Spider Harp Series

A fantasy story based on David Revoy’s illustration, Spider Harp. Come and join a world rich with spider web magic, fairies, elves, and danger on every side.

This serialized story will be updated regularly.

Spider Harp

by April on February 18, 2012

Ralisse cast a hasty glance over her shoulder. The two soldiers pursuing her pounded through the forest after her.

Splat!

She should have kept her eyes on the pathway in front of her. Clear liquid ran down her elfin hat and onto her face. The spiders above were busy at work interfering in the desperate lives of those passing beneath their webs. She would have shaken her fist up at them if she’d had time.

But she didn’t. Her bare feet were inured to the sharp stones she scampered over, her right foot just missing the pointed metal buried halfway in the ground. Those blasted soldiers again! Trying to maim honest, hardworking folks.

Ralisse looked down again, her near miss spurring her onto greater concentration despite the sweet slime running down her face. Sweet slime, spider drops. Whatever people wanted to call them. They were highly prized for their magical properties, but that wasn’t going to help her now. In fact, if the soldiers caught her looking like this, the cloying smell clinging to her, she’d be charged with poaching without a second thought. They’d think it a great joke. Soldiers had no respect these days.

“Have mercy on me, Lady Web,” she muttered under her breath as she ducked under the low lying tree branch hanging over the narrowing track in the forest. Her hat scraped off her head, and she reached a desperate hand behind her and snagged it. Its wide-striped pattern would identify her, as sure as anything.

Maybe she shouldn’t have chucked that featherhen leg at them. Fresh and bloody, it had made a nice grease spot on their crisp uniforms.

Another glance over her shoulder. They were gaining on her. But how? She knew this forest far better than and the darkness was deepening the further into the forest they went.

Of course, the darkness was worse for them than her. She was descended from the night fairies. Her mother a fairy, her father an elf. Almost welcome everywhere, but never quite part of anything.

A trace of sweat mixed with spider slime trickled into her mouth. If she had time, she’d wipe her face clean. But she didn’t. So she swallowed and ran on.

Branches, old friends from times past, now reached out to claw at her, as if to hold her for the panting, cursing men an arm’s length behind her.

“Stop before you get yourself in any more trouble, laddie.”

Laddie? Laddies were boys. “That’s girlie to you,” she panted. They knew exactly who she was, despite the fact that she’d never seen them before today. The soldiers all knew who she was.

“We’re not chasing ya cause yer a girl,” the other brute said, as easy as if they were still having a conversation on the village green.

“Yer father…” the out-of-shape one said while he reached out for her, but she managed to leap over a knee-high rock blocking the pathway.

They tripped, and Ralisse smiled as put a few more paces between them. They must have been concentrating more on snagging her than on making sure they stayed on their own two feet.

Her father. Those were the last words she wanted to hear. She’d disowned him long ago for his thuggish tactics and unseemly interest in all things spider. But still he continued to send soldiers to interfere with her and demand her return.

An unwanted shiver ran through her at the memory of the yearly spider ceremony, despite the fact her body was overheated with the chase.

Desperation welled up inside her. She would not become a pawn in her father’s ceaseless efforts to find greater mastery in magic. She’d heard him one night, muttering and pacing about his plans for her. His twisted hopes that her mixed blood would give her greater mastery over his foul magic.

She was not a pawn. “By all….that’s magical,” Ralisse vowed, “I…will not…be used.” Panting diminished the dramatic impact of the words, but they were a vow, all the same, and the spider slime and sweat on her face burned first hot, then icy cold before seeping into her skin and disappearing.

What had she done?

Suddenly dry-mouthed, Ralisse tried to swallow. A trail of fire followed her spit down her throat. Even worse. The youngest child knew eating magical substances was tantamount to jumping off a cliff into rushing waters. She might live, she might not.

Ralisse pumped her legs harder. She had to get away from these her father’s soldiers to regroup and figure out what damage she’d done. She leaped over another boulder, this one a familiar friend she’d spend hours sitting on. A clearing and brooklet lay just beyond.

As soon as her feet cleared the top of the rock, a hand shot out and grabbed her bare ankle, arresting her midair and sending her tumbling.

Ralisse rolled to a stop and groaned. She knew who that hand belonged to. “Father. Couldn’t we have spoken over dinner?” Ralisse didn’t add that she meant at some village inn surrounded by hordes of people.

He acted as if she hadn’t ever left home. “But you’re so predictable. You’d pick at your food and then storm off the moment I mentioned any betrothal. Now,” he gestured expansively to include the entire grass-covered clearing, “I’ve got you all tired out and cornered.”

“So you say.” Ralisse flicked her eyes around, trying to find the two soldiers who would no doubt be trying to flank her position right. “I’m never going to marry your spider prince.” She kept her voice even, trying to sound in control of the situation.

Father leaned back against the boulder and laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

He never took her seriously. That’s exactly why she couldn’t stay. Ralisse darted to her feet and bounded away, clearing the brook in one leap.

“I need you.” His deep voice somehow dropped even lower when he said that.

Those three words stopped her cold. Her father needed no one.

“I’m so glad that did the trick, darling,” Repressed mirth made his eyes sparkle. “My soldiers are getting rather tired of chasing you at all hours of the day.”

