Ryland's Bride

One glorious midsummer morning, the Reverend Jacob Ryland, the celebrated author of The Round Table and the Lost Giants of America, Montsalvache and the Lost Tomb of Merlin, and The Mysteries of Avalon, arrived with his new bride in the village of Dynan’s Clove in order to explore the steep cliffs and mossy cataracts of the gorge for which the town had been named.   A keen amateur naturalist as well as an antiquarian, Ryland had set aside his scholarly inquiries for the duration of his honeymoon, preferring to devote his time to rambling the Catskills in search of wildflowers.  His bride was, by all accounts, as eager to set out as her husband as they packed a pony cart with their botanizing tools – a pressing frame, a waterproof pen and paper, and a tube for collecting specimens – as well as a copy of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini, in its original Latin, and a cold collation in a wicker luncheon basket.
 
Only the pony was destined to return – careening wild-eyed and lathered down the steep tracks of the Clove, dragging the broken traces of the cart behind him.  Search parties were sent out, but no-one found a trace of either Jacob Ryland or his new bride – save the remains of the wicker luncheon basket that were eventually fished from the foot of one of the Clove’s many wild waterfalls, the pages of the book inside sodden to illegibility.  Then, six months later, in the dead of winter, a gaunt stranger, barely recognizable as the man who had set out so cheerfully on his honeymoon, appeared in a charity ward up in Albany, clutching a botanizing tube filled with freshly blooming oak, broom, and meadowsweet.  When questioned, Ryland could give no account of where he had found those flowers, or what had happened to him in Dynan’s Clove.  Nor could he explain what had become of his new bride.  In fact, when pressed, he vehemently denied that she had ever existed, despite the evidence of the crumpled bridal veil wreathed with orange blossoms that had been stuffed in the bottom of Ryland’s botanizing tube.
 
And so began the sad last chapter in the story of a man who had once been referred to as the American Schliemann. The man who had been tapped for a joint appointment in Theology and Archaeology at Harvard died in an asylum, scribbling endless prophecies of Merlin on scraps of paper which he secreted all around his cell.  For as long as she could remember, Nina Malory had scoured archives and pored over the yellowed manuscripts penned in a madhouse, trying to discover what could possibly have happened to cause such a terrible decay in such a brilliant mind.  But now that she had finally arrived at Dynan’s Clove to explore the site of the tragedy for herself, she was beginning to worry a lot more about what had just happened to her.
 
All she had done was walk across a bridge – pausing briefly to gaze down into the placid pool that was the outlet of the tumbling creek and rocky cataracts that had carved out the Clove millennia ago, before she turned toward what had once been known as the Clove Road House, but was now, according to the peeling sign that hung from its front porch, a Bed and Breakfast run by an organization called the Temple of the Mother, who also, according the peeling sign, sold Fresh Eggs, as well as Antiques and Collectibles – the “i” in the latter hastily emended from an “a.”
 
Little else had changed from the hand-colored postcards depicting the place in its heyday.  But much had faded.  The House’s front was still two stories of matching shaded and shuttered windows rising above a gracious verandah – except the shutters hung at odd angles, and the neat row of matching rockers had been replaced by a hodgepodge collection of castoff lawn chairs and wooden tables that were apparently the antiques being offered for sale.  The door was shuttered, the clock face with the store hours unreadable at this distance.  There was no sign anyone was there to welcome her, beyond the window that stood open, its white curtains fluttering in the summer breeze, looking oddly like a bridal veil…Or was that a flutter of white in the quiet brook beneath the bridge? Even more strangely, was that a flower?
 
Funny, she thought, shivering against the raindrops that were rapidly plastering her hair to her forehead.  It was far too chilly for a window to be open.   Then again, as the old adage went, if you didn’t like the weather in the Catskills, just wait fifteen minutes, and it would change.  Someone must have forgotten about the open window; she’d make sure to tell them as soon as she got inside.  Ducking against the whipping rain, she hurried toward the shelter of the verandah… Only to feel a hand on her arm, stopping her.
 
