#WEP/IWSG June 2019 Challenge – Caged Bird

Originally, I had planned to write a Sparkle Anwyl case for the 2019 WEP + IWSG Challenge starting in April and ending in December. I wrote the first episode in April, but then posted the next episode of Kindled Casket, last month. There is a ‘caged bird’ in the episode but not as planned – that follows in the next episode. That case will unfold over the next few months.

Hence, the attached standalone short – Fettered Air. A departure from my Welsh police procedural, so your responses will interest me.

Fettered Air

I slide ski-swift across the winter’s blanket under the Blood Wolf’s Moon. Beside me the chicken-legged hut creak-crashes through the forest.

We’re alone in the taiga.

No sign of Baba Yaga. She’s vanished as have the denizens. No howling wolves. Nor snow leopard scents. No eagle-owl hoots. Nor honking swans. No ice-crawlers corpse feeding.

For nothing breathes in the wailing wind.

Yet, Nature writhes in pain, dragon’s bile dripping on her from mortal fangs.

I am Skaði. Goddess, giantess, huntress and snow-stealth specialist. Size is not the issue. Speed is.

The house is noisier, but we make a team. This hut can track her mistress better than even I, its feet scratching up clues, windows watching for signs.

Our mission came from Svetovid, seer and guardian god – and we had no choice.

“Find Baba Yaga before this world rebels.”

Why me, a giantess from Jötunheimr? Because neither Odin nor Thor will ask me ever since the marital strife with my spouse, Njörðr.

“Nobody else volunteered,” added Svetovid. “Besides those deities I posted on separate operations.”

He’s as secretive as my Vanir and Aesir brethren. Not just Loki plays with intelligence. Our trickster-thief and clown has too many imitators.

“Others are missing?” I asked, expecting evasion.

“Find Baba Yaga. That’s all.”

So, a need-to-know answer means Skaði is disposable. Nothing has changed.

Am I that terrible?

I had my reasons for smashing my husband’s sand sculptures. The whale-way was a prison with seabirds flaunting freedom.

But he called my majestic mountain retreat a dreary cell. “I’m trapped here. I can’t ski or snowboard like you.” He ranted and ripped down my hunting trophies.

“Skadi Hunting in the Mountains” (1901) by H. L. M – Foster, Mary H. 1901. Asgard Stories: Tales from Norse Mythology. Silver, Burdett and Company

Marriage dissolved.

Thus, I get the menial tasks. Unless Odin sends his ravens or wolves with heart-baits.

Not this occasion. A telepathic eagle with four heads.  

“Find Baba Yaga.” Svetovid’s orders resound in my brain.

The wilderness wrestles promethium chains. That is enough reason to pursue the quarry.

So we scour Siberia.

The creak-crashing hut spins above the earth-coat. We have the crone’s spoor. 

Calls and cries clamour on the snow-breath.

Ahead a green clearing by a lake glows bright. Invisible to vicious human eyes, but I see the torches, tents and throng bridging the veils.

Baba has parked her mortar by a host of other vehicles, one that is familiar – my stepdaughter’s pantherine-drawn chariot.

With groans and creaks, the chicken-legs spin the hut to a halt by the pestle-guarded mortar. Shutters slam shut. A fence of human bones topped with skulls encircles them.

My gaze shoots arrows at the polytheistic conclave nobody invited me to.

Goddesses gathered from the Nine Realms. They have abandoned their posts to feast. Brews flow, dice roll and deities chatter. Everyone distracted as Midgard clamours for release.

Baba knocks back vodka, cackling to another crone – Hecate, clutching a goatskin of wine. Their dice are corpse-stones, and Hel’s are soul-vessels. 

Are they oblivious to the desolation? Among the feasting, denizen envoys are airing their anxiety.  

My pounding heart settles. Mind muses past irritable white-out.

Not all the deities are wizen and wild in their attire and behaviour. Some goddesses appear serious.

Freyja, stepdaughter and party animal rises – statuesque and sober, despite her goblet of mead.

Her eyes seize mine as she silences the symposium.

