The Three Roads (A Short Story)

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Now he knows he’s lost. Why does it bother him? Isn’t this what he wanted? To be lost to them, forever?

He scoffs and leans on a tree, one of the hundreds that surround him. The forest is deep wherever he looks. The only thing he can do now is keep walking ahead. Try not to return.

He’s tired and hungry, so he decides to rest. He has a piece of bread with him, the only food he managed to take. He should’ve planned this better. He might find some fruit in the forest, but what if he picks something poisonous? Maybe he could hunt, but he doesn’t really know how. He has a small knife, nothing more. He bites the stale bread and sighs. Everything is better than staying there, isn’t it? Somehow he’s not that certain anymore.

Then he hears something. He hopes it’s just a rabbit, but he still draws his knife. He listens. The leaves crack. It must be something bigger than a rabbit. His eyes widen as he looks around. It’s coming closer, but he’s not sure from which direction. Then he hears a sweet laughter. A woman. But where?

“Don’t worry, I won’t harm you,” a soft voice says.

Suddenly, he sees her. A beautiful young woman, dressed in brown leather, bow and arrows hanging over her shoulder.

“Who are you?” he manages to ask, half conscious and still afraid.

“Just call me Artemis,” she shrugs.

“Artemis? Like the Greek Goddess?” he smiles. He feels more confident now.

“I look like her, don’t I?” she smiles. He nods. She really is a strange looking woman.

“What are you doing here?” he asks.

“I just live here,” she shrugs.

“Oh…” A forest woman. Strange.

“And what are you doing here?” she asks.

“I’m just… Running away I guess.” Her smile is nice, but there’s something strange about it, almost dangerous. Her eyes seem wild. Maybe it’s all in his head.

“I can help you escape,” she says. “There’s a lot of forest to go through. You might need help.”

He looked down, at his piece of stale bread, lying on the ground.

“Well, I guess I do need help.”

“Follow me, then. Are you hungry?”

She bites at the meat, but he doesn’t feel hungry anymore. He remembers the eyes of the poor animal, the panic, the pain, the blood. So much blood.

“Is something wrong?” she asks.

Her voice is sweet, her face kind, despite her piercing eyes. Her beautiful brown hair falls over her shoulders. It almost makes him forget what she did. Still, he doesn’t touch the meat. You don’t really think about it when it served on the plate. You don’t think about the murder, the living creature before it became food.

The moon is already up when they reach a river. He drinks the cold water, his thirst finally satisfied. She’s sitting on the river bank, her feet in the water. She looks at the moon and seems peaceful. There is something different about her. She looks the same, but the expression of her face is changed. There’s no wilderness in her eyes. He sits next to her, and he feels peaceful, too. She looks at him, and she almost seems sad.

“Do you really live here?” he asks.

“For centuries,” she says.

He touches the fingers of her small hand. She draws them away.

“I just… Thank you,” he says.

“Why are you here?” she asks him.

“I just ran away. My life… I felt like I was losing control over it. I just felt like… Running. Starting fresh. I don’t want to spend my entire life in that small, boring village.”

“You seem to be on a crossroads,” she sighs. “So, that’s why we’ve met…”

She is sad. Why? The night suddenly grows darker. He looks at the sky and he doesn’t see the moon anymore. Dark clouds appeared over it.

“I hope it won’t rain,” he says and turns to her. He finds her changed again.

She stands up, her eyes wilder than ever. No, not wild. Dark. Powerful.

“What are you running away from?” her voice is different, too. It’s unnaturally clear, but not loud. He tries to get up but fails. “Are you running from responsibility? From others? From yourself?”

He wants to ask her what’s going on, but he cannot find his voice. It’s not her anymore. This is a different person. She looks almost more beautiful than before, but much more dangerous. He hears crows screeching, and he is certain he didn’t hear them before. On one side, the water rises. Little drops floating in air. On the other, leaves fly up, and form around her like dark aura.

“Who are you?” he manages to cry out.

“Three roads,” she says. “One goes back to where you started. You ask for forgiveness, and become what you were. No risk, nothing changes. The second road leads to failure. The third leads to everything you’ve wanted.”

He tries to stay calm. To think.

“How do I know which is which?”

“You’ll have to guess it.”

In that moment he wanted to go back. Forget this strange, terrifying day, be who he was before. But he’s not that man anymore. He’s made his choice, and making a choice always means change. A change within. The old is dead, and the new is born.

“Then I’ll guess,” he says. One foot after the other, he went ahead, wherever it may lead.


