I thought I’d try rendering in solid prose one of my stories. If I had those drawing hands I’d probably illustrate it, but writing without graphics (or reams of descriptive details of a scene, which amount to more or less the same thing, but are HARD WORK to read) has plenty of advantages too. It’s nice for people to let their imaginations run freely through the ideas created by the text.
This is the first two movements of the first chapter. Given I have a musical background I found selecting a musical programme really helped structure the writing. *warning*: The writing style is fairly traditional and won’t be to everyone’s taste.
Please give me some feedback, if you’ve got any! It’s no fun writing in a vacuum.
Recommended listening: Grieg Holberg Suite
As she paused, drinking in the sweet upland air at the top of the hill, Imogen looked down with a thrill of excitement at the broad green river valley spread beneath her. Could it really be true, she wondered, that all this was really hers? She reached down into her pocket and felt the letter from the solicitor that had caused such a storm in her mind. Overcome, she closed her eyes while her pulse slowed back to normal.
Sentaa and Razon had just caught up with her (on their unsteady hooves and two little legs Horselets are always poor walkers). Seeing her closed eyes and heavy breathing, Sentaa said “Oh dear! Are you tired? Do you need a rest? Poor dear Imogen! Oh my!”
But Imogen was used to Sentaa and merely laughed deeply at the misunderstanding. “Oh Sentaa, you silly great Horselet, I was just in a brown study for a moment.”
Sentaa and Razon piped up with their own fluting laughs, doubling Imogen’s at the octave.
It was a strange party indeed the villagers saw descending from the mountain that day. At the head was Imogen de la Heap, reportedly the new Lady of the Manor, a slim, elegant black girl in her 20s, bounding joyfully along in her tennis dress like Diana the Huntress on the Arcadian hillsides. On her back was a large rucksack containing most of her worldly goods. Some way behind lagged Sentaa and his twin sister Razon. No-one in the village had ever seen anything like the two Horselets before. They looked not unlike horses; their heads were the same, and down their necks and backs ran a luxuriant mane which concluded in a plume of tail; and like their genetic cousins they were covered head to hoof in light downy hair. Yet they walked quite erect, their front legs like arms, with dextrous furry fingers at their extremity. As the villagers watched them descend from the cool shade of the beergarden, Sentaa lost his balance and went rolling down the hill, tripping Razon, and the two of them rolled together, a confusion of uncoordinated limbs, down to the plateau where Imogen had stopped to wait for them. Laughing kindly, she helped them untangle themselves and gave them both a hug. The two of them neighed woundedly, and the procession continued as before. The solicitor had come to the foot of the path to greet them.
“Welcome to Heap Valley, Miss de la Heap! What a fine day on which to see our humble community for the first time. Once you have settled into your new home, and all of the necessary papers have been signed, I shall be most pleased to give you and your friends a tour of the valley. What are your names, by the way?”
“Razon,” they said. Although perhaps ‘said’ isn’t quite the right word, for rather the solicitor had a distinct impression that that is what they wanted to say – but no actual sound had passed their lips. It was all rather mysterious, he thought, telepathic horses of all things!
“So,” concluded Mr. Plushart the solicitor, “The estate your great uncle Avarice de la Heap bequeathed to you, after tax, amounts to several million Ducats, 3 million of which are in gold-edged bonds, 100,000 of which constitutes a 70% share in the clock factory, and the rest of which is property in the Valley. You are a wealthy woman, Miss de la Heap.”
“Goodness,” whispered Imogen, the desk lamp softly illuminating her smooth dark face as it slowly, ever so slowly, began to register the shock and excitement she felt. “Is the old manor to be mine, too?”
“Yes indeed, Miss, with its thirty staff.”
“How many people work in the factory? And how many tenants am I responsible for?”
