Authors: Prue Batten
Tags: #Fiction - Fantasy
Copyright © 2008 by Prue Batten
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
All rights reserved.
Kindle Edition 2011
First published in the UK in 2008 by YWO.com
Praise for The Stumpwork Robe in 2008
‘The writing is first rate… the storyline is supple, but tough. The characters are strongly depicted. It’s a testament to good writing.’ YWO.com review
‘Batten’s writing retains a the dreamlike glow of the folktales she uses so inventively and adds a… ruthlessness that makes fairytale a nightmare.’ Patricia Sweet, California
‘Intricate… elegant with a wonderful otherworldly atmosphere. By turns whimsical, brutal… and lyrical…’ Lee Williams, United Kingdom.
For those interested in finding out about the geography of Eirie, as this book is uploaded to Kindle, variou
s images of the map will be available for viewing at
Without the friendship and instruction of consummate embroiderer, Jane Nicholas (
) I would never have had the inspiration for this story. She has graciously allowed me to use her magnificent designs as Adelina’s own throughout the novel. Salt Design was responsible for the breathtaking cover design and CM Design created the intrinsic map of Eirie. Thanks also to a supportive family, the backbone of my life, and to two Jack Russells whose company is my lifeblood.
It should be noted that the word Faeran (pronounced Far-An) was referenced from an internet site: (
. The word was derived from the Old English meaning to ‘terrify, frighten.’ In the print edition of
The Stumpwork Robe
(2008), the meanings of panic and grief fitted the theme of the story and I have chosen to continue its use through each of my novels.
It should also be noted that Faeran was used by Cecilia Dart-Thornton in
The Bitterbynde Saga
The Crowthistle Chronicles
(2006) and no similarity of any sort should be drawn between the two.
A form of raised embroidery. Motifs include birds, beasts, flowers, fruits, insects and fish. Metallic threads, silks, metal purl, and beads are used in thick embroidery with a three-dimensional aspect.
A chess-like game from the Middle East which pre-dates chess.
Pawn-like piece in the above game.
A sensation that indicates the proximity of an Other, particularly the Faeran.
Celtic folklore. A shape-changing waterhorse that eats mortals, leaving only the entrails.
Irish folklore. Known also as the Love Talker. Fatal seducer of women.
Manx folklore. Fatal seductress of mortal men.
Balkan folklore. Most often malicious, causing men who are touched by her to pine and die.
Folklore of Brittany. A beautiful wight who enchants mortal travellers at night and leads them away from their path.
A cobweb-like Oriental paper.
An act of enchantment.
Rows of trees where brances are twisted and pruned to form a long unbroken line. Believed to be one of the gates to Faeran.
: British folklore. Disastrous inhabitants of peel towers.
: Charms or spells.
An Other breeze.
My name is Adelina. I am an embroiderer. I’m the best in Trevallyn,
possibly the world. I’m not a braggart nor arrogant about my skill but when the most important people in the land have employed me to embroider their robes of state, their everyday clothes, even their underwear and slippers, then I believe I’m right when I say I am good at what I do.
It’s amusing really. I had no address and yet they always found me. You see, I am a Traveller, we of gypsy persuasion. Travelling wherever the seasons and our own sensibilities dictate. So if I had a home in the past, it was a caravan pulled by Ajax, my equine friend. He of the gold coat and the ebony mane and tail, with delicious black frills flouncing around his fetlocks and a back broad enough for him to be mistaken for the unseelie Cabyll Ushtey. I have an address now of sorts and I am angry, bitter and depressed because I am a prisoner. That self-same skill I have just mentioned caused me to become a valuable commodity and whilst I am a prisoner, I embroider stumpwork so rich and full of colour and life that the very thread seems to jump off the fabric of the robe I am decorating.
You see, this is my story. The things that have happened to me and mine must be told as an excoriation of a pus-filled wound. I’ll write these words on tiny pages and sew them under the stumpwork embroidery of the robe that hangs before you and it will thrill me to think my gaoler shall not know. The story that I tell shall be a denunciation and a vindication.