She couldn’t believe she’d fallen for such an obvious trick. The two soldiers held lassos when they stepped out of the trees in front of her. She’d never had a chance to escape. No doubt these men were expert in their craft. At least they weren’t aiming a bow and arrow at her.

Ralisse turned back around and marched over to her father. A small smile played around his mouth.

“I will not marry your prince,” She said again. She’d made an oath not to be used by this man who should have loved her, a man who instead valued her as a pawn in his endless game to gain power.

“Whoever said you had a choice?” Definite amusement there. “The spider’s pearlescent betrothal gel was poured on you. You didn’t wipe it off,” he shrugged his shoulders.

Horror grew inside Ralisse, a horror that was as large as the eight-legged spider stepping out into the clearing. Waiting for his cue, no doubt.

“All that’s needed, pet, is to make an oath to finalize the union.” Father leaned forward, one stray lock of blond hair falling in his eyes. “Do it. You know what happens to those who disobey my will.”

She did know. Death. Dismemberment. No proper burial. Spirits that wandered without rest, without the proper magic to send them onto the joy on the other side of this life.

The only reason he’d never been completely broken her was so she could serve her father now, in this very moment.

“I’d rather join Mother,” Ralisse executed a swift turn on the dew-wet grass. Mother had been executed years ago when the love potion she’d been dosed with had worn off. Rather, Father let the potion wear off once her usefulness was at an end.

“Wait, Oath Bound One,” A rusty voice she’d never heard stopped her. Not the voice, but what he’d called her. Oath Bound One.

Next to her father stood a man instead of a spider. A hairy man who looked like he was covered from head to toe by stiff brush bristles. This didn’t surprise her overmuch. Spiders were known for their shape shifting skills. The larger, more intelligent ones, anyway.

“Yes?” Ralisse asked, raising one imperious eyebrow in the way that annoyed Father to no end.

This black-haired man-spider smiled. A genuine smile full of good humor that crinkled his eyes at the edges. He waved a hand in her father’s direction and a white sheet of light burst out of his palm and spun itself into a shining web of light. “He can’t hear us now. He won’t know he missed a moment.”

Ralisse was starting to like this man, even if she should be terrified at a man – being – who could do this to her father. “You wanted to tell me something?” She wasn’t about to make this easy for him.

The black-haired man shot more webs of light, this time at the two soldiers. “The betrothal was an excuse to get close to you, of course.

She didn’t respond, but her confusion must have been written on her face, since his next words answered her unspoken question.

“You did realize you’re the most sought after prize in all Duredin, didn’t you?”

Ralisse was pretty sure her mouth fell open then, but her shock was too great for her to care about catching flies.

The black-haired man nodded. “Only you can speak to the memory-webs. And only you can play the spider harp. You have a choice, Oath Bound One. Will you come to the aid of the Spider people, or will you stay here with your father?”

Ralisse harrumphed. “Since my loving father would order me to throw myself on your tender mercies, I do believe that would be no choice at all.”

The black-haired man bowed his head in acknowledgement. “You have my word, Oath Bound One, that if you choose to stay, your father will never remember our offer. The espousal contract was merely our way to get close enough to give you the choice. Your father’s magic blankets this land quite completely.”

Ralisse looked away. His jewel-faceted eyes were memorizing. “I refused to be used.”

“Your oath will be honored. If you are used, it will be by your choice and your choice only. The spider harp will not work for those whose gel-witnessed vows are broken.”

Spider harp. There that word was again. While Ralisse was beginning to trust this man-spider’s sincerity – the race was reputed to abhor deception – how could she know if this was what she wanted? Ralisse stepped closer to the spider prince. “What do you mean by spider harp?”

“Come with me,” he held out a bristly hand.

Ralisse didn’t take it, but she did follow him to the clearing’s edge. He didn’t seem to mind.

“See that web?” He pointed out a small web between a tree trunk and a low-lying branch. “Pluck the strings.”

That sounded ridiculous. She’d broken more spider webs than she could count, and they’d never plucked. They disintegrated with the slightest bit of pressure. Still, she reached one finger out and plucked the outermost circle on the web.

A high pitched note of pure magic rang through the clearing, filling her with tears and joy. This feeling, what was it? She looked at the black-haired man and had to blink the wetness out of her eyes.

“The outermost web ring is love. Always. Imagine the power the person playing a spider harp has, to fill all those around them with the magic of love!”

“But why me?”

“Because you’re half fairy. Because you’re oath bound. But most of all, because you care.”

And she did care. Ralisse always had. The destruction at her father’s hand had torn great holes in her soul, holes that maybe she could start to fill in herself and others by playing the spider harp.

“I’ll come with you,” Ralisse raised her chin and tried to steel herself against the unknown.

The spider prince nodded, raised one hand, palm outward, and cast a bright beam of light at the spider web in front of them. The light whirled in circles, chasing away all color till it turned into a gaping, black hole.

“After you.”

Was that a hint of a challenge in his voice?

Ralisse straightened her spine and walked through the small portal with as much dignity as she could muster. Anything a spider prince could do, she would do better. Even if it killed her.

To be continued

A/N  This is the beginning of a serialized novel. I’m anticipating adding a new chapter each week.

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