The self-publishing industry is a fast-evolving phenomenon, like a tree it has grown up from the roots of traditional publishing into a fresh, exciting species. The traditional publishing ground was a hard place to penetrate, only the choicest, battle-scarred or luckiest of authors filtered through. But now the internet and a rain-cloud of determined writers, bursting to get their work out, has created the ideal environment for the sprouting self-publishing arena. It is now branching out into many genres, sub-genres and cross-genres that authors are creating to entice the billions of readers on the other end of Amazon, Kobo etc. to pick their books.
These days we are used to instant gratification, ‘buy it now’, 5 minute reads and 2 minute You Tube videos. Authors are also moving towards shorter forms of fiction. Novelettes, flash fiction, Twitter fiction and even six word stories are becoming increasingly popular and lucrative; the sweet and juicy fruits of the self-publishing tree.
My book ‘The King’s Voice’ is studded with short stories throughout which I enjoyed writing. I’d like to share some with you. This one appears in the first part of the book. It was inspired by a blue dress-up scarf tied onto my kids’ swing set as I was writing in my garden!
The Blue Scarf
It all began with a blue silk scarf. The scarf was hooked upon a bramble (the rough diamond of the weed world) and found by a young farmhand called Brodin. It was a warm day, full of the promise of the Sun Season; one of those days that calls memories of childhood and freedom. He could smell the new green life ready to burst forth and he could feel the power of manhood ready to propel him forward through life; a life that belonged to him, carved by him. He had been sent by the farmer to check the soil for planting. Brodin was a sensitive boy who could feel when the earth was ready. He would feel for its heat, he would sniff the musky fertile aroma and squeeze the umber soil. In this way he would test the outer perimeters of the farmer's land and then the centre. He had done this every morning for the last seven days. Today he deemed the earth perfect for seed. He just needed to complete his cycle with the middle field when he noticed the turquoise scarf ruffling in the breeze – as if it were waving for him. He was puzzled; the startling blue scarf had not been there the day before. It was unmistakably the scarf of some fine lady (for it was not the colour for a man, and a countrywoman would never have access to such exquisite cloth). He rode his horse to the bush and allowed its sheerness to ripple through his sensitive fingers like milk. He shivered. He gently unhooked it and held a corner to his face, then to his lips, drinking the satin texture. Its smell spiralled into his head, singing sweet notes behind his eyes and down his throat until its music sank into his body and explored every part of him.
Brodin forgot all about his job, he forgot about the farmer and his men waiting eagerly for his return. He needed to find the owner of the scarf, to return it safely. He deduced she must be only a day's ride away. The intoxicating scent gave his bones a yearning ache so he tied the scarf around his horse's neck, so his horse, as sensitive as he, could track the lost owner.
They cantered along for half a day until they were well out of his farmer's land. Brodin recognised the ancient path that was made long before the farmers manipulated the land to make food. The tracks were once used by traders who snacked on sunflower seeds en route, dropping seeds that would germinate. The landowners would always leave a few plants mid-crop in honour of the Sun Goddess who fed the crops with nourishing sunlight. He followed the narrow track which meandered through fields and over streams and often petered out altogether. Brodin could keep on the track by the occasional sunflowers that rose, like a beacon in the distance and the fresh tracks of hoof prints and wheels. He rode straight-backed with eyes scanning ahead. In the late afternoon he caught whiffs of aniseed which made his toes tingle and he dug his heels in to gather speed.
By nightfall they entered a wood. Brodin could hear the faint jingling of bells and voices. As they headed deeper into the thickening trees he heard the strings of a lyre, a drumming rhythm, clapping and laughing. He slid off the horse and tied her to a branch; sliding his hand across her mane for thanks, smoothly taking the scarf with him. He crept towards a circle of wagons which stood sentry to the throng within. Spying through the spokes of a wheel, he could see a large fire blazing at the centre of the camp and people darting this way and that. He slid through two of the caravans brightly painted with pictures that told tales, and stood at the edge of the activity.
Many sat in small groups, eating from wooden bowls, talking and joking. Some carried plates to a water trough, others sat and gazed at the crackling fire, some drank swigs from a shared bottle and some played games on the ground. But the group that captured Brodin's attention were dancing. Three musicians gleefully played while three women whirled and stamped wearing bells in their hair and zills on their fingers. Their hair shone in the firelight backdrop and their skin glistened with exertion. A small audience watched clapping and tapping, entranced. One dancer, with a jet-black mane of hair to her waist and long slender arms that reached high above her head which were thrown back to form a perfect arc from her chin to her gaping belly button, wore a loose white skirt and a bright blue silk blouse. She arched over backwards and flipped her nimble slippered feet over her head, landing with a jump which spun into a pirouetting frenzy of arms and hair and audience rapture.
The music stopped and the three women collapsed into a bow at vigorous applause. Brodin's chest rose and fell, rose and fell. The woman in blue skipped toward the water trough and Brodin slipped to the shadowed side of it. She lowered her hands and head and splashed her face with the cool water. As she lifted her head, droplets ran down her oiled skin and her eyes met those of Brodin. He held out her scarf and she took the end of it and pulled him toward her until they were together and she spun around and around wrapping them together in the fine silk scarf, nose to nose, breast to breast in a slow sensuous dance.
Brodin never returned to face the farmer's wrath, or see his little sister grow into a young woman, or celebrate her wedding, or welcome his nephew and nieces into life. He never returned to see his broken-hearted mother die, or to crumble the sweet earth of his homeland, for Brodin was entranced and in love and became a gypsy like his blue silken wife who bore him many jet-black haired children. And although they travelled over all of Goaero they never passed through the same village twice for in every place a maiden would leave a bright silk scarf.