Home :: Anthology :: The Clock, the Cloak and the Needles: The Stories of the Enchanted Items from Beneath the Morvan Moon by Courtney Lynn Mroch (Fantasy Anthology)

The Clock, the Cloak and the Needles: The Stories of the Enchanted Items from Beneath the Morvan Moon by Courtney Lynn Mroch (Fantasy Anthology)

The Clock, the Cloak and the Needles: The Stories of the Enchanted Items from Beneath the Morvan Moon by Courtney Lynn Mroch (Fantasy Anthology)
 
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In Beneath the Morvan Moon, a cloak made of wolf's clothing factors heavily into the plot. The cloak possesses the power to transform a man into beast. The cloak's story, as well as that of a clock and a pair of knitting needles, are enchanted items with stories of their own. Stories finally shared together in one collection.

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The Clock, the Cloak and the Needles: The Stories of the Enchanted Items from Beneath the Morvan Moon by Courtney Lynn Mroch (Fantasy Anthology)
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Sample Chapter

Introduction

The real-life inspiration for Beneath the Morvan Moon came from a page-a-day calendar of bizarre, yet true, legal cases. In the early 1900s, a village in Romania beheaded one its citizens after finding him guilty of vampirism. They ordered his head to be buried separately from his body to prevent him from coming back to life.

It took fifty years for his widow to finally win a court order declaring all of his remains be buried together in one grave.

Around this same time we lost my grandmother to Alzheimer's. She often blurted out strange facts about her life, things we never knew before –though none as strange as the request Gretchen Lauterbach's grandmother makes of her in Beneath the Morvan Moon.

Gretchen's dementia-laden grandmother, Amelie, reveals a secret during a moment of clarity and begs Gretchen for a favor.

In 1919, Amelie fled Brevard, France, after her family accused her fiance, Mathieu, of being a werewolf. Nestled in the mysterious mountains of the Morvan, the superstitious villagers of Brevard found Mathieu guilty and sentenced him to death by beheading. His head was buried separately from his body to prevent the "monster" from coming back to life.

Amelie's dying wish is that Gretchen return to Brevard, dig up Mathieu's remains and bury his head with his body so that he can finally rest in peace.

Gretchen travels to Brevard, where she meets Zachary, an American ex-pat living in France who deals in antiquities. Unusual antiquities. He possesses a cloak rumored to have the power to transform a man into a wolf that Pascal, a Brevardian, wants for his collection of lycanthropic memorabilia.

The Cloak, the Clock, and the Needles tells the backstory of the main enchanted--or some might say cursed--item, the cloak, that features prominently in Beneath the Morvan Moon. The story of which was also inspired by true court cases.

Europeans, especially the French, have a history of suffering due to wolves. Thus it was wolves and werewolves, or loup garous, came to be among the most feared beasts in French folklore. As did Le Meneur de Loops, the Wizard of the Wolves, who was responsible for commanding the wolves on their missions of terror.

But were the legends merely that?

In addition to the witch trials of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Europe also had a few werewolf trials. In France, Gilles Garnier and Jean Grenier were charged with lycanthropy in 1573 and 1603, respectively, as was Germany's Peter Stub in 1589. The Church accused these men of committing heinous acts, including kidnapping, rape, cannibalism, and murder.

They all plead guilty, but Peter Stub and Jean Grenier also explained how, with the help of Le Meneur des Loops, they accomplished their werewolf transformations.

The other two stories in this book, "The Clockmaker" and "Casting On, Binding Off", are also about items that factor into Beneath the Morvan Moon: a pair of knitting needles that once almost killed Zachary, and a clock Zachary discovers in Pascal's shop that chimes only when Death is near.

They, however, are not based on any real-life stories.

Whether based on fact or the figment of my imagination, I hope you enjoy the backstories of the cursed items from Beneath the Morvan Moon that comprise The Clock, the Cloak, and the Needles.

I'd also love to know your thoughts. Please leave a review on Amazon. It's not only helpful to me, but also to your fellow readers, and is very much appreciated.


The Clockmaker

"Papa? Papa, are you in there?"

Except for the faint trails of moonlight creeping in through the workshop's only window, Hohberht Wilmod sat alone, surrounded by darkness, ignoring his daughter's knocking.

Katharina paused. Then, quietly, almost desperately, she said, "I know you are. Please come out. Edda has prepared a wonderful meal, and...and the baron has a matter to discuss with you."

Hohberht Wilmod winced at this. The baron has a matter to discuss with you...

Ha! The baron's only wish was to steal his daughter away from him.

Hohberht was now even more firmly resolved to remain put. As long as he refused an audience with the baron, Katharina remained safe.