“In the later poets, Artemis is identified with Hecate. She is ‘the goddess with three forms,’ Selene in the sky, Artemis on earth, Hecate in the lower world and in the world above when it is wrapped in darkness.”

–  Edith Hamilton, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes

Currently Reading: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

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I’m really happy with my book choices lately. Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest is amazing so far, and I believe it will be amazing ’till the very end.

This novel is a retelling of the fairy tale “The Seven Swans”, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s a story about six brothers and a sister, Sorcha, who will in the end have to save all of them. I believe this sentence from the Goodreads description portrays it perfectly:

Daughter of the Forest takes the reader to an Ireland on the edge where history and fairy tale meet.

The book has fantastical elements, but the magic feels so realistic that you almost don’t percieve it as something foreign or made up. It is also deeply rooted in Celtic folklore, and it speaks about the history of Ireland and Britain, where different nations lived, fought, and coexisted. At times it felt like reading historical fiction.

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One thing I’ve noticed, which may not be that important to everyone, but is very important to me, is the way this book deals with animals and nature. Respect which the characters show towards nature is very true to Celtic beliefs (I’m not an expert on this, but I’ve read about it quite a lot). It is stressed many time just how important nature is, and I think this is something we should hear more often. The villain of the story shows her true nature by doing bad things not only to people, but also to the plants. Animals are treated with respect. One of the brothers saves a dog, loyal Linn who appears all the time in the book (at least for now). Another brother saves a wounded owl, and cries as he lets her fly free. Sorcha doesn’t even eat animals, and I was so happy to read that, since it is not that common to have vegetarian characters.

I had not eaten flesh or fish since I was a small child, for I had always felt a closeness with other creatures that made my senses revolt at the very idea.

Then, there’s also her reason for not wearing shoes:

“I need no shoes, Father,” I said, hardly thinking. “My feet are tough, look,” and I raised one narrow, grubby foot to show him. “No need for some creature to die so I can be shod.”

I was so excited to read this, as I, too, don’t wear leather at all. And then, this book is also against war, and it makes it clear that people shouldn’t be judged by their nationality. So many good messages! This is what one of the brothers, Finbar, says to Sorcha:

“But there are two sides to every fight. It starts from something small, a chance remark, a gesture made lightly. It grows from there. Both sides can be unjust. Both can be cruel.”

Sorcha is kind and loving, but she’s also smart and she always speaks her mind. She knows how to make potions and is a very good healer. It is clear that she is proud of who she is, and that she doesn’t want to change for anyone.

“Why should I be polished and improved like goods for sale? I might not even want to marry! And besides, I have many skills, I can read and write and play the flute and harp. Why should I change to please some man? If he doesn’t like me the way I am, then he can get some other girl for his wife.”

Of course, good messeages don’t necessarily make a good book, but this book IS good. It is interesting, thought not too fast-paced. It gives you time to get to know the characters, without being too descriptive or slow. I really hope it’ll stay this good until it’s finished.

Have you read Daughter of the Forest? Do you want to? Feel free to let me know. 🙂


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Twittering Tales: No Ghosts Here

Twittering Tales challenge is hosted by Kat Myrman. The goal is to write a twitter-length story, in 140 characters or less. You can see the challenge HERE.

Kat’s photo of The Marshall House, a haunted hotel, really intrigued me! Here’s my tale:

No Ghosts Here

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“I still haven’t seen a ghost here,” she consoled the girl.
“You’re right. I’ve lived here one hundread fifty three years, seen no ghosts.”

(139 characters)

Let’s Talk About Steampunk!

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Source: Pixabay.com

I’m currently reading Soulless by Gail Carriger. It’s a fun, witty, fluffy read, and, apparently, it’s steampunk. So, instead of doing a Currently Reading post, I decided to talk about steampunk and what the word actually means.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines steampunk as:

science fiction dealing with 19th-century societies dominated by historical or imagined steam-powered technology

This is the most general definition, and the one that is often used to describe steampunk. However, this genre is much more than that, and it is much more difficult to describe. For example, the top definition from Urban Dictionary says:

Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan “What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.” It includes fiction with science fiction, fantasy or horror themes.

The author of the definition goes on to explain certain sub-genres of Steampunk: medieval steampunk, Victorian steampunk, western steampunk etc. For example, the film Wild Wild West is generally labeled as steampunk, but it is set in the Wild West, which makes it western steampunk. (I actually can’t think of a medieval steampunk example, so I’d apprecite suggestions.) This definiton is actually in opposition to the common perception that steampunk is a sub-genre of neo-Victorianism – apparenty it doesn’t have to take place in a world inspired by Victorian England.