“Sisters, the snow-dancer is here. The world cries, and we have battle-sweat to spill. But when shall we three score meet again?”

“When the chaos is banished, when the spear-din is won,” Hel replies.

I add my voice, realising their design. “Ere midnight. After the sleep of the blade claims those flouting our laws.” Faces flash in my head. I smile. “Nature’s justice must wield the icicle of blood against false leaders poisoning life.”

My sisters nod. Creatures yowl.

Freyja smiles and summons her champions. “I come, Durga and Adrastea. We have fangs to extract.”
Her pantherines roar in response.

We will shatter the fetters on Nature. No more will humans build cages entrapping our laughter and song.

Yes, this is my #WEP/IWSG post for June so part of the 2019 WEP/IWSG ChallengeThis a standalone short, although Skaði appears in my novel Eagle Passage, which I wrote the first draft of for NaNoWriMo 2016.

Word Count 660: FCA

Comments are welcome as usual and the following applies:

O for Obstructions – Azure Spark. Part 15

[Music treat at the end. This story will be posted in full after the Challenge for those of us that like to read everything in one complete telling,]

OBSTRUCTIONS – Saturday Late Afternoon

Odious odours and smoke obscure the scene at the junction of Snowdon and Madog. I thread my way through the onlookers and under the police tape. The fire was fierce, destroying most of the corner building’s façade. A charred signboard hangs dangerously loose.

A group of North Wales firefighters are dousing down. One acts officious.

“Late as always, Meinwen. I solved this hours ago.”

Unlikely. Owen Anwyl might be a fire investigator, but his solutions depend on others.

I’ve known him all my life, but I’m the eldest sibling by a year.

“Some of us have other cases to occupy our hours.”

His smirk prepares me for more taunts.

But a man in blue slacks, red shirt and white flannel jacket pushes his way through the barrier towards us. 5 foot 11, athletic, tanned, dyed black hair.

“Hugh Arbuthnot. I own this shop.” His voice pronounces every word like another royal invader. His icy stare flicks between us, then he selects my brother in his dusty uniform – casts me away. “Officer, I need to know what happened here.”

His equally posh lawyer will be next – or his accountant to count the losses.

“A car mounted the pavement and skidded into your shop front. Then the ruptured fuel tank exploded. Petrol – that’s the acrid odour. A simple accident.”

Owen leads the owner around the burnt out 4×4 – torched by the ram-raiders. No accident. Nor the petty thief we at CID are tracking.

I assess the interior. Any robbery evidence is obliterated by arson. Convenient – for the perpetrators.

Tattoos tingling, I tap my bracer. A for Arson. R for Robbery. O for Organised. Deliberate. ROAD. But not road rage.

“Why the police tape? Do you suspect a crime?”

“No, just routine to keep onlookers back.” More Owen bull-shit.

“I disagree, this is a crime scene.”

“Who are you?”

I’m not dressed as a cop. So, I reach inside my biking leathers for my warrant card.

“An opinionated observer who’s operating without her lezzie partner – for once.”

I scowl at Owen, but the posh Englishman flinches – one gesture short of crossing himself.

“I’m Detective Sparkle Anwyl, CID. This officer requested our involvement in this suspected arson, which I believe was a ram raid robbery.”

Glancing at my ID, Hugh Arbuthnot frowns, hands behind his back. “I demand another detective – a second opinion. Not from someone like you.”

“So, not Welsh,” I say, twisting his insult. “Not easy in North Wales. But my partner is Tamil – her family immigrated from South India. And she’s a more senior detective. Plus, our boss, Detective Inspector Ffion Baines approves of our teamwork. Now, do you want to obstruct us or resolve this case?”

I’m out of order but annoyed. Ffion would agree. Owen is stirring. He requested me on purpose. Petty sibling rivalry.

A for Arson and Arbuthnot. R for Ram-raid and Robbery. O for Owner and Obstructions. D for Disagree and Disgrace.

ROAD. Ignoring the rage, where to? Trace the 4 x 4.