Sometimes I wonder if my friends had not met me, become involved
with me, with my life, would tragedy have gone elsewhere? Ah, but it’s all rhetoric anyway. Because the reality is that it happened and I changed. From carefree to careworn in the time it takes to move the
I wonder, did you find the robe at the Museo and did you run your fingers over the berries as they tantalised you with their realism? Did you find a bump or two that required further investigation? It’s like a treasure hunt, isn’t it? Onward to find the next piece and the next...
Likewise, onward I must move to another sheet of paper. You will find
it lying beneath the raised embroidery of the fig tree. I shall tell you where you will find the next part after that because I am if nothing else, efficient.
So you found the fig tree with its luscious fruit. The deep purple-black silk
with which the fig is embroidered came from a Faeran market far to the north of Trevallyn – a market with enchantment floating in gauze clouds of glamour. You noticed by running your fingers down the violet seed beads I applied to the embroidery, that the fissure opened revealing this page. And you no doubt wonder how I made it so small.
In our travels, we have found those malicious Others that would sell their spells for a pittance... a cap of lace or a ribbon, some frippery. All I always desired was to make things small because I collected so much silk, satin and thread on my travels, my caravan had goods foaming out the door. The shrinking spell I secured helped me tidy up and all it cost me was a raw silk tailcoat. Ah, such a beautiful thing! Turquoise silk shot with waves of amethyst. I embroidered dragonflies with wings veined in black and green all over and piped it in violet silk with cabochon amethysts for buttons. It was such an expensive coat but an indulgence to make and the wight who took it did it no justice at all. He was bent double and had knobbly legs as thin as dandelion stalks. His face was - plain. But I mustn’t be rude because he gave me the spell and it’s a very handy and somewhat precious thing to have. Besides, if you are discourteous to a wight, their anger may know no bounds. But I tell you, when that sprite put on my coat I had to turn away. Seldom has my work been so sorely draped. Ah well, I got the spell. And now it helps me shrink a story and hide it from my gaoler.
But to continue... I’m sure you are aware of those most exceptional of the Others, the Faeran. Beyond description in their beauty, beyond belief in their way of life, filled with music, food and love. And beyond belief in the way they treat mortals who stumble across them. But then many Others are the same - wagering, prevaricating, toying with mortals; the purpose being to entice, deceive and kill.
Some are openly murderous; like the pretty waterhorses who offer
friendly rides only to stick one to their hides and jump into deep water, to drown and then eat the unfortunate. But to my thinking, the most hideous of all are those that toy in the name of love - the Ganconer, the
Lian-Shee, veelas, korrigans and many Others who through their singular
beauty, attract, kiss and cause the poor lovelorn mortal to be filled with the pining sickness... a grievous death of starvation, exhaustion and painful heartbreak. All for an hour or two of physical gratification.
Love? Never! Perhaps now you see how bitter I am…
But I’ve run out of space on this page so you must look to the embroidered casket below the rose arbour. You’ll see the lace-stitch lid actually opens and inside there is a book with tissue thin pages; paper that my gaoler no doubt purchased from some souk in the Raj. Take the book out and pass the tiny slim wand secreted in the bottom of the casket over the book.
Say the words:
Grow bigger and be, pages to see. Then you will discover why I became so full of grief and hatred. And you shall be the judge. Is it that those who knew me were doomed by the acquaintance? Or is that Fate played games with us all?
My story shall begin with Ana, a beautiful young woman who threaded
her way through my life like a damaged piece of silk thread. It breaks at every stitch so that it must be laced into the back of the work, joined and begun again. She is the first to enter my tragedy thus making it hers as well. But there were others too, indeed one who was to become... ah, you shall see.
Sadness killed people.
