Notes from the Studio

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

© Charles Vess 2019 Chapter Twenty-Seven       On the far western edge of the ruined plain that was the realm of The Lord of Darkness and of Death, there was once a great river.       A deep river and wide, one that once flowed swiftly past.        This river was and ever had been all that separated the Land of Summer’s Twilight from that of The Dark Lord’s kingdom. Between its two high banks flowed all the blood that was ever shed on Earth or beyond, in the Faerie Realms. Without The Queen to renew the life of her land, the once mighty river was no more. Now resting between its banks was only a deep layer of fine, pale red powder.       Turning her gaze wearily away from the lands on the far distant bank that were The Queen’s true domain, the root witch squinted up into the Janet’s face. “I kin what you would ask, girl. This river has served ta separate the two kingdoms since time itself was ever born.”       Her eyes wide with wonder, Janet asked, “Two kingdoms of Faerie? I…I don’t understand.”       Mother Hainter laughed, “And why would you, human? There would be nae need.”       Thomas, carefully choosing his words, tried to explain something that was certain knowledge to those who called the Summer Lands their home. “The blood… it ran here to serve as a reminder that all things must die, even an immortal.  Between the two lands it has always flowed. And it always will, or… should…” Janet nodded her head, responding to his logic. “Until our bloody queen’s mind was gone.” Then looking behind them at the steadily advancing wave of pursuers, she added, “After the fucking Lord of Darkness and Death tried to claim both kingdoms for his own.”        Nodding agreement, Thomas continued, “Never was there

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