“But where have you been?” a woman breathed, her face a mixture of concern and puzzlement.  “We’ve all been so dreadfully worried.”
 
Nina pushed back the drenched sleeve of her peasant dress to check her rain-spattered watch.  “I’m sorry?”
 
“We’ve been looking for you everywhere.  They even had the dogs out.”
 
The woman was peculiarly ageless, her long snow-white hair at odds with her unlined face and wide blue eyes.  Scarves and crystal necklaces seemed to fly in every direction.  Another Hudson Valley hippie who had never escaped the sixties.  Nina blinked at her, wondering how daft she really was.  “I just got off the bus…”
 
But even as she turned to point at the bus that should have been pulling away in a cloud of exhaust on the other side of the bridge, she registered the rain that was pounding down from every side.  And remembered the white curtain that had been fluttering in the breeze…  In the sunlight.  The same light that had been glinting off the water where she thought she had seen a flower… But that was… impossible. And yet…
 
The woman studied Nina, her vague eyes suddenly narrow with concern.  “But wait,” she said. “Why are you all alone?  What on earth have you done with your husband?”
 
 
© Erica Obey 2016
 
This story is an excerpt from a novel due to be published by Amphorae Publishing in late 2017 or early 2018.

One glorious midsummer morning, the Reverend Jacob Ryland, the celebrated author of The Round Table and the Lost Giants of America, Montsalvache and the Lost Tomb of Merlin, and The Mysteries of Avalon, arrived with his new bride in the village of Dynan’s Clove in order to explore the steep cliffs and mossy cataracts of the gorge for which the town had been named.   A keen amateur naturalist as well as an antiquarian, Ryland had set aside his scholarly inquiries for the duration of his honeymoon, preferring to devote his time to rambling the Catskills in search of wildflowers.  His bride was, by all accounts, as eager to set out as her husband as they packed a pony cart with their botanizing tools – a pressing frame, a waterproof pen and paper, and a tube for collecting specimens – as well as a copy of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini, in its original Latin, and a cold collation in a wicker luncheon basket.
 
Only the pony was destined to return – careening wild-eyed and lathered down the steep tracks of the Clove, dragging the broken traces of the cart behind him.  Search parties were sent out, but no-one found a trace of either Jacob Ryland or his new bride – save the remains of the wicker luncheon basket that were eventually fished from the foot of one of the Clove’s many wild waterfalls, the pages of the book inside sodden to illegibility.  Then, six months later, in the dead of winter, a gaunt stranger, barely recognizable as the man who had set out so cheerfully on his honeymoon, appeared in a charity ward up in Albany, clutching a botanizing tube filled with freshly blooming oak, broom, and meadowsweet.  When questioned, Ryland could give no account of where he had found those flowers, or what had happened to him in Dynan’s Clove.  Nor could he explain what had become of his new bride.  In fact, when pressed, he vehemently denied that she had ever existed, despite the evidence of the crumpled bridal veil wreathed with orange blossoms that had been stuffed in the bottom of Ryland’s botanizing tube.
 
And so began the sad last chapter in the story of a man who had once been referred to as the American Schliemann. The man who had been tapped for a joint appointment in Theology and Archaeology at Harvard died in an asylum, scribbling endless prophecies of Merlin on scraps of paper which he secreted all around his cell.  For as long as she could remember, Nina Malory had scoured archives and pored over the yellowed manuscripts penned in a madhouse, trying to discover what could possibly have happened to cause such a terrible decay in such a brilliant mind.  But now that she had finally arrived at Dynan’s Clove to explore the site of the tragedy for herself, she was beginning to worry a lot more about what had just happened to her.
 
All she had done was walk across a bridge – pausing briefly to gaze down into the placid pool that was the outlet of the tumbling creek and rocky cataracts that had carved out the Clove millennia ago, before she turned toward what had once been known as the Clove Road House, but was now, according to the peeling sign that hung from its front porch, a Bed and Breakfast run by an organization called the Temple of the Mother, who also, according the peeling sign, sold Fresh Eggs, as well as Antiques and Collectibles – the “i” in the latter hastily emended from an “a.”
 