This leads to another definition – steampunk is a blend of science fiction and fantasy. It can be set in any historical period, but it has to involve some kind of “old” technology in a new, interesting way. (Use of non-existent science and technology is why Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case od Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde also considered steampunk by some.)

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Source: Pixabay.com

Steampunk often features dirigibles and zeppelins, and some other long-forgotten inventions. Steampunk did, however, get its name after the steam power, so steam-powered engines and machinery should be unvolved. Steampunk also shows a lot of love to cogs and clockwork.

Now, on to the books I’ve read that are labeled as steampunk. First of them is the aforementioned Soulless. Soulless is set in Victorian England, with the addition of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. It also features dirigibles, and a lot of talk about the natural science of supernatural creatures. The approach to science is very Victorian, so I think this book represents steampunk quite well.

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Tales of The Ketty Jay series is also labeled as Steampunk, and it definitely falls into that category. This series is all about airships. The world can be seen as Victorian, but it is not a literal representation. It certainly does feel like it’s happening in the past, but it also might not be. The airships do use steam power, but they seem more advanced than digiribles, which is also very characteristic of steampunk. Science in this book is closely related to so-called daemonism, which is an interesting concept since science was often demonised in the past. This is definitely a series I would recommend, because it’s fun, and the characters are amazing.

There are also some classics that fall into the steampunk category, though they were written before the term was even invented. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne features Nautilus, a submarine that is very advanced for its time. However, in Jules Verne’s time, this book would probably be considered SF, since to its first readers it wasn’t a book set in the past. Another steampunk classic is The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

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Of course, steampunk doesn’t exist only in literature. It is a subulture – it exists in fashion and is also a music genre. When it comes to fashion, steampunks are often described as “goths who discovered brown.” You probably all know how this fashion looks like, so I’ll move on to music. Steampunk music is something had to define. Generally, it should be music that uses only old instruments (no electronics) and it can be closely related to dark cabaret. Therefore bands such as Rasputina, and even The Dresden Dolls are often labeled as stempunk.  Aurelio Voltaire and Emilie Autumn are also artists who are sometimes labeled steampunk, though their artistic expression is far more diverse that that. (Emilie Autumn is my favourite! Had to say it. XD) However, some bands go further than that – they are dressed in Steampunk fashion and their lyrics are like from a steampunk novel.

One of those bands is Abney Park. They started as a goth-industrial band, but they are now steampunk to the core. The band even created a fictional backstory: the band’s plane collided with a time-travelling dirigible called the Ophelia in a great storm. The band commandeered the vessel, deciding to become airship pirates. This backstory is used for many of their lyrics.

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Source: Wikipedia

Other similar bands are The Cog is Dead, Ghostfire, Vernian Process, Steam Powered Giraffe, Unextraordinary Gentleman and many others. Ghostfire has a particularly interesting description on Last.fm:

The music of Ghostfire resonates to the debauched decadence and absinthe-fuelled anarchy of life in the eighties…

The 1880’s.

Stalking the cobbled streets; lurking in the shadows of the darkest alleyways… Dare you glance beyond the safety of the guttering gaslights, to where the gin-soaked doxy plies her trade, the dipper watches his mark and the drunken sailor staggers blindly?

It’s this shadowy world of villains, rogues and rascals that Ghostfire calls home.
In the darkest corners of the flash taverns, we raise glasses with vagabonds, footpads, pirates and thieves, all seeking sanctuary in the anonymity only notorious London Town can afford…

Now, I’m definitely not an expert on steampunk, so there’s still a lot for me to learn. I’d definitely like to hear from you. How do you define steampunk? Do you have any book recommendations? If you do, please share! 🙂


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Top 5 Wednesday: Books That Aren’t Set In/Inspired By The Western World

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Top 5 Wednesday is hosted by Samatha at Thoughts on Tomes. The guidelines and topics can be found on the Goodreads group.


* Talk about books that are set outside of the Western World (so outside of North America and Western Europe) or if they are SFF, books that aren’t inspired by those places (so no medieval setting fantasy!) *

Sadly, I’ll have to cheat a little bit in this one… And I say sadly because it’s quite embarrasing that I’ve read so little books that are not set in the Western World. This has to change! So, since some of these books are not entirely set outside of the Western World, I decided to make a list of more than five books. Actually, I made a list of five and then an additional list of three fantasy books or books with fantastical elements that aren’t set in our world, but are inspired by a non-Western country. Here are my picks:

 

Books set in the real world

1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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This is quite a cheat since most of the book is set in the US, but part of it is also set in Nigeria. It also speaks about race and being a black woman in the Western World, so I think it is an important read.