"Please, Papa. Answer me at least. I know this first Christmas without her is hard, but you shouldn't be alone," his daughter begged, now sobbing. A few tortuous minutes later, he heard the soft click of her heels against the floorboards as she retreated, leaving him to peace.

Peace? Ha!

Ever since Frau Wilmod, Katharina's mother, had been taken from them, Hohberht had spent his days in mourning. He'd started to accept her passing, until Christmas approached. Then it was as if he'd lost his beloved Isle all over again. It had been her favorite time of year, and she had delighted in spreading joy through festive decorations, cooking, and parties.

Katharina was all he had left now. The thought of losing her too, which was what most certainly would happen if he allowed the baron to make Katharina his wife, crippled him.Even his clocks no longer consoled him. He, the king's premier horologist, renowned for his accurate timepieces with their ornate woodwork, had lost all inspiration to create. Like his will to live, that too had died when his wife had.

Now he spent his days locked in his workshop, surrounded by memories of happier times, times when the woman that destiny had so fortunately matched him with, had still been his to have and hold.

His stomach rumbled as the scent of Edda's fine cooking wafted from the kitchen. He inhaled the succulent smell of roast duck with mint sauce and his stomach growled even louder. The last time he had eaten was five days before, when hunger had finally driven him to steal a quarter loaf of bread from the kitchen while the others slept.

From his food thievery, Katharina and Edda must have deduced his weakness, and had conspired to prepare roast duck--his favorite dish. This attempt to lure him out, however, was in vain. Hohberht covered his mouth and nose with his hand and breathed in. The enticing scent of food was replaced with the stench of his soiled skin.

After a while he forgot about his daughter and the baron, his dead wife, his clocks. He drifted off to sleep, where he could temporarily escape his anguished existence.

Several hours later, Hohberht awoke to a scuffle, which was followed by a thud and a clank. His heart raced as he watched the lever on the locked door rise. Someone was coming in.

But that was impossible! He had the only key!

When the door open, he expected to see Katharina's face–or, worse, the baron's. There was no one. The door closed and he was once again alone.

Or so he thought, until he heard footsteps coming from inside his workshop.

"Who's there?" he called out, leaning forward in his chair, trying to glimpse his intruder over his cluttered workbench.

"A purveyor of lives," the intruder said, the voice both squeaky and scratchy. It sounded like the un-oiled hinges of wheels rolling across gravel.

Hohberht's skin crawled. So, Death's Messenger had found him. At least the wait to be reunited with his beloved wife was over.

"Get on with it then," Hohberht said, leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes. He did not know exactly what to expect. Would he feel it, the blade of the Reaper's scythe severing his body from his soul?

Tools, wood, and parts scattered to the floor as the Angel of Death mounted the table. Hohberht tensed.

"What are ya' doin', man?" the angel demanded.

Hohberht dared to open one eye. He half-expected to find himself face to face with a cloaked figure raising a blade. Instead, standing on the workbench before him was....

He did not know. What were they exactly? They were unlike any rendition of a Reaper he'd ever heard tell of.

There were two of them, a man and a woman, about a foot tall, and as smooth, pure, and flawless white as the finest porcelain dolls. From their skin to their haute monde garb, every inch of their being was white. The man's shoulder length, milk-colored hair was pulled back and secured with a bow. Covering his waistcoat was an overcoat. From beneath his jacket's cuffs protruded a torrent of ruffles that engulfed his wrists. His tight, breeches were fastened at the knee with buttons; stockings covered his calves; shiny buckled shoes adorned his feet.

The woman's powdered sugar hair was a mass of ringlets. Her lily-white gown's fitted bodice had a low square neckline that accentuated the gleaming string of pearls about her throat. Her sleeves cascaded down her forearm, sending a fan of lace frills swirling around her slender hands. Her full skirt was a further flare of ruffles and bows. Both the man and woman had delicate, oval faces, petite and thin, with tiny, ivory upturned noses.

All white as they were, maybe they really were angels? But where were their wings? Their halos? Of this, there was no evidence.

In greeting, the man bowed and the woman curtsied. Hohberht blinked several times, not trusting his vision.

After several moments, he found his voice and whispered, "Who are you? What are you?"

"Who were ya' expectin'?" They both spoke at the same time, as if they shared one voice. The man's was rough and the woman's high. This accounted for the squeak and the scratch. He also detected some sort of brogue.

"I--I thought you were the Grim Reaper come to take my soul."

They laughed.

"'Aven't ya' ever seen little people, man?"

Hohberht admitted, no, he had not.

"Why would ya' think we meant ya' harm when we told ya' we were purveyors of lives. We didna' mention anythin' about takin' lives, did we?"

Hohberht shook his head. Then he pinched himself. Surely this was a dream. If not, a hunger-induced hallucination?