Little else had changed from the hand-colored postcards depicting the place in its heyday.  But much had faded.  The House’s front was still two stories of matching shaded and shuttered windows rising above a gracious verandah – except the shutters hung at odd angles, and the neat row of matching rockers had been replaced by a hodgepodge collection of castoff lawn chairs and wooden tables that were apparently the antiques being offered for sale.  The door was shuttered, the clock face with the store hours unreadable at this distance.  There was no sign anyone was there to welcome her, beyond the window that stood open, its white curtains fluttering in the summer breeze, looking oddly like a bridal veil…Or was that a flutter of white in the quiet brook beneath the bridge? Even more strangely, was that a flower?
 
Funny, she thought, shivering against the raindrops that were rapidly plastering her hair to her forehead.  It was far too chilly for a window to be open.   Then again, as the old adage went, if you didn’t like the weather in the Catskills, just wait fifteen minutes, and it would change.  Someone must have forgotten about the open window; she’d make sure to tell them as soon as she got inside.  Ducking against the whipping rain, she hurried toward the shelter of the verandah… Only to feel a hand on her arm, stopping her.
 
“But where have you been?” a woman breathed, her face a mixture of concern and puzzlement.  “We’ve all been so dreadfully worried.”
 
Nina pushed back the drenched sleeve of her peasant dress to check her rain-spattered watch.  “I’m sorry?”
 
“We’ve been looking for you everywhere.  They even had the dogs out.”
 
The woman was peculiarly ageless, her long snow-white hair at odds with her unlined face and wide blue eyes.  Scarves and crystal necklaces seemed to fly in every direction.  Another Hudson Valley hippie who had never escaped the sixties.  Nina blinked at her, wondering how daft she really was.  “I just got off the bus…”
 
But even as she turned to point at the bus that should have been pulling away in a cloud of exhaust on the other side of the bridge, she registered the rain that was pounding down from every side.  And remembered the white curtain that had been fluttering in the breeze…  In the sunlight.  The same light that had been glinting off the water where she thought she had seen a flower… But that was… impossible. And yet…
 
The woman studied Nina, her vague eyes suddenly narrow with concern.  “But wait,” she said. “Why are you all alone?  What on earth have you done with your husband?”
 
 
© Erica Obey 2016
 
This story is an excerpt from a novel due to be published by Amphorae Publishing in late 2017 or early 2018.

POST RECITAL

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TALK

BR: Erica, you're a busy author. Your novel The Lazarus Vector was published last fall, a brand new novel just came out last month, The Curse of the Braddock Brides, and now Ryland's Bride is in the publisher's hands. Does it have a release date?
 
EO: Not a formal one yet, we're still in editing but it should come out - about in October, about a year after Lazarus Vector.
 
TN: Have you always been so prolific, or is there something about this period of time that's inspiring you or driving you?
 
EO: I quit my job as a teacher. That helped.
 
BR: And I know you split your time between New York City and the Catskills. Is one or the other more important in terms of your writing?
 
EO: I get a lot more done in the city. I get my ideas up here in the Catskills.
 
TN: You've said that you always write with your parrot in the room.
 
EO: Yes, Fasolt. He's a macaw.
 
BIRD: Squawk. Fasolt.
 
TN: Hello Fasolt.
 
BIRD: Hello.
 
TN: You know, current science says that birds – all animals really – have more capacity for syntax and vocabulary than we ever imagined in our human-centric belief system.
 
EO: Oh, absolutely. My bird's a little crazy so I'm trying to teach him letters, I'm trying to teach him numbers, trying to teach him to count – just to distract him.
 
BIRD: What?
 
BR: All your novels have an element of, as we say on The Strange Recital, “fiction that questions the nature of reality.”
 
BIRD: Shit.
 
BR: Does that suggest you might be mentally ill? That's a joke. But really, why?
 
BIRD: Why? Why?
 
