Here’s a short sample of my fantasy style. This is an unfinished piece, right now just a bit of atmosphere, characterization, and hint of a plot. The setting is a city called Setchulu on the world of Lochre, which is the same world that my novel, which has no title as of yet, is set in. Setchulu is in an entirely different region, and perhaps even time, than the events that unfold in the novel around the city of Minnowhe-Bickett. For this particular setting, I am mining the glorious chunks of (speculative) pre-historic goddess cultures, to create a society that is rather harmonized and egalitarian, even though there are hints in this short text of different roles for men and women. My basic thoughts at this point are that women tend to hold a lot of cultural power in the city, and that men, being a bit more wild in nature (ala the “Iron John” idea of Robert Bly), tend to be explorers, hunters, and protectors of borders. None of that is set in stone, though, and it would be dumb and short-sighted of me not to say at the outset that gender lines blur and cross, so that there are male priests, shop owners, craftsmen, etc. working with and alongside the women, just as there are female hunters, explorers, etc. The society is not to be thought of as matriarchal, but is matrilineal.
Anyhow, enough blahddeddy blah blah blah. Here’s the brief scrap of a beginning:
Setchulu: a city of priestesses and peace, in another world in the threaded cosmic fabric, far from the known reaches of our technologies, sciences, and economics. The spires of temples rise skyward, rooted in the Lochre of mineral and bricks. The thick, nurturing roots grow deep, symbiotic with the minerals and vegetative strata below. The temples are thresholds not only to the sky and cosmos, but equally to the rich depths of the underworlds.
On a brick patio, the Stonesmatter sisters sip chai tea from ceramic cups. They sit with Sylfenn Sands, recently admitted into the halls of Yurthen Temple as an attendant. The three young women are a trinity of shapes: angular, too skinny and too tall Sylfenn; muscular Drunell, glowing with good health and humor; and Ashstrega, draped in curtains of cloth robes, billowy and rotund. Also with them is the slightly older grovetender, Jaquetta. She is speaking to them about the blight that has recently manifested among the Burlock trees in several of the groves around Setchulu.
“The leaves wither and become crisp with scales,” she tells them. Producing a small pouch of samples, she displays for them both leaves and bark. “And see here, how the bark oozes with this, well, pus is what it looks like to me.” The sisters pucker their faces in distaste at the word “pus” and push their faces closer to the table to have a look. Sylfenn sits back, one long arm poking towards the crusty leaves.
She hesitates before picking one up. “Are they safe to touch?” she asks Jaquetta. Jaquetta smiles sweetly and nods. Sylfenn picks the leaf up and examines it closely, flipping it over in her hands. She’s familiar with Burlock leaves, and these are definitely sad specimens: full of kinks in their purple-veined surfaces, covered in scabrous brown flakes that botch the pale green, smooth beauty that should be there.
All around them, women mill and gossip and laugh and dance. It is late morning on an Homsday in early spring. Food is plentiful, the winter was good. Many of the city’s old stories were told by grandmothers and grandfathers. Many of the sons had descended into the underworlds through the Catacombs of Yurther, and will be returning soon now that spring is blooming.
Ashstrega Stonesmatter pokes and sniffs at the pestilent bark, making a face. Her younger sister giggles at her and makes a fake retching sound, tells her how disgusting that is. Ashstrega smirks at her violently, then asks the grovetender, “So any idea as to what this shit is about?”
The grovetender smiles politely and allows herself to laugh at the informality of the young woman’s question. She finds the lack of pretension refreshing, and relaxes a bit. “Not a clue, really,” she replies. After a short pause, she ventures, “How does it smell?”
“Mmmm, like spoiled yogurt!” comes the quick, lively response. Ashstrega offers the piece of afflicted bark to the grovetender, Jacquetta, who takes it with fair humor and wafts at it with her hand, sweeping the invisible scent up towards her nose, as if she were smelling something steaming with toxicity. Her mouth quirks.
“Yuck,” she says, and puts the bark down. Sylfenn places the leaf back among the samples and picks up the bark, examining the pudgy white sludge which mars it.
Jaquetta watches the new attendant and begins to address the youths again. “As you know, Sylfenn, Volva Meratsu suggested that you and your friends may be interested in investigating and researching this blight.” The grovetender turns to face Drunell Stonesmatter. “And Sylfenn mentioned to me, Drunell, that you have some interest in the southern outpost at the edge of the Deepwallthorn Forest.”
Drunell leans forward over her tea, across the table, leans close to Jaquetta with an aggressive wink. “That’s right!” she enthuses. “Actually, I’m very interested in exploring Deepwallthorn itself. The southern outpost doesn’t interest me for what it is itself, which is an extension of the city.”
“I see,” replies Jaquetta.
Ashstrega looks at Jaquetta and back at her sister, as if she is watching some kind of competitive sport. Drunell is still leaning forward, hands clasped together, head forward and looking expectantly at the grovetender.
“Well,” says the grovetender, shifting in her chair. “Here’s what needs to be done, and you can tell me if you’re interested, Drunella.”
“It’s Drunell,” interrupts Drunell.
“Pardon?” says the grovetender.
“Drunell, no ‘ah‘. You said ‘Drunella,‘” explains the teenager, “but my name is Drunell.”
“Two syllables only, no third,” points out Ashstrega helpfully. Drunell gives her a look that almost says, ‘That’ll be enough from you, braniac,’ or ‘Hey! Mind your own biz, sis.’ Ashstrega shrugs.
“Oh,” says the grovetender. “I’m sorry,” she apologizes. “So, Drunell,” continues the woman, “Sylfenn is going to do some research for us at the library and see if she can find any information that might be helpful. I thought that you and perhaps your sister, too,” she includes Ashstrega with a nod and a wave of her hand, “would be willing to hike down to the outpost and talk with a frontiersman there named Loovon.”
“A frontiersman, really?” asks Drunell, with an obvious surge of excitement. She nudges her sister, twisting around to raise her heavy brown eyebrows at her.
“Yes. Loovon has ranged into the forest as a hunter and forester for some years now-almost a decade.”
Ashstrega offers a smile to her sister, who is nodding in agreement with the grovetender’s proposition. “Yeah, we’ll do that!” she says with aplomb and enthusiasm. “Eh, Ashstrega?” she asks as an afterthought. “You’ll come along, won’t you?”
“Sure, of course!” Ashstrega agrees, obviously forcing herself to reach a similar level of excitement as her sister. Truth be told, she’d much rather hole up in the library with Sylfenn and do some extensive research.