“Officer Anwyl, finish off your fire investigation, then please allow our forensic team to gather what they need – like that vehicle.”

At the outside corner of the shop, I wait for Hugh Arbuthnot. He will talk to me. He has no choice.

I gather more evidence. The angle of the crash is deliberate. The torched vehicle designed to obliterate evidence but not destroy the building. Measured. Observed in advance.

Hugh interrupts.

“My official objection will be lodged. I can give my opinion but no more than that.”

“That’s your right, sir. For now, I need to know how long you’ve owned this shop, what would the robbers take, and have there been any other occurrences?”

He paces, throwing glances at the building and the burnt-out car.

“My wife bought The Jewel Box two years ago.” He grits his teeth and taps his left foot. “She died in the spring. I’ve attempted to run this gift shop, but I have my own work. I’m a movie producer with a demanding professional schedule.”

He hands me a fancy card – Hugh B Arbuthnot, Oriole Productions, Executive Producer.

“Who runs the shop when you’re working?”

“My daughter, Olivia and her husband.” He snorts, head held high. “Poulsen.” He slaps his left palm to his forehead. “He mixes in shady circles. Some of his cronies did this.”

Opportunistic thieves? Or convenient coincidence? Whose production?

For those that wondered, yes this is my #WEP/IWSG post for April so part of the 2019 WEP/IWSG Challenge. This incident will be explored further over the course of the next four #WEP/IWSG posts. In the meantime, please enjoy Azure Spark, another case for Sparkle Anwyl and her colleagues.

Word Count 731: MPA

Comments are welcome as usual, but for the WEP/IWSG Challenge, the following applies:

(FCA welcome – if you want to send one, just let me know in the comments.)

For further details on this A to Z theme visit my Blogging from A to Z Theme Reveal, and on the evolution of Sparkle Anwyl visit Snowdon Shadows.

Other A to Z Bloggers can be found via the Blogging from A to Z website’s Master List –
http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/2019/03/link-to-view-master-list-and.html

^*^

And now for something completely different.

“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” William Congreve – The Mourning Bride

#WEP/IWSG February 2019 challenge – 28 Days

My #WEP/IWSG post for February is part of the 2019 WEP/IWSG Challenge and the conclusion of the incident from my Halloween/Deja Vu or Voodoo postWhite Lady. and my December Ribbons and Candles post, Rushlight Wreathes.

However, this is not the only incident in the career of Sparkle Anwyl that unfolds in Fevered Few, Book 1 of the Snowdon Shadows police procedural series. I m.ay return to Wales for future WEP/IWSG entries but I need o avoid spoilers – at least in relation to the main plot 

Pongal Blood

Dark brown splatters.

Shivers tease me. Blood can signify crime, accident or nature.

The spots on the kitchen counter would have been suspect at a crime scene. A reason for luminol spray and light. But no weapon. Not even a knife. A wooden love spoon bears witness on the wall.

It wasn’t me – even in our bathroom where Kama has heightened my sense of cleanliness.

My time of the month was as cyclical as the moon, but work stress has played games with it. Kama is more constant. Does meditation help her? Is that why she is now in our garden staring at the sun?

Clues are on the counter.

By her head movement, Kama hears me open the garden door onto the small paved area where she has traced the auspicious kolam design in white lime powder in the early morning after bathing.

She continues her ceremony, raising her face to the sun, then bending to our makeshift firepit.

The fragrance of rice and milk wraps around me. Chakkara pongal preparation. The golden jaggery stains were the main clue – and the empty package from India.

I squat beside her. She is dressed in a simple saree and blouse with face and arm markings – more traditional than my black trouser suit kameez.

The earthenware pot of milk has boiled and overflowed, so Kama has added the rice, even if the harvest that the sun made possible is the one back in the Southern Hemisphere, in Tamil Nadu.

#

“Our colleagues at CID may not recognise Pongal,” says Kama zipping up her leathers, “But they respect our days-off.”

“Until some serious crime intervenes. Let’s escape while we can.”

A fifteen-minute ride out beyond Prenteg, takes us to a well-maintained farm track off the B4410 leading to some modernised farm buildings with a restored farmhouse.

