The Violet Leaf

Root and branch
sun and shade
this is how
the nine-bread's made.

Left and right
up and down
this is how
you break the crown.

Stone and heart
blade and song
this is how
the gray-lock's wrong.

– Common Children’s Rhyme, Meridian Songs and Tales, Vol. II


The shortest path between two points is a straight line — or at least that is what my colleagues in the mathematics would contest. However, I have found that when attempting to traverse the distance between what is known about our unsavory neighbors and what is supposed about them, that the road is never straight and often ceases to constitute the requirements of being a road or a line. It breaks off into hills and strange foggy moors, it loops around itself like two snakes in rut. It seems to end, but then begin again from the most preposterous of angles and coordinates from the most vexing of vertices. To claim the ability to give a satisfactory summary of the Fey Courts and their vassals, subjects, lords is the claim of a madman. (and let it not go unsaid, that we have discovered many a poor wanderer on the fringes of Riddlewood babbling incoherently with total confidence about all manner of bizarre happenings and features of their time among the Fey)

I am no madman, but this is the task that has been given me. Onward.

I shall begin with a skeleton of historical fact.

1155

  • Princess Amodred Torossian disappears from the environs near Varamere township. Fey involvement is suspected and a rescue mission is assembled and dispatched into Riddlewood to investigate.
  • Rescue mission returns with Princess Amodred accompanied by a ‘Druid’ halfling. The abduction was orchestrated by a Red Wizard, in an attempt to broker an accord with the Fey Court. With the aid of the Druid, the rescue mission successfully convinced the Fey to release the Princess and deny the Red Wizard. Tentative diplomatic channels established between the Kingdom of Toross, using the Druid as an intermediary.

1161

  • The Fey Court dispatches an official ambassador into the mortal world. Clad in pale wooden armor from head to toe, the fey called itself Walker, but the common folk of Meridian swiftly adopted the moniker ‘the White Knight’. This ambassador seemed to have no clear purpose at first, simply wandering from town to town – viewing the goings on of the mortal world from a distance. As a precaution, Princess Amodred and the Druid Gen-Roda accompanied the White Knight across the land.
  • The White Knight’s purpose was revealed to be as something of an arbiter for the continued interaction between the Fey lands and the mortal world. Depending on what the Knight learned on his journeys, the Fey were strongly considering closing their borders forever and retreating beyond the reach of the mortal races.

1162

  • The trio, now known as the Unstoppable Three, defeat the Red Wizard at his keep on the Isle of Windows. The wizard’s plot to gain more arcane power endangered the entire continent, if not the entire globe -but it was brought down by the combined courage and might of the Unstoppable Three.
  • The White Knight returns to the Fey lands within Riddlewood, promising to return soon with his people’s decision.

1169

  • Amodred Torossian is crowned Queen of Toross. She also weds Lilith Gold of Corinth, a diplomatic wedding to strengthen ties between the human city-state and the Elven technocracy that controlled the eastern half of Meridian.

1172

  • Gen-Roda becomes Archdruid of Riddlewood.
  • Simon Torossian is born, Crown Prince of Toross.

1183

  • The White Knight returns. A council is convened in the heart of Riddlewood between all the major powers of Meridian and the Fey -who at last present a single name for their kingdom, ‘The Violet Leaf’. (It is unclear whether this referred to the Fey court itself, their lands beyond, or some even more inscrutable concept.)
  • A treaty forms, though it was never put to paper. The Fey offered safe passage through Riddlewood, allowing swift travel between Toross and the growing port city of Rune. In return, the mortal powers agreed to leave the forest unmolested and the Wilds (as the Fey called the borders of their realm) unviolated. The Archdruid was given responsibility to keep the balance between the mortal world and the Wilds, along with making certain that the terms of the treaty were kept. A further provision, all parties to the treaty (later called the Pinebark Accords) would reconvene once a year in the spring at Third Turn to recommit to the treaty and discuss any issues.