“Well, the factory itself has 258 permanent staff, but more than twice that including temporary workers from agencies – no-one knows quite how many. As for tenants, well, you have upwards of 2000 properties, which are built on your traditional ancestral land, that has been in your family for centuries. I have no idea precisely how many tenants live on it – the letting agents might have a better idea. But it’s not just houses – the whole valley, more or less, is yours, apart from the old churchyard, The Vicarage, and Glebe House. That means a lot of agriculture too, and several businesses and factories. In effect, you are our mistress. This building we are living in is yours; so too is my house.”
“That is a lot of responsibility for one so young!”
“Oh, you needn’t worry, you employ a number of agents who are very efficient at collecting your dues and managing the land. All you need to do, frankly, is relax and give the villagers a regal presence. Sir Avarice was sure to attend parish functions and give out the Maundy Thursday prizes. His wife, of course, organised great parties and was a most able hostess. Once you are safely married I am sure that the villagers will feel reassured by the continuation of these roles. Sir Avarice’s widow lives in the Dower House in the grounds of the Manor. I am sure she will help you settle in.”
“You make it sound like I am to be a monarch, who must be gracious and predictable. I’m not sure I’m going to do that. Besides, it’s too early to think of marriage!”
“Very well, Miss; but I warn you, the village is very conservative and does not much like change or modernity.”
“Well, I shall see what I shall see. Thank you for your kindly intentions and efficient work! I shall see to it you are well rewarded.”
“Why, thank you, Miss! You have inherited your uncle’s voice of command, truly. You have been most authoritative.”
“The job does force it on one rather.”
Sentaa and Razon were drinking half-pints of pale ale in the saloon bar of the Happy Pig. The public bar rebounded with the carefree sound of office and shop workers on their lunch break. Spooked by their telepathic mode of expression, the landlord ushered them into the small rear-facing saloon bar. The only other customer was a hooded figure hunched in a corner, smoking an evil-smelling Gauloise. He didn’t seem remotely perturbed by the Horselets, nor even to notice them. The landlord nodded to him.
“That’s the resident ghost. I’ve never once seen him move, in all the 50 years I’ve worked here. We just keep him supplied with stout and those revolting French smokes, and he just sits and mutters about how much better things were when he was alive.”
“Makes sense,” said Razon brightly, “Many people wish they could spend their earthly life like that.”
“But, Razon,” interjected Sentaa, “how awful must his life have been, how mired in dullness and poverty, that his very spirit has become so sedentary!”
“Shut it, fartface,” moaned the ghost, “No-one asked for your opinion.”
“My goodness!” cried the landlord, “that’s the most reaction we’ve ever got from the old boy! Well, telepathic horses do count for something, after all.”
“Sir,” asked Razon timorously, “What was your name?”
“Sir Avarice,” the ghost replied gruffly.
Imogen leant on the short wall preventing people from falling into the ha-ha by the south face of Heap Manor (‘The Old Heap’ to locals). This had been a favourite spot in her childhood holidays, racing gliders and paper aeroplanes over the fields below. Her abiding memories of the house, though, were lonely ones. There were no other children of the correct rank to enter, nor did any of the Heaps’ occasional genteel visitors take any children. She was left to root around in the grounds and make her own amusements, which she did very well – for a week or two. After that she would become homesick and be taken home by her mother. That loneliness of wealth had settled upon her again sharply now, after the visit to the solicitor, and she longed for the brutal candour and unworldly foolishness of Sentaa and Razon.
They did not come. But someone did.
She walked out of the slight mist that was gathering on the distant fields reddened by sunset, and Imogen inhaled sharply as a deeply-hidden part of her mind informed her that this was a truly portentous event.
She was dressed in a black trench-coat and black assault boots, yet her black trousers and polo shirt were well-cut for the female form. Crowning a large oval face, bestowed with a rather hard nose and large, soft eyes, was dark blue hair, just a shade or two lighter than navy, which billowed around her broad shoulders and whose fringe blew into her eyes as a gentle breeze dispelled the mist. It seemed to Imogen that she watched this beautiful figure, seemingly parting the mist like an ocean as she strode through the fields below, for an eternity, before she hailed Imogen loudly.
