about him.

The man handed him a water pouch and a purse of food.

“Hie you to the greenwood,” he said, “Whatever is there, be it wood or deer or herb is free for your use, and the use of any who would follow you. Perhaps we will need again, perhaps not, but it is time and past time the folk of the land had someone to stand for them. Perhaps you will be that man. Now go.”

That voice – only a man’s voice now, but a command so firm it could not be denied, could not be resisted. The young man scooped up the water and food, paused but a moment to grab his good yew bow and arrows, and disappeared into the woods.

And thus did Robin of Locksley, known now as Robin of the Hood come to life in the greenwood.