30 December 2019

River Mud by Cryssa Bazos - Our Final; Story Inspired By A Song


Read the Story
Guess the Song
here's a clue...

The letter. That damned, bloody letter.
Nathaniel Lewis felt every contour through his mist-soaked cloak as he navigated his horse along a steep incline. It plagued him throughout his solitary journey from London to the Welsh highlands.
He should have burned it. Lord knew, he had already committed every word to memory. Their latest cipher had been compromised, the letter read. A worrying concern, but no cause for alarm even though this had been the second key to be deciphered this half year. Cromwell had a gifted cryptographer in his stable; Nathaniel had to find a way to lure the man over to the king’s side.
No, it wasn’t the breach of a new cipher gnawing at Nathaniel’s gut. What chased him away from the comfort of Lincoln’s Inn to the wild and barely passable Welsh countryside were the final words in the missive. “Meet me in the hamlet of Blaenau Ffestiniog on the next full moon. You will find it.”
Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Nathaniel didn’t need to enquire about the small hamlet which eluded all maps. He knew it and well. Fifteen years ago on a fierce, howling night, he turned his back on the place of his birth, intending never to return.
His grip tightened on the reins.

Horse, Animal, Head Animal, Head Horse

Now the question haunted him: how did this intelligencer, a faceless, nameless man known only to Nathaniel by the code name Mister Moss know of Blaenau Ffestiniog? No one knew anything about Nathaniel’s past—he made sure of that.
Nathaniel’s first sight of Blaenau Ffestiniog hit him in the gut—nothing had changed. Slate-roofed cottages still lined the main road while pigs rooted in muddy lanes. Dirt, rocks, and peat smoke everywhere. Slate thrust from the rutted ground like broken bones poking through lacerated skin. And the shadow of a jutting rock stretched across the mill road like a gnarled, accusing finger.
The smells of river mud and decomposing weeds struck Nathaniel, making his blood pulse faster. He could taste it at the back of his throat. In the distance, the rushing of a waterfall roared through his head. Panic gripped his throat—the urge to turn his horse around overwhelmed him, meeting be damned.

Pig, Sow, Domestic Pig, Livestock

 A weathered sign hung over the inn’s door and swung on the wind. The Hammer and Anvil. Nothing soft and furry like a fox or firkin. Not here, where existence was bleak and death bleaker still.
Nathaniel crossed the inn’s threshold, and all heads swivelled in his direction. Greedy eyes eager for any gossip fodder. For a heartbeat, Nathaniel was once more a half-starved youth praying he’d not to be chased away. Sharply, he lowered the brim of his hat and claimed a table tucked into the corner.
A serving maid pounced to take his order. Though she was young, there was something about her flat face that reminded Nathanial of the landlady who once kept this place. A daughter perhaps?
“A flagon of your best wine.” Nathaniel peeled off his riding gloves and placed them on the table.
The wench didn’t move. Instead, she studied Nathaniel with a vague frown. “Have you been at the Hammer before, my lord?”
Although she spoke to him in Welsh, Nathaniel answered in English. “The wine?”
With a small huff, she spun on her heels. In a thrice she returned with a flagon and pewter cup. Still preoccupied with trying to identify him, she sloshed several drops of wine on his glove. Nathaniel stared at the blood red wine seeping across the soft leather like pools of blood. His stomach clenched.
My apologies, sir.” The maid dabbed at his gloves with a cloth. “That should do it. No harm done.”
“Enough,” Nathaniel said, his voice hoarse. “Leave me in peace.”