TN: I think he's doing more than just repeating. Maybe he understands.
 
BIRD: Caw.
 
EO: I think the only way you can stay sane is to question the nature of reality.
 
TN: Here here.
 
BR: Yes definitely. You have a deep academic background in folklore and myth. Certainly that informs your fiction, but how does it inform your view or beliefs about the so-called “real world”?
 
BIRD: No such thing. Fasolt.
 
BR: Yeah, Fasolt, you got it.
 
EO: In many ways folklore is more real – I don't like the term “higher truths” but maybe “real” or “reality”. You can understand more, reading myth because it pulls you out of the situation. When you're in the middle of the context it's hard to understand things. The folklore gives you a higher level of understanding.
 
TN: Animals have awareness of dimensions that we don't perceive. So does Fasolt ever speak in the voice of a ghost or an alien? Maybe a dead pirate, or King Arthur?
 
EO: I don't need Fasolt....
 
BIRD: What?
 
EO: The voices speak straight to me.
 
BIRD: Shit.
 
TN: Okay, back to the interview. We're introduced in this opening chapter to Nina Malory, a scholar of the Ryland mystery. Dare we say she's your alter ego? Tell us about the intersection of autobiography with fiction, especially magical fiction.
 
EO: Cranky MFA person speaking here. I don't think fiction should be autobiography. I think fiction, Tolkien would say, is an act of sub-creation, a very different thing. I'm not trying to write my autobiography. I'm trying to sub-create. My students never figured that one out either. But you have to have some connection with your point-of-view character to get into that world. So yes, we're not that far apart, Nina and I.
 
TN: Okay.
 
BIRD: Fiction – memoir, memoir – fiction.
 
BR: Yes, I was just thinking the same thing.
 
TN: This is great. Fasolt is not just a pet. He's sort of like your familiar, your medium.
 
EO: All my animals are, including about nine cats so far, many of whom have passed. They're not all alive now.
 
BIRD: Squawk.
 
BR: Merlin's familiar was an owl, according to one story. The Arthurian legends, one of your “specialities” as Tom might say, were a major force in my childhood. I've often thought I missed my calling and maybe should have stayed in a world of ancient myth, studying, teaching, writing. Much like you've done. Does it feel like a cloistered reality, perhaps protected from the madness of the modern world?
 
BIRD: Mad. No protection.
 
EO: Back to that issue of “real” or “reality” and I'm speaking with my grim teacher's voice now. It's often a lot easier to touch on the madness of the modern world by exploring a fairy tale or a myth. You've got students who are deep in painful context. It can be very hard to let them meet one another in the classroom but when we're talking about the Nibelungen fighting the Aesir or something like that, we're still talking about these issues but it is in a safe place for everybody to consider.
 
TN: Fasolt, what do you have to say about that?
 
BIRD: Life is shit.
 
TN: Maybe he's like a parrot wise man, a bird guru. Wait a minute.... he's always there while you're writing. Be honest  – does he actually dictate your novels to you?
 
BIRD: Thank you.
 
EO: Like I said, I don't need Fasolt as a medium.
 
BIRD: Fasolt.
 
EO: But to put it a little more seriously, Michelangelo used to always say “the sculpture was there in the stone already.” He was just releasing it.
 
BIRD: What?
 
EO: I feel the same way about stories. They're floating around out there, just needing to be told and all you have to do is sit there and wait for them to come to you.
 
TN: Hmm
 
BIRD: It's all a mystery.
 
BR: He even knew my next question!
 
BIRD: Squawk.
 
BR: Erica, your novels are considered mystery fiction.
 
BIRD: Mystery.
 
BR: It's a very firm convention in the genre that the plot's central mystery must be solved – otherwise the audience is unsatisfied. Now I've sometimes argued that this actually makes these stories “no mystery” fiction. In other words, the Mystery with a capital M, the unsolvable mystery that underlies all existence, is denied. So... I have a rather oddball resistance to resolution. What are your thoughts on this subject?
 