1190

  • The Violet Leaf build a small outpost in Riddlewood, where the Fey could spend time in the mortal world at their whim. The outpost was frustratingly never named – or more accurately, any Fey that was asked the name of the outpost would give a different answer – the enclave was simply referred to as Faetown by mortal travelers.

1243

  • Queen Amodred dies of natural causes, her son Simon is crowned King of Toross.

1287

  • At the yearly meeting on Third Turn, the Archdruid Gen-Roda performs an act of shocking treachery – she brings an iron blade hidden on her person and uses it to take several Fey hostage. She holds out for three days until the leader of the Violet Leaf comes into the mortal realm to hear her demands.
  • The Rupture.*

1300

  • The city-state of Toross falls to the subversion of the cult of The Lonely One. Most scholars agree this was due to being functionally cut-off from the rest of the continent by the collapse of the road through Riddlewood.

1307

  • Current year.

*I am uncertain where this terminology originated, as from the few survivors of the immediate effect that made it beyond the reach of Riddlewood’s branches descriptions it was much more of a deluge or explosion. Suffice to say, where before the borders of the Wilds were difficult to find even for the wise or skilled, they suddenly enveloped almost the entire breadth of Riddlewood. The Fey seem content to stay within this sudden expansion of their lands, but any mortals that journey there through madness or misadventure rarely return – and those that do come back as only shambling husks of their former selves.

These morsels of information, in my estimation, are the only solid ground we have when discussing the Fey. Despite the century of open communication it is frustrating how little we truly know. Perhaps by design, as even the most talkative of Fey seemed more interested in the function of buttons or the purpose of a kiss than anything as concrete as their own history or the true nature of the Wilds. No record exists of the name of the leader of the Violet Leaf. Similarly, the events that precipitated the Rupture were obliterated by the event itself. Obviously the blame can be laid at the feet of the Archdruid – but what motivated this sudden break of faith after decades of trust? And what actually caused the Rupture itself? The vengeful wrath of the Fey is the most likely explanation, but we have no evidence either way. Only the Violet Leaf – or perhaps any druid that survived the flight from Riddlewood? – know the truth.

The truth which may forever be lost among the strange fog of the Wild that permeates the forest – and lost among the fading memories of the past.

The hour grows late. I shall dispatch this first report as requested, then follow with more missives detailing what lore I have gathered about the Violet Leaf and the Fey themselves. Fair warning though, my future letters leave behind the solid earth of history and verified reports – they enter the shifting lands of legend, grandfather limericks, and bard songs reserved only for the most gullible or most intoxicated.

Rectangul Morton, Archivist – Rune – 1307

Hunter

Boots on the road, packed earth with no echo. The hunter slipped into town. It was night, windows drawn fast, not a drip of light except the moons. His clothes were filthy, hair tied up under his hat. The only clean thing was his staff, three feet of bleached hazel wood. His eyes were dark and the Law burned in his stomach.

Like drops of rain, his feet fell on the path that led him to the man. It was almost always a man. The hunter could see him in front of him in the dark like a ghost, could smell him like sugar burning. The small house with pale blue fence, slats rotten and broken. The door. The hunter’s fingers spread wide on the door, moonlight, the smell. Yes, the man is on the other side of the door. His leg kicked out like a convulsion and the hunter was through and the man was there.

The man had been sitting in a chair, a bottle of fire on the table next to a candle. Smoke fumed from his lips as the branch fell, the man fumbled for his gun. The hunter was already moving, the smell, the ghost smashing into the man’s flesh, the hunter’s hands tight on the staff. The man’s gun went flying. The staff crushed next into the man’s ribs, the man coughed. The hunter sighed with relief. The hunter brought the staff down again on the man’s neck and the man fell to the ground and was still.