Antique Pewter Pint Tankard

Nathaniel waited, carefully scanning the room, dreading to see a familiar face. Another quarter hour passed. His attention shifted to a thin lad feeding the peat fire. Several hounds flocked around the boy, and he nudged them gently out of his way. Everyone else ignored the lad, as though he were of no account.
 “Dirty weather, this,” a reedy voice said in English. “Mind if I have a tipple?” In his distraction, Nathaniel hadn’t realized that they had been joined by an old man until the old gaffer slipped into a chair across from him.
Nathaniel took in the man’s bare cloak and tattered hat that landed beside the flagon. “Go away, old man. I have nothing for you here.”
The man gave a lopsided grin. “I could use a draught to warm my innards. Tell you what—in exchange for a cup of wine, I’ll read your fortune.”
Nathaniel moderated his breathing to school his temper. “Beg a drink elsewhere.”
The gaffer rubbed his salt-laced beard. “Shame—and with you coming all this way to find answers.”
Nathaniel’s eyes narrowed. “Who are you?”
“Deep questions, aye, but that is a story for a long winter’s night. Some call me Moss, but everyone here knows me as Teithiwr.”
Nathaniel’s brow quirked. “Calling yourself traveller? As you wish.” He passed Teithiwr his untouched wine. “Why did you want to see me?” Nathaniel toyed with the onyx ring on his finger.
The man smiled benignly and accepted the offering. “First your fortune, then my news. Your palm, if you please.”
Chiromancy? I’m not having my palm read.”
“Come now, you’ve journeyed far as it is.” The gaffer grinned over the rim of the cup.
The hairs lifted on the back of Nathaniel’s neck. “Curious meeting place you’ve chosen.” He carefully moderated his tone to sound bored. “You’ve been posted in Caernarfon, have you not?”
Teithiwr’s smile did not fade. “You were going to show me your palm?”
Nathaniel exhaled slowly. He understood the art of deflection—in fact he was a master of it. He could play this game. “Very well, if that will loosen your tongue.”


Man, Hand, Relaxation

The gaffer bent over Nathaniel’s outstretched hand, tracing various lines with his grubby fingernail. “River mud. Deep in your pores—seeping into your veins.”
“You’re blind old man. My hands are clean.”
Teithiwr ignored the comment and continued his exploration of Nathaniel’s palm. “Very interesting lines.” He turned Nathaniel’s hand to catch the light of the candle.
Nathaniel’s gaze shifted. By now a crowd had gathered close, all to hear what the old fool had to say. Rank foolishness. This intelligencer was a liability.
Teithiwr tugged on Nathaniel’s ring finger. “You’re a traveller too. You’ve journey far yet nowhere at all. Saturn is strong in you. Careful, he’s an exacting master.”
“Have you seen enough?” Nathaniel tried to disengage himself, but the old man locked his wrist.
“See this line?” Teithiwr poked at the fleshy part below Nathaniels thumb. “This is where we see how pure a life you’ve lived. Sodomy? Illegitimate children? I see none of those. But divers lovers, aye. No attachments. Wonder why?”
 Nathaniel held the man’s gaze, forcing himself not to flinch. The gaffer’s words disguised a sharp edge. “You tell me since you claim to know my past.” There—he laid the challenge on the table.
The gaffer shrugged. “The past is wherever one chooses to look for it. But the future—that requires skill. Have you the stones to learn of your death? It’s all there in your palm.”
“By all means,” Nathaniel said. “Tell me.” 
A duel,” Teithiwr continued. “And this other line shows you are no coward. The duel will involve your heart. Ah! A duel of honour.”
Murmuring approval spread through the spectators.
Nathaniel had enough, and he yanked his hand away. “Very well, you have divined that I am no sodomite or a man to spread my seed indiscriminately. Instead, I would be well-advised to practice my swordplay with renewed diligence. Scatter these crows so we may conclude our business.”
This all had been a lark, and that knowledge caused relief to sweep over him. This Teithiwr knew nothing—couldn’t possibly have been so canny as to have ferreted out Nathaniel’s secrets. He was foolish and sloppy and drew far too much attention to himself.
Nathaniel waited for the crowd to disburse then lowered his voice. “I’ve journeyed several days travel to reach this godforsaken place and you have squandered my patience. What. News. Do. You. Have. For. Me?”
Teithiwr covered Nathaniel’s hand with his own and pressed a curled paper into Nathaniel’s palm. When he lifted his hands, Nathaniel’s fist closed over the contraband. “A new cipher. To be used for all future correspondences,” the old man said, all trace of humour gone. “There’s a counterspy in our midst. Start with the Postmaster.”
Nathaniel nodded his gratitude. Tossing several coins on the table, he said, “Stay, enjoy your tipple on my account.”
“Good journey, friend.” 
Good riddance.
While the inn’s lad ran to the stables to fetch his horse, Nathaniel waited by the horse trough. The rain had finally ceased and a clean breeze began to shred the low bank of clouds clinging to the hills. With the old man’s words smarting like an ulcerous sore, Nathaniel faced the hills.