EO: First of all , I think there's a misapprehension that the conventions of genre are a restriction rather than something that can be used for literary effect. And I think in specific when I'm writing mysteries, I'm trying to...
 
BIRD: Caw.
 
EO: Mysteries are an epistemological genre. I'm trying to use them to both make the reader question their epistemology and give them a fulfilling resolution. And I hope the conclusion they would come to, is that accepting liminality, or epistemological uncertainty is the only satisfying resolution you're going to find to the quandary.
 
BR: Yeah, that sounds good.
 
Bird: Shit.
 
TN: Well, thanks for talking with us Erica. And for introducing us to your co-author, Fasolt.
 
BIRD: Fasolt.
 
BR: Yes, and one more thing – in this piece I was interested to come across two words or usages I'd never heard before: “botanizing” - who knew one could “botanize”? And “collation” - meaning a picnic lunch. Wow.
 
TN: Those are Victorian words. At least “collation” sounds like a Victorian word. Anyway, vocabulary-building for birds and humans – an added bonus. Thank you.
 
EO: Thank you for having me.
 
BIRD: Thank you.
 
Fasolt the macaw was played by Michael Lokensgaard.

BR: Erica, you're a busy author. Your novel The Lazarus Vector was published last fall, a brand new novel just came out last month, The Curse of the Braddock Brides, and now Ryland's Bride is in the publisher's hands. Does it have a release date?
 
EO: Not a formal one yet, we're still in editing but it should come out - about in October, about a year after Lazarus Vector.
 
TN: Have you always been so prolific, or is there something about this period of time that's inspiring you or driving you?
 
EO: I quit my job as a teacher. That helped.
 
BR: And I know you split your time between New York City and the Catskills. Is one or the other more important in terms of your writing?
 
EO: I get a lot more done in the city. I get my ideas up here in the Catskills.
 
TN: You've said that you always write with your parrot in the room.
 
EO: Yes, Fasolt. He's a macaw.
 
BIRD: Squawk. Fasolt.
 
TN: Hello Fasolt.
 
BIRD: Hello.
 
TN: You know, current science says that birds – all animals really – have more capacity for syntax and vocabulary than we ever imagined in our human-centric belief system.
 
EO: Oh, absolutely. My bird's a little crazy so I'm trying to teach him letters, I'm trying to teach him numbers, trying to teach him to count – just to distract him.
 
BIRD: What?
 
BR: All your novels have an element of, as we say on The Strange Recital, “fiction that questions the nature of reality.”
 
BIRD: Shit.
 
BR: Does that suggest you might be mentally ill? That's a joke. But really, why?
 
BIRD: Why? Why?
 
TN: I think he's doing more than just repeating. Maybe he understands.
 
BIRD: Caw.
 
EO: I think the only way you can stay sane is to question the nature of reality.
 
TN: Here here.
 
BR: Yes definitely. You have a deep academic background in folklore and myth. Certainly that informs your fiction, but how does it inform your view or beliefs about the so-called “real world”?
 
BIRD: No such thing. Fasolt.
 
BR: Yeah, Fasolt, you got it.
 
EO: In many ways folklore is more real – I don't like the term “higher truths” but maybe “real” or “reality”. You can understand more, reading myth because it pulls you out of the situation. When you're in the middle of the context it's hard to understand things. The folklore gives you a higher level of understanding.
 
TN: Animals have awareness of dimensions that we don't perceive. So does Fasolt ever speak in the voice of a ghost or an alien? Maybe a dead pirate, or King Arthur?
 
EO: I don't need Fasolt....
 
BIRD: What?
 
EO: The voices speak straight to me.
 
BIRD: Shit.
 
TN: Okay, back to the interview. We're introduced in this opening chapter to Nina Malory, a scholar of the Ryland mystery. Dare we say she's your alter ego? Tell us about the intersection of autobiography with fiction, especially magical fiction.
 
EO: Cranky MFA person speaking here. I don't think fiction should be autobiography. I think fiction, Tolkien would say, is an act of sub-creation, a very different thing. I'm not trying to write my autobiography. I'm trying to sub-create. My students never figured that one out either. But you have to have some connection with your point-of-view character to get into that world. So yes, we're not that far apart, Nina and I.
 