“You must be Imogen!” She laughed cheerfully. “I have much to tell you. How can I get up to you?”
“Don’t bother,” replied Imogen, “I reckon I can come down to you – I used to jump from here all the time on my hols.”
So saying, she jumped nimbly down from the ha-ha to join the mysterious newcomer.
“My name is Zeuxo,” she informed Imogen.
“How is that spelt?”
“Z-e-u-x-o – and yes, I know it’s rather peculiar, but no other name suits me quite so well.”
“Have you been living here a while?”
“Indeed not. I have come to assist you! I am an angel sent by the Lord God Almighty, via a rather complicated chain of command.”
“Hmmmmm! Well, that feels implausible, but there’s no reason why it should not be so. Even if it is a delusion of yours, it is not a troublesome one; pray continue.”
“Well, I am a senior member of the Nymph Association – immortals sent by God to nurture humankind. I report to Lady Diana the Huntress, as a spirit of the land.”
“A spirit of which land? This land?”
“Not as such – we don’t often have fixed geographical allocations any more; it led to too much idolatry. No, I just meant land as opposed to oceanic spirits, since they go through a different office. I used to be an Oceanid, but I requested a transfer a few centuries back because I hadn’t been given any work for a thousand years.
“I have been assigned to you personally, because of the grave danger to your soul your inheritance represents. I suppose you don’t know the history of your uncle?”
“In which sense? I know he came into the money rather early, and it didn’t have the most felicitous effect on his personality.”
“Did you really have no idea of the condition of his soul? That it separated from him almost fifty years before he actually died?”
“Is that possible? I remember Dante mentioning souls which had descended to hell long before death, but I didn’t know souls could rub off a person like that.”
“I shouldn’t have said it was possible either, but it is most certainly true. Sentaa and Razon will be able to verify that, I suspect.”
“How do you know they will?”
“My senses are somewhat more acute than yours – I am an angel, after all.”
“Fair enough. So why did my uncle’s soul separate from him in such an exceptional way?”
“Well, you have already experienced a little of his anguish – the profound loneliness of obscene wealth. Combined with a naturally mean-spirited demeanour and a belief that the rich were the most deserving people in society, everything human in his soul was suffocated, until finally it drifted from him, an empty shell of the person he could have been.”
“That sounds awful! Why did the Lord not send an angel to help him?”
“I am not wise enough to know; but a number of ideas are at play here. I actually very much doubt that he would have accepted God’s help – he would rather have wallowed in his filthy money than take the steps needed to become truly human. In any case, God let him dig his own grave with each day he spent in oblivious self-service.” Zeuxo did not sound angry, but bitterly, bitterly sad.
“He always seemed like a nice enough chap to me! He always took his obligations and what he perceived as his duties very seriously indeed, and tried to care for me when I stayed with him.”
“Not all the duties and obligations in the world can save one who extinguished every drop of compassion and sympathy in his heart. As for being charming to those around him, well, that is little more than a game, a skill. Being ‘nice’, any more than being ‘dutiful’, cannot truly benefit your soul. Even a tax farmer loves his friends.”
“So what then must I do to avoid his fate?”
“You must follow your Saviour, Jesus Christ, and accept his salvation.”
“I have already accepted that salvation, for no treasure on earth can match the delights of being a child of God, forever in his presence. Yet I do not know where Jesus is leading me at the moment! You ought to know, you’re an angel.”
“Ha ha ha, you do me far too much credit! Do you really think I know an appreciable fraction of the mind of God? I cannot readily say where you are being led, any more than you know yourself; but I’m here to give you some handy tips. For example, washing feet is a good idea.”
“‘Love one another as I have loved you’?”
“Precisely. Now let’s go in and have a cup of tea. Turning your new fortune into a tool for love will be a long process, and I don’t want to stress you out too much. At least I can keep you company!”
“Thank you for being here, Zeuxo!” cried Imogen, giving her a big hug.