A stream tumbled down the hillside, swelling to a waterfall before collecting into the river below.
Exactly as Nathaniel had last seen it—except that the water ran clear of blood. The river’s flow was no longer blocked by the body of a man lying face down in the water, his cassock bunched up over his broken knees. And Nathaniel was no longer the frightened boy hiding amongst the rushes, looking in horror as the lifeblood of the one soul who had shown him any kindness stained the water wine-red. The rushing of the water mingled with the remembered whooping from those who had left him there. For Nathaniel to find.


The mountain’s accusing finger stretched to Nathaniel. Marked him as one of its own. No matter the years. River weeds and blood were in his blood. Perhaps he hadn’t fled far enough.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” Teithiwr appeared at his side, his boots barely making a sound. “You’ve shut out your past, or so you think.”
The rest came flooding back. Five men drunk on blood-lust, one a stranger—a slimy bastard from Caernarfon visiting for the summer. That one had led the troop, and the sword he gripped shone bright with blood.
You killed the priest.” Nathaniel didn’t bother keeping the disgust from his tone. The anger surged like the rushing waterfall. It had been an amusement to them, of no more account than beating a mangy cur. But they had taken something vital away from a fatherless boy.
Teithiwr tipped his hat before walking away.
Nathaniel watched the man saunter down the lane. Teithiwr had awakened dormant memories inside him and now they would no longer be put to rest. Was vengeance and justice really any different?
Nathaniel tipped his own hat to the retreating figure. “Until we meet again, Mister Moss.” 

© Cryssa Bazos 

Did you guess the title?
Adele - River Lea
live at Glastonbury: including Adele forgetting the lyrics -
Even professionals get things wrong sometimes! :-)



An aside from Helen: I too grew up near the River Lea, and I assure you it looks nothing like the image for the video! Adele (and myself) would have known the river as it neared London and the River Thames (see the clue image for our view of it!) where the land is flat, marshy and doesn't have mountains! One of the highest points would be a few miles from Waltham Abbey atthe edge of Epping Forest overlooking the Lee Valley Pole hill is 91 metres (about 300 feet) above sea level ... so definitely not mountainous! And just to add to confusion: the Valley is the Lee Valley, the river is the River Lea... 


Cryssa Bazos is an award-winning historical fiction author and 17th-century enthusiast. Her debut novel, Traitor's Knot was selected as DDRevs Book of the Month, the Medalist winner of the 2017 New Apple Award (historical fiction), a finalist for the 2018 EPIC eBook Awards (historical romance) and the RNA Joan Hessayon Award. Her second novel, Severed Knot, is a B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree and was longlisted for the Historical Novel Society 2018 New Novel Award.

Reviewed by Discovering Diamonds
For more information visit Cryssa's website at cryssa.bazos.com


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Thank you!
This was our last story - we hope you have enjoyed them all.
if you missed any, the full list is below. 
or just follow the arrow 