We park the Ducati and Ninja beside a spotless 4×4 Mitsubishi Shogun.

Raimund Virtanen is working on a chassis with an arc-welder but hears us approaching as if he has super-hearing. Weird for a coachbuilder.

He removes the helmet revealing blond hair and blue eyes. Six foot three inches and strongly built. I estimate mid-forties.

“You are the two Heddlu with a carriage mystery – intriguing-like. Come inside and we’ll talk.”

The farmhouse kitchen is a modern and expensive take on a traditional Welsh one. It reminds me of my grandparents’ home except this one looks as spotless as the Shogun. Does this man eat or drive? Our roads aren’t dirt-free, and the salt-laden air can coat things.

“How do you partake of your tea or coffee, ladies?”

“Two black coffees, please.”

I can’t place his accent. Not one that tallies with those foreign visitors I’ve met on the streets of Porthmadog.

“We were wondering if you can identify a vehicle from a local painting – puzzling as it’s the reflection in a mirror.”

He takes the printout and studies it under a magnifying glass for a few minutes.

“This is a phaeton, I’m sure. Drawn by one or two horses, a phaeton features a lightly sprung body atop four extravagantly large wheels. With open seating, it is fast and dangerous, so its name, drawn from the mythical Phaëton, son of Helios, who nearly set the earth on fire while attempting to drive the chariot of the sun.”

“A common carriage?”

“Not around here. There weren’t many made locally. Ten at most – more like half that.”

“Do you know who owned them?” Kama clutches the group painting but holds it back. “Locally, for instance?”

Virtanen goes to a filing cabinet and removes a folder. “This is a list that I compile of vehicles that I trace – not many but a few notable ones like Captain William Yong. He raced other owners and win – for money.”

“And he lived locally? Do you know what he looked like?”

The carriage expert throws up his hands and shrugs. “I only know he lived in Porthmadog and marries into a Tremadog family – make his fortune by investing in his in-law’s business. No more. Why are the police interested?”

“More our personal interest.” The compelling urge to confess is too much for me. “More like ghost-hunting. We encountered a female figure on Halloween that might have been killed in a carriage accident.”

“This phaeton crashed? Unlikely if Captain Yong is driving – he has a reputation as an expert at ‘Hunting the Squirrel’. Side-swiping a rival’s carriage requires certain accuracy.”

Accuracy needed to hit a fleeing lover.

“A pedestrian was hit at night,” Kama says. “No headlights I presume back then. So accidental – perhaps.”

“Agree. The horses won’t have seen someone crossing a dark road – until they crush the poor woman,” His expression is tortured. “Back home…I am knocked over by horses as a child…and savaged bad. Hooves are strong and sharp, especially with shoes. I hate to think of your woman’s injuries.” He hesitates. “If you see a ghost – the horses killed her. Back home that will be blame on the animals – punishment.”

“Back home?” asks Kama who shares my curiosity.

“I grow up in rural community – in Finland. Many years ago. Poor – so I move here as I want to learn to build vehicles like horseboxes – to help them. I call this ‘reparation’ – my making terms with the past and moving on. Do we know the woman’s name?”

There seems to be no harm in telling him. “Dinah Quinlan.”

“Strange matter that I will not forget. Blood is easy shed.”

He escorts us back to our bikes.

Is our cold case closed? Until anything new emerges.

#

The moon is full when we celebrate the last day of Pongal.  My arm around Kama, I’m oblivious to the calendar with the four days in mid-January highlighted.

My mind is on November 1836.

 “That old nineteenth century painting indicts Captain Yong for murder – four weeks before he married his victim’s sister. The artist knew the truth.”

***

Word Count 999: MPA

For more information on the Pongal Festival visit: http://www.pongalfestival.org/

Comments are welcome as usual, but for the WEP/IWSG Challenge, the following applies:

(FCA welcome – if you want to send one, just let me know in the comments.)

Please enjoy other participants’ entries in the Challenge via this list for which the links will be updated as the post appear: https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com/