Ana Lamb knew this as she walked up the field with a tan and white Trevallyn terrier in accompaniment. The sky bled with deep apricot and indigo, and violet shadows edged her path; funereal colours that suited her mood. She remembered Lilly Monkton in the village of North Tamerton. Her husband had died and within a month she had followed him. Pined away they said, but at that time in her life Ana couldn’t understand. Now, as with each step she remembered her deceased father’s large feet covering the ground beside her, she had a vague understanding of the meaning of such love. Joffrey Lamb had died six months before from a lung wasting disease and life for his lovely daughter had tumbled to the ground, blackened and soiled in an instant.
Each day she struggled as if she walked in
cloying and exhausting mud which dragged her down. Initially when he died she was numb, passing through hours and minutes oblivious, deaf and blind to all but the most basic interaction. Time meant nothing as each day was spent encapsulated in a bubble of grief that nothing could prick. But time moved on and the numbness melted and she hated it because she had no armour against the pain that came her way each day.
Her dog barked and ran up the hill. Looking up, she spied her mother standing with her brother, Peter, at the verandah post of the house.
She knew they watched her with misunderstanding and wished
wholeheartedly they’d go away. If there’d been a hole in the ground, she would have crawled in and curled into a ball to be able to indulge her loss without scrutiny. ‘Traitor’, she muttered after the dog’s fast disappearing rear and flicked her gaze to a spiral of dust at the end of the lane where Squire Bellingham’s smart trap clipped away around the farthest bend. Aine, what would that hateful man be doing here? Ana loathed him for his cruel, impatient arrogance; indeed she detested the whole family, sired as they were from such misbegotten bloodlines. And how she hated his heir, Jonty! She was angry... no, livid, Bellingham should so disrespect her father’s memory to even set a toe on ‘Rotherwood’ because Pa had been twice, three times the man Bellingham would
Behind her, the Weald at the foot of the Long Field sank into black shadow as the sun eased itself behind the Thumbs, the range of low hills in the distance. A silence fell across the valley, to be filled moments later by the demented babble and shrieking laughter of the eldritch inhabitants of the woods.
Making a protective horn sign, thumb and little finger extended,
middle fingers bunched in her fist, she continued walking to the barn in order to feed the horses, her care of the small herd of thoroughbreds enabling her to pay tribute to her father’s memory. She opened the back of the barn, lit warmly inside by a lantern, and rattled a bucket of oaten chaff. From the creek a shrill neigh filled the dark and the mob cantered toward her, hooves drumming on the pasture, heads and tails held high, feet thrumming their three-part rhythm. ‘See, Pa,’ she whispered as she slipped the rails across each stall, ‘they look well.’ She leaned her elbows on the smooth wood, watching and smelling. Outside, she heard the patter of tiny feet like mice skittering, and then high pitched giggles and she knew the piskies from her mother’s fern garden were about.
Her father had shown her the minikin wights. One quiet dusk, as they returned from the Long Field when she had been a young child, they had heard the giggling and holding a finger to his lips, Pa crept to the side of the tree-ferns which dominated his wife’s shady glade, Ana stepping in the imprint of his footsteps. Grasping the lacy foliage of the shorter plants, he allowed her to see the sprites dabbling their toes in the rill that bubbled over smooth pebbles and under fishbone and maidenhair ferns. Ana’s eyes danced as she looked up at her father, he smiling and making buttoning motions at his mouth, she nodding in acknowledgment of their silent shared pleasure.
‘Ah, Tarkine, I miss him. Every moment of the day it rests on me like a deadweight.’ She took up a body brush and slicked it over the smooth coat as the stallion blew down his nose and continued eating. ‘I ache like I have an ague and sometimes the world feels as if it's at the end of a dark hole.’ She moved to the horse’s other side and clicked her tongue to shift him over, a trickle of thoughts becoming a flood of words. ‘I should be stronger, Mother says.’ She had heard her mother one day and the words stayed in her mind, playing over and over like water on stone; increasing her misconceptions and making a careworn indentation.