The Full List of Authors

December
2nd   M.J. Logue   First Love 
3rd   Richard Tearle Chips and Ice Cream
4th    Helen Hollick Promises, Promises
5th    Paul Marriner Memories
6th    Pam Webber One Door Closing
7th    Louise Adam Hurt Me Once
8th    Barbara Gaskell Denvil Sticks and Stones
9th    Judith Arnopp Secrets
10th  Erica Lainé  Silk Stockings
11th   Anna Belfrage Hold Me, Love Me, Leave Me? 
12th  Annie Whitehead Frozen
13th  Tony Riches Alas, My Love
14th  Clare Flynn, Zipless
15th  J.G. Harlond The Last Assignment
16th  Elizabeth St John Under The Clock
17th  Alison Morton Honoria’s Battle
18th  Jean Gill The Hunter
19th  Patricia Bracewell Daddy's Gift
20th Debbie Young It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas
21st   Ruth Downie  Doing It Properly
22nd Nicky Galliers What God Has Joined
23rd  Elizabeth Chadwick The Cloak
24th / 25th Christmas Break
26th  Helen Hollick Ever After
27th   Barbara Gaskell Denvil Just The One... Or Maybe Two
28th   Deborah Swift Just Another Day
29th   Amy Maroney What The Plague Brings
30th   Cryssa Bazos River Mud
31st  HAPPY NEW YEAR



 Note: There is copyright legislation for song lyrics 
but no copyright in names, titles or ideas

StorySong graphic by @Avalongraphics 
additional images via Pixabay accreditation not required

15 comments:

  1. Loved the evocation of place and the river running through it. Great song connection and interesting to read Helen's comments on the Lea, which I don't know at all. Rivers do have personalities! I was transported to the slate and greyness of North Wales, straight away and the suspense builds up so that I was waiting for a tragic end - yet to come :) Many thanks to Helen and all the (other) writers for what has become an enjoyable daily ritual for me. I've discovered new writers, bought some books and will miss my daily story. Happy New Year everyone and may 2020 bring us all great books!

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    1. Thank you, Jean. I'm glad you liked it. Happy New Year to you too.

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  2. Ah me! A full month of fabulous stories and the only one I actually got was my own - and I didn't get that until the end! If a series such as this is to end, then it is a good idea to end on a great story; that is exactly what we have here! Mystery, atmosphere and a brooding main character. Superb, Cryssa, just superb. And I would echo Jean's comment above (and, thank you Jean for being such a stalwart supporter!) and thank all the writers, all the commentees and all the readers but especially Helen for bringing all this together so perfectly - and this for the third time! Someone earlier mentioned the possibility of a book? must be almost 100 stories over the three years - I'd be up for that ...

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    1. Thanks Richard! I've really enjoyed all the stories I'll be sorry that we've drawn to an end.

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  3. What an atmospheric finale to a splendid set of stories!
    It's been a brilliant month with a new story everyday – the perfect way to discover new authors.
    Very many thanks to Helen and the Discovering Diamonds Reviews team and all the best for 2020.

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  4. Terrific set of stories, everyone I shared them with enjoyed their daily read and guessing the song was good fun. Thank you Helen!

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  5. Great story, Cryssa - I think we can all predict what lies in Moss's future!
    Big thanks to Helen for organising this brilliant festival of storytelling.

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    1. Thanks Ruth. It may not be as easy as that. :)

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  6. YESSS! Nathaniel scorches the page, and no river mud will hold him back. Love the story, and the promise of more to come. Wonderful!

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  7. I have express a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style of blogging. I added it to my favorite’s blog site list and will be checking back soon… jewelry stores dallas

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  8. My favourite sort of story - intelligencers, a loaded backstory, secrets and possibilities in the difficult days of 17th century Civil War Britain. Excellent, thanks Cryssa.

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  9. As ever, your writing just evokes time and place and real characters. Great story! (And no, I didn't guess!)

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Thank you for leaving a comment - it should appear soon, but due to the high rise of unsuitable nuisance spam I am now having to vet comments before they are posted. If you are having problems, contact me on author AT helenhollick DOT net and I will post your comment for you. That said ...SPAMMERS or distasteful rudeness will be stamped on, squashed, composted and very possibly cursed - if you spam my blog, next time something nasty happens to you just remember that I DID warn you...

Helen