TN: Okay.
 
BIRD: Fiction – memoir, memoir – fiction.
 
BR: Yes, I was just thinking the same thing.
 
TN: This is great. Fasolt is not just a pet. He's sort of like your familiar, your medium.
 
EO: All my animals are, including about nine cats so far, many of whom have passed. They're not all alive now.
 
BIRD: Squawk.
 
BR: Merlin's familiar was an owl, according to one story. The Arthurian legends, one of your “specialities” as Tom might say, were a major force in my childhood. I've often thought I missed my calling and maybe should have stayed in a world of ancient myth, studying, teaching, writing. Much like you've done. Does it feel like a cloistered reality, perhaps protected from the madness of the modern world?
 
BIRD: Mad. No protection.
 
EO: Back to that issue of “real” or “reality” and I'm speaking with my grim teacher's voice now. It's often a lot easier to touch on the madness of the modern world by exploring a fairy tale or a myth. You've got students who are deep in painful context. It can be very hard to let them meet one another in the classroom but when we're talking about the Nibelungen fighting the Aesir or something like that, we're still talking about these issues but it is in a safe place for everybody to consider.
 
TN: Fasolt, what do you have to say about that?
 
BIRD: Life is shit.
 
TN: Maybe he's like a parrot wise man, a bird guru. Wait a minute.... he's always there while you're writing. Be honest  – does he actually dictate your novels to you?
 
BIRD: Thank you.
 
EO: Like I said, I don't need Fasolt as a medium.
 
BIRD: Fasolt.
 
EO: But to put it a little more seriously, Michelangelo used to always say “the sculpture was there in the stone already.” He was just releasing it.
 
BIRD: What?
 
EO: I feel the same way about stories. They're floating around out there, just needing to be told and all you have to do is sit there and wait for them to come to you.
 
TN: Hmm
 
BIRD: It's all a mystery.
 
BR: He even knew my next question!
 
BIRD: Squawk.
 
BR: Erica, your novels are considered mystery fiction.
 
BIRD: Mystery.
 
BR: It's a very firm convention in the genre that the plot's central mystery must be solved – otherwise the audience is unsatisfied. Now I've sometimes argued that this actually makes these stories “no mystery” fiction. In other words, the Mystery with a capital M, the unsolvable mystery that underlies all existence, is denied. So... I have a rather oddball resistance to resolution. What are your thoughts on this subject?
 
EO: First of all , I think there's a misapprehension that the conventions of genre are a restriction rather than something that can be used for literary effect. And I think in specific when I'm writing mysteries, I'm trying to...
 
BIRD: Caw.
 
EO: Mysteries are an epistemological genre. I'm trying to use them to both make the reader question their epistemology and give them a fulfilling resolution. And I hope the conclusion they would come to, is that accepting liminality, or epistemological uncertainty is the only satisfying resolution you're going to find to the quandary.
 
BR: Yeah, that sounds good.
 
Bird: Shit.
 
TN: Well, thanks for talking with us Erica. And for introducing us to your co-author, Fasolt.
 
BIRD: Fasolt.
 
BR: Yes, and one more thing – in this piece I was interested to come across two words or usages I'd never heard before: “botanizing” - who knew one could “botanize”? And “collation” - meaning a picnic lunch. Wow.
 
TN: Those are Victorian words. At least “collation” sounds like a Victorian word. Anyway, vocabulary-building for birds and humans – an added bonus. Thank you.
 
EO: Thank you for having me.
 
BIRD: Thank you.
 
Fasolt the macaw was played by Michael Lokensgaard.

Music on this episode:

"Revenge" - composed by Roman Turovsky and played by Christopher Wilke on baroque lute.
From the album DE TEMPORUM FINE POSTLUDIA on the POLYHYMNION label.

Used here by permission of the composer.

THE STRANGE RECITAL

Episode 17051

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