Notes from the Studio

The Queen of Summer’s Twilight, Chapter Thirty.

© Charles Vess 2019       Chapter Thirty       Janet never knew how long it took for their company to travel through the Queen’s great forest. Only the moon above them, slowly waxing greater and greater until it was full and strong spoke to any passage of time. Their steps, though, quickened as they saw, all around them, the once dead land of The Queen become lush with new life. Each blackened tree or withered bush and briar, sported small, fresh buds, shy with the first green breath of life after so long a season of death.       ***************       As if provoked by the burgeoning life all around Janet’s dreams became astonishingly vivid. Once she awakened, sitting bolt upright, her eyes still haunted by the cruel visions that had helplessly unreeled in her sleep.  It was Mother Hainter who clutched the still shaking girl to her breast.        Uncomfortable as she was sharing such intimate knowledge with a mother she hardly knew, Janet whispered to the witch, “I… saw Thomas and The Queen again. They were together… in Her bed. Naked… their bodies entwined. I was in that bed, with them… for what seemed like forever…” The ancient crone wisely said nothing, just wrapped her arms around the young mortal woman, trying to ease the misery from her as best she could.       But in such close company nothing was ever truly a secret. Listening quietly to Janet’s whispered confession, Thomas felt guilt tear at his heart as if it were trying to stop it from beating.        Acutely aware of the icy wall that Janet had constructed between Thomas and herself, the two older women watched helplessly as the Knight tried wordlessly to seek her forgiveness with a hundred unasked for acts of kindness and generosity. After each, the older women looked at other, shaking their heads

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The Queen of Summer’s Twilight, Chapter Twenty-Nine.

© Charles Vess Chapter Twenty-Nine       In the profound silence that followed, Janet looked to the bottle witch, and feigning indifference asked, “Okay, are we done? Can my mother and I go home now?”       Mother Hainter cackled to herself, “Nae, no yet I fear.”       Janet’s eyebrows lifted impatiently, “Why not, little witch? What more can we do that hasn’t already been done? My mother and I are weary to our bones.” The mortal girl gestured at Mairi and continued, “And she has a husband that she’s not seen for far too many years.” Mairi head lifted at her daughter’s words, hope glimmering in her sad eyes.        The ancient bottle witch studied them both for a moment before replying, “My children, we must still make whole again what has been broken.”       Looking at the forest, burgeoning now with new life, echoing with bird and animal song, Janet replied, “But haven’t I…haven’t we already done just that?”       “It is a tangled tale that still holds us all within its web.” Mother Hainter smiled encouragingly, “Janet, you and Thomas and your mother—and yes, The Queen as well—are all but bitty pieces o’ a tortured puzzle that must be restored before its story runs true. Until that happens, it would be best for you ta remain together.”        Then the bottle witch called to her emphatically, “Janet Ravenscroft…look ta me. There are questions I must ask o’ you now.” Sighing, Janet turned her attention back to Mother Hainter, trying to calm her disordered thoughts.       “Now, then child, I would ken when were you born?”       Janet grimaced, “What’s my age got to do with any of this?” But when Mother Hainter continued to stare at her without speaking, she realized that there was, of course, something more than idle curiosity in her question. The foxes silently padded to

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The Queen of Summer’s Twilight, Chapter Twenty-Eight.

© Charles Vess Chapter Twenty-Eight       Stretched beyond the limits of her strength, Janet collapsed unconscious into Tom’s arms. Gently laying her on the ground, he anxiously gazed down at her worn face.        Beside them, Mairi opened her eyes, and for the first time in too long, looked out at a world that should have been free from the taint of her madness. But what Mairi saw was the very world she’d looked at for the last eighteen years. With a moan she curled into a fetal ball, soft whimpering sobs wracked her body.          Her cries caused Janet to stir and then reach out for the older woman’s hand. Blinking away her exhaustion, the young girl smiled, “Mother. It’s me… your daughter… it’s Janet.”       Heart spoke to heart, and Mairi, looking at Janet knew her for her daughter no matter how many years had passed. The older woman reached out for her daughter until both, still overcome with weariness, curled their bodies protectively around each other and fell into a profound sleep.       Not far from them, Mother Hainter brushed aside a scattering of shriveled apple husks before she sat beside the two foxes, gently stroking their soft fur. The ancient witch’s stare was fixed on The Queen, who still stood on the river’s bank, seemingly lost in thought. Perhaps She contemplated all that had been lost to Her in the long years of madness.        The root witch mused shrewdly, “Such generous promises you make, my Lady.” Then, squinting at Janet, the bottle witch considered the mortal girl’s measure. “That was well done twixt you and The Queen, but words, even those spoken under oath, can be twisted, especially with tha practice o’ a thousand times a thousand years that this Queen has lived.”       Thomas, too, stared at The Queen. His long

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