As if reading his mind, the man said, "'Tis no dream. We are as real as the hair on your head, or what might be left of it." The couple chuckled and winked at each other.

What was this? First trespassing, now insults? Just who did these little people think they were? And by what right were they in his workshop in the middle of the night?

"No, the question is not what are we doin' here, the question is what are you doin' here?" They both waggled an accusing finger at him. "'Tis a pity your wife lived a short life, but just because she was called home sooner than ya' would have liked doesna' give ya' the right to give up the ghost before your time."

"What are you taking about?" Hohberht roared. He did not know whether to be insulted, angry, or frightened.

"You, man. Ya' sit all day in this workshop, yet ya' do no work. What is the good of that? 'Tis a waste, it is. Ya' do not eat, or bathe...which, sir, we dona' mean to be rude, but ya' could use a fair washing, ya' could. Ya' ignore your lovely lass of a daughter. Ya' pine for Death, but ya' are not ready to greet it."

"I am so!" Hohberht declared. "I want to be with my Isle."

"No, ya' don't."

The audacity of these little people, telling him what he did and did not want!

"Yes I do!"

"Then why, when at first ya' thought we were the Angel of Death, didna' ya' come and greet us with open arms if ya' were as ready as ya' claim?"

Hohberht was speechless. Yes, he had been afraid, but that did not mean he was not ready to die.

Again, in their maddening way, they read his unspoken thoughts.

"That is exactly what it means, sir. Ya' are no more ready to die than ya' are to live. Ya' are caught between your despair and grief. And your fear."

"I have no fear--"

"Aye, but ya' do, sir. Ya' want to live, but you cannot for grief over your wife's passing. Not to mention the fear of losin' your daughter."

Hohberht hung his head and covered his face with his hands. This was too much. He was losing his sanity. These people were not real; he was not talking to them. When he looked up, he was convinced they would be gone.

Alas, when he raised his head and uncovered his eyes, he saw the little white people remained.

"Wh-who are you?" Hohberht asked, wiping his eyes and trying to recollect himself.

"Purveyors, we told ya'. Ya' might be good with the clocks, but ya' are not so bright about other things, are ya'?"

Hohberht's tears ceased instantly at this latest attack against his person.

The miniature white people looked at each other and chuckled again, then looked back at him.

"Ah, do not take us to heart. We jest in fun, not because we are actually mean spirited. No, we want to help ya', we do."

"Help me?" Hohberht asked, confused.

They nodded. In the space of time it took for Hohberht to blink, the man was suddenly in possession of a white tubular stick.

"Where did that come from?" Hohberht asked.

"It was here all the time. We just now got around to presentin' it."

"Presenting it?"

"Why, yes. Your reputation is widespread, clockmaker, and we are in need of your services. We 'ave no money, but we are prepared to pay a very high price indeed. Your daughter's life."

Interpreting this as a threat, Hohberht sprung to his feet and banged his fists down on the table. They flinched, but stood their ground as his voice thundered on top of them.

"If you harm one hair on my Katharina's head, so help me God--"

"Calm down, man. We mean your daughter no harm. Quite the opposite. Help us and ya' help her live a long and prosperous life."

Hohberht did not have to ponder this odd statement very carefully. To avoid the heartbreak of losing another loved one, he would do anything. Even selling his soul if necessary.

"What do you want from me?"

"A repair. In all the kingdoms none has the nimble fingers or true talent necessary to repair as priceless and delicate a timepiece as one we are in need of fixin'. But because of the, ah...sensitive nature of this timepiece, we realize your fee will not come cheap. That is why we offer ya' the opportunity to know the future, so to speak."

"That is ridiculous. No one can know the future."

"Not true. We know the future of every life. And while we canna' tell ya' about that exactly, we can give ya' somethin' in return." The man held out the white tubular object. "With this, ya' can make a clock as useful as one ever was. We can show ya' how to build one that will signal when Death is near."

Hohberht gasped. It was not possible to know something of that magnitude, was it? Even if it was, did he dare wish to acquire such knowledge?

"Wouldna' ya' rather be warned, man? If ya' had had this power when Isle was alive, would ya' have let her go to market that day?"

"Are you saying that had I known...I could have stopped it?"

"Is possible, it is. Nothin' is certain until it is in the past."

Hohberht frowned as he took the proffered white tube and studied it. It was hard, like glass or crystal, and opaque.

"What is it?"

"A sliver from the Staff of Life. We need a small portion to repair the clock we use for measurin' lifetimes. The rest is for ya'. To build the clock we just told ya' about."

"And if I refuse?"

"The Angel of Death will be payin' your household a visit before the New Year comes."

Not wanting any harm to come to Katharina, Hohberht wasted no time in agreeing.

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