She threw down the brush with a clatter and the horse’s head arced up, ears
back. Patting him with one hand, she picked up a whisk of rags to burnish the copper-bay hide. As she dragged it down his neck, it fell to her side and she rested her forehead against the smooth muscle, feeling a ripple every now and then as the horse chewed and swallowed. The rhythmic motion comforted her and she was reminded of the smooth stroking of her father’s hand through her hair when she had been a little girl and it followed that she remembered his hands guiding her around the farm as she grew up. She could feel them now and curled her palm a little tighter around the whisk, giving a small whimper against the equine neck. Outside, the piskies snickered. ‘Perhaps it
a pining sickness,' she said. 'It comes in intense waves and I feel filthy with it, as if I’ll never slough it away. Sometimes I’m scared that I’m going mad and sometimes I’m afraid that if the sadness disappears, I’ll have forgotten Pa. But all I have left are memories and it’s those that send me mad.’
She picked up a comb and began pulling it through his mane, dislodging
crackling thistle leaves. The horse moved against her and swung his head to nuzzle, the soft mouthing across the surface of her hand prompting her eyes to fill. Tears crept down her cheeks and she gripped the mane comb to move to the horse’s tangled tail, brush out the knots and pack the grooming tools in their case. ‘That’s the thing you see; everywhere there are memories. I'm going bosky with them and I want to scream and yet if I don't have the memories I have nothing.' She lurched from one thought to another, rationale packed away just as the grooming tools had been. 'Perhaps I should leave it all behind.'
The words hung around her like a prophecy, almost tangible, as though she could look up and see them suspended in the sky, an exquisite aurora. She envisaged herself walking away from ‘Rotherwood’, her mother and brother unaware. The image had something to recommend it but she couldn't, in her unclear frame of mind, put her finger on what it was.
She blew out the lamp, latched the barn and walked along the path towards
the house. In the window, illuminated by the mellow lamp light, she could see her mother, Marte and her brother talking as Marte moved around the room.
Something she'd not quite grasped had been going on for days; brother
Peter morose, not just at life but at herself. And Mother? By the heavens above, she was so distanced from her daughter she might as well be in the
Raj. Ana pushed the door of the house open just as she heard her mother say
'This will help.'
‘Help what?’ she asked.
Marte pressed her hand to her chest. ‘Ana, you will kill me with fright if you creep like that.’ She turned away to the table. ‘Peter suggested we put sheep on the pasture in the Valley Field. It's long and we risk it becoming rank if it’s not grazed shorter.’
Sensing nothing more than the norm with her mother’s clipped response, sunk
deep in her own filthy misery, Ana washed her hands in a wooden bucket and sat at the table to eat her meal.
Marte served herself and sat by her daughter. ‘Did you remember it’s the Stitching Fair tomorrow? We need new clothing and all the tailors will be there. We have just enough gelt spare.’
Ana nodded, hearing bitterness in her mother’s tone. ‘Yes I remembered. And I also remembered Squire Chesterman was bringing his mare to be covered by Tarkine in the morning so I groomed the horse and put linseed in his feed for his coat.’
Peter looked at his mother and his eyebrows lifted, Ana catching the glance. They weren’t vicious people, her family. Far from it. But she despaired of them ever trying to understand what she felt when her father died. To be sure they must feel the same pain, but it was if they were each insulated cruelly from the other and she wondered if familial harmony had been buried with her father on that terrible, terrible day. Saying nothing, pushing her food around her platter, she knew with a pain in her belly that she hadn’t imagined it; ‘Rotherwood’, her loved family home, now a symbol of sadness and despair, held no place for her at all.
These were the miserable thoughts of the young woman I would come to know so well - well enough to consider her part of
‘family’. Perhaps with a few more summers under her belt she would have been able to rationalise her grievous loss, for it was grief which consumed her, have no doubt, that dark melancholia that could swallow people whole. Indeed I was to find myself swallowed soon after, as if the Barguest, that black dog of doom, sat at my side.
But she was hurting and misunderstood and blind to everything but her own distrait and she had no idea an Other had overheard her in the barn and was now watching her with dark, interested eyes; musing on her private words with deliberate care and thinking on a masterful game.