The hunter leaned on his staff and looked down at the man. The man was alive, the Law quivered and receded inside the hunter. Rope uncoiled and the hunter carefully bound the man at wrist and ankle.

The hunter felt heavy. He lay down next to the bound man, keeping his hazel staff between them. He pushed his hat down over his eyes and let the sweet earth reach up to hold him, dark hands clutching him tenderly as his muscles eased. The hunter fell into the empty night with no dreams but the road, the moons, and the Law piercing him like a silver spear.

story

Tell me a new story

But make sure it’s an old story

Give me the three thieves again,

Tell me again about the blade so bright,

Let the lady in white run her blood red fingers down the ash tree

Again

Tell me the old story again

The copper pennies shining in the water

And Penthisilea singing on the walls

Again

Tell me about the empty hat

The black rabbit and his red eyes

Tell me again the secret song

This time I will remember

I promise.

Trip over riddles

and forge the sky blue shield again.

Put the crimson key in my hand

And let me wake in the bow of the ship with salt and air in my teeth.

Tell me a new story but only an old story hiding among the vines.

lotham

Climbing up out of a dream, I felt this word in my hand.

It was a word of power there, a ritual, a stone. Here it has no meaning, just memory. Gossamer webbing hanging from it, broken and fading.

There I was on a bus, over and over, day after day. A school bus, but the passengers were older and so was I. They were strangers at first, but slowly we found each other’s eyes, the connections formed, and the center of the web was the word. The word was lotham.

They and I were allies, though the danger was unclear. The word between us beating like a heart. I loved them, I knew them, they were lotham.

When we left the bus each day, we walked together. Hands on weapons, backs together. And every day there were more of us, more of us were lotham.

Dreams like this are echoes of themselves, repeating again and again, the sand shifting but always the word. The word pounding in my head. The word that means don’t let go, hold onto me. Lotham. Lotham. Lotham.

I am suspicious of words that come without cost, that have no blood tax. But it sits in my hand and I have no where to put it but here.

Take it. I brought it for you.

Originally appeared on Substack – reposted here prior to deleting there.

boulevard coyote

to long quiet

wakes up in a riot

boulevard coyote

yipping at the client

harmless and charmless

the dog’s past due

chewing up the architect

and spitting out blue

claw on the glass

knife in its jaws

blackboard and grass

are made for its paws

X

I’ve been writing about this for ten years.

Every year, on the anniversary, I write something specific. Careful scholars may note there’s nothing two years ago – that’s not true, there is something I just didn’t share it.

I recalled today that I actually started writing about it just hours (minutes?) afterwards. The police handed me a form and I sat down backstage and I wrote down everything that I could remember. Occasionally I think about going to the police department and trying to find that file, that scrap of paper. That there’s an answer there waiting for me, that my fingers solved the riddle and it fell onto the page and it’s waiting for me. I feel like that about a lot of what I write.

I recall how then, sitting backstage, writing on that piece of paper, even then, just hours (minutes?) after I thought: no. I will not let this pass. I will hold this inside of me like a cannonball. I will not set it down, I will not pass it away. I have room inside me for this. This is mine and no one gets to tell me what to do with it.

There was the Week of Three Funerals. I spoke and laughed. There were gatherings for the survivors, mental health professionals to assist — I didn’t go. I worried my friends, drifted from my beloved. I went back to where it happened, I stepped over the ghosts. We painted ashes into the stage and I was embarrassed. Not like this, I thought. Not this way, not with others, not exposed and raw and pathetic. This is mine. I have learned that I can control nothing, but I will control my pain and I will control how I grieve.

I buried them on stage later, I held my funeral for them. The audience applauded and I was alone, the way that I wanted.

I began to write stories. Stories about a man with no home, changed forever by malice and love. My friends wrote with me, they chased the man. They fought him, hated him, hunted him across the land. When at last they had the villain at their mercy, they relented. They let him go. They let him go, even though they knew it would bring only ruin. I loved the freedom of the man and the kindness of my friends, my heroes.