2. Honour by Elif Shafak

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Another book that doesn’t quite fit the theme, but parts of this book are set in rural Turkey. It also speaks about immigration and being treated as “The Other”, but it also speaks about the problems people face in rural Turkey, about religious fanaticism and how easily it can be spread. It’s a powerful, painful read with no idolisation. And Shafak’s writing style is beautiful. I can’t wait to read another book by her.

3. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

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This graphic novel is not entirely set in Iran, because it too deals with immigration. I learned a lot from it, and I highy recommend it to everyone.

4. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

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This book is absolutely wonderful! And so sad. It deals of two Afghan women whose lifes get intertwined. As Hosseini himself said, it’s a tribute to all the Afghan women who suffered so much. Just go and read it!

5. The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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This book is so different and mystical that it almost feels like it sould belong to the fantasy category. It’s an interesting portrayal of South Korean society, and a story of a woman’s desire to find herself despite the said society and it’s norms.

Books set in a fantasy world or with fantastical elements

1. Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

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Pyramids is a stand alone novel within Terry Pretchett’s Discworld series, and it is mostlx set in Ankh-Morpork, a land which is inspired by Ancient Egypt. Terry Pratchett’s books are fun and clever, and this one is no exception.

2. Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley

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This book is set in the real Ancient Egypt, with the addition of some supernatural elements. Queen of Kings is a bit strange, but I liked it, though to be honest I’ve read it a long time ago so who knows what I would think of it now. XD In the book, Cleopatra doesn’t kill herself but instead makes a deal with goddess Sekhmet who then possesses her body. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but interesting.

3. Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

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While the main character on these fantasy novels is from a country based on Victorian England, in each book she travels to a different part of the world. For example, in the Tropic of Serpents she travels to places based on African countries, later on she travels to places based on The Middle East etc. The books also touch upon the subject of colonisation, which is something I was very happy to find in books about dragons.

What are some of your favourite books that are not set in the Western World? I’d really appreciate your recommendations! 🙂

Twittering Tales: Starting Anew

Twittering Tales challenge is hosted by Kat Myrman. The goal is to write a twitter-length story, in 140 characters or less. You can see the challenge HERE.

This week’s photo was taken by Kat herself, and I was very happy to be able to write about rain. Here’s my short tale:

Starting Anew

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“Damned rain!”
“I think it’s beautiful.”
“You do?”
“Absolutely. It washes away the stench, the rot, the bad. It feels like starting anew.”

(135 characters)

Currently Reading: Bright Air Black by Davin Vann

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Recently, I talked about Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, the retelling of The Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective. The book I’m currently reading is also a retelling of a Greek myth, and this time it is the myth of the Argonauts, Jason and Medea. Mostly about Medea, though, since it focuses on her point of view.

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Medea is without words, without thought. She has unstrung the world, pulled some vital thread and unraveled all. Nothing to do now but hold her breath and find out whether a new world re-forms.

Bright Air Black by David Vann is bloody and brutal, as mythology often is. Medea is a sorceress, and this book shows her in all her power and ruthlessness.

She would rather be this. She would bring all together, in balance and quiet. Rule without sound, without rough movement. All held and cought and perfect. But she knows she is meant to destroy, and she knows that she is not done.

Medea is also in search of herself and her place in the world, and she is scared of failure. Despite the horrible things she does, it’s impossible not to sympathise with her, especially when some things she says sound very true.

Kings always blind. Her father not considering his daughters, believing a threat only in a son. Daughters to him no more than a tool to bind other peoples through marriage. Unwilling emissaries, their will never considered. (…) Outcast. This is what she had chosen, and it would have been chosen for her anyway. Her father an enemy later if not now, marriage not powerful enough to prevent war.

There are similarities between Bright Air Black and The Penelopiad, but so far I like this book better. I just love how Medea’s desire to rule, and be powerful and independent is weaved through every paragraph. The writing style is wonderful and poetic. It really made me want to freshen up my knowledge of Greek myths and tales, so besides Bright Air Black I’m also reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. Bright Air Black even inspired me to write some short stories (the one I posted recently is one of them), and I don’t think there’s a better recommendation for a book than that. So, I leave you with another quote and I hope this post will make you want to read the book.

 Why the constant desire to kill and dominate? Even in herself, relentless, a need to conquer. She would make all cower on the ground before her, every man in every land.