The shades of sticks and stones seemed rich against the sober sky and blasted land. The edifice, or its remnants, with hollow towers and broken stairs, grinned as if in mockery. A reproach to the glowing, to the lofty, to burnished shingles and manicured woodlands and insipid folly; abandon hope ye who remember here, who question the purpose of the toothless pile, its gardens of prickers and broken brambles, striving hand to grasping hand.
Any castle has its royalty; she dwelt there as its feral princess. Tangled hair brown like the leaves strewed in it, a wild snarl sharp like thorns; austere features, flaming eyes. Garbed in whispers of velvet remains, tatter-torn and brown and green, rent in thickets, abraded by stones. Flesh smooth yet pitiless, like ivory, or the colour-leeched sky, streaked with dirt and nicked by woody spines. She strove against nature, or the gnarled patches of nature within her dominion, hands and calloused pads of feet intimate with every crevice, each tree-carcass, each pock-marked rock. When the brambles pricked her it was like a lover's caress. When her fingers gripped the stalks and their raiments of desiccated ivy, it was her stranglehold upon her own world.
The seasons never changed, save a fistful of ragged snowflakes at irregular intervals, departing stealthily from the sky for fear of being caught -- or tracked -- pulled toward the land and its inveterate will. And she was young and it was old, the world was grey and her skin was cold, and the wind howled over the eroded stones.
He came where he did not belong.
Horse-hoofprints branded the earth, with a shape and sound not heard here; civilisation would not dare penetrate, even despite the lack of myth, no furtive tales of curses or enspelled women or witch-marked lands, nothing but thickets huddled together in rings, leprous birches stripping themselves of their own bark, bearing only a few ragged leaves, the withered landscape uninviting, its palette desolate and cold.
Not a knight riding a white charger, but a bandit with hair the sable-sheen of raven feathers, with the powerful beauty of a finely honed falcon; clothed in black, shod in black; seated upon a black horse, reins tautening, mane tossed, harder to control the further they penetrated. His own cool precision slowly ruffled, unsettled, the wind hissing like a rancorous voice in his ear, cutting through his innermost thoughts. Invasive like the prickers, latching to his sleeves in futile gestures, breaking from their moorings, leaving rents and nicks in his flesh. His hand cut, he raised it to his mouth, sucking to assuage the burn. The horse's nostrils flared in time with the wind. A deadened branch blew down, filled with stickers, nicking the steed. Both were blown headlong, the horse bewildered, his rider controlled; he pulled him to halt at the foot of the cracked steps, at the mouth of the stony wreck, looking up and up and up as another leaf gasped forth from its branch.
Eyes watched him; the wind twined about him like a noose of thorns. She descended the steps, naked feet flexing, long skein of hair flying, dislodging the dead shimmer of old broken twigs and leaves. Her eyes were green like the eyes of a mountain cat, unbroken, intelligent, intent. Her movements arrested his own. The sky, darkened with greying daylight, not blue or black but unremitting white like void, silhouetted her. Around her neck hung bits of rock and bone; white and grey against her dress and hair and skin. She rose on bare tiptoe, pressed up against him, ran a ragged fingernail down his shaven cheek, clenched his loosened cravat in her fist and ripped it from his neck.
A tethered horse grows wild on inhospitable grass, forever lost to civilisation. A man moves through the wilderness, a savage twist about the lips, his hair grown shagged and twined with leaves, following alongside a woman through the wood, striving with the land on foot; wrist and ankle deep in withered leaves; his rotted boots are cast aside, his chest exposed by tattered linen, the sleeve-hem lace ragged, crumpled like leafmeal. Fiery eyes, two pairs at once, cat-green and wintry grey. His feet learn her footholds, his nose learns her scent. He learns her. And they were young and the land was old, the world was grey and their skin was cold, and the wind howled over the eroded stones."
~ Written in November 2009