My mother died. I wrote more stories. Stories about a girl to whom nothing was impossible except connection. I wrote alone now. I followed the girl and I gave her the thing she wanted least: a friend. I spun out demons and dragons for them to fight and prayed that the girl would win, prayed that she would defeat what I could not.

The cannonball. When I write, when I make– it levitates. When I stop it falls.

I wrote more stories, I wrote songs, I wrote secret limericks on the back of night. I look back at the scraps of paper and think maybe this one. This one will solve it, this one will atomize the weight in my chest. This story, this song – this is the secret, this is the riddle, waiting for me to solve.

I’ve been writing about this for ten years. I’ve taken a long look and I know the truth. I’m dying faster than the cannonball is rusting.

I wrote a new story. A story about a woman made empty by loss, frustrated by her fall from when the world was brighter. A friend wrote music, other friends sang, gave the story voices. I gave the woman the thing she wanted least: a reminder. A reminder that we are more than grief, we are more than our pain. Every day we choose our way, every day we can find a new beginning. I gave her a tiny push toward something like happiness – which, to be fair – was the absolute minimum I probably owe her.

It’s the first (sort of) happy ending I’ve written in a long time. It’s a step, a tiny step.

I’m not ready to put the cannonball down. I will hold it until I can’t. That is my way, that is my choice. This is not bravery. It is cowardice. The metal and my flesh are knit now, I don’t know who I’d be with it gone.

But I’m writing stories, I’m telling them to myself over and over. And slowly, scrap by scrap, I learn, I remember, I begin again. And I change.

This has been a time of leaving talismans behind, this year. I need to know I can survive without them. I’m leaving where it happened. I’m stepping back over the ghosts. I’m a story about a man who forgets but still finds his way. I’m a story about a leaky boat on a dark sea. I’m a story about a mask-maker. I’m a song about running away.

I’m writing about this and I’m writing about them and I’m writing about me and I don’t know where the edges are anymore, there never were any. Twenty years in the same room, ten years on the same page, five years on the same word. I’m almost the same age Tom was.

I write about this every year. I write about this every day. It is in the mortar of everything I make. I don’t want to feel so bound, so wrapped up in my own experience of the day, of the years. It feels crass, it feels pathetic and selfish.

But here. Another scrap of paper. Maybe this time. Maybe this time.

May it rain every April 25th from now until the end of the world.

I love you.

G. Derek Adams

the shore

it starts like this

moon on the waves

and you and the blade

i remember the way

i remembered to say

three times the demon king’s name

wound up and ground up with fortune and fame

it starts like this

but it doesn’t end

put your shoulder against the wave

and hold tight to your partizan

been singing black dog sermons

keeping melodies like a talisman

on and on the tides devour

i haven’t grown gills and i lost the key to the tower

it starts like this

broken hearts like this

but it doesn’t end

pocket full of sixpence, bindle full of rye

sand on the shore and the burdock ravens fly

hands made of thimbles, slice up the time

a spindle of riddle choking the silver rime

asking a question that has only one answer

counterfeit miracles like bones made of plaster

it starts like this

it breaks like this

the night like this

but it doesn’t end

Cold Case

there is no law but

the one we make

no cops and robbers

but the oaths we break

flipping open folders grown green like a phantom

mildew is the true revue of scenes we abandoned

startled awake hands deep in the overcoat

hat on my head smells like red creosote

steel in the right pocket, glass in the left

few swallows holler, piles of clocks have slept

and turned and wound to find me here

mutter in the gutter but the streetlight is devil-clear

detective elective corrective unsure and unkind

no badge left and cogs unclog a claptrap mind

but there on the wall, written in blue

killer’s left a riddle in the middle of a larger clue

painted on the wall, outline of a tower

shadows on the bricks, red line on the flower.

there is no way but

the one we choose

no monster in the mark

but the one we lose.