Fantasy

The Satyr’s Tale

“She is…exquisite,” Lord Ricard Dafaar spoke, almost in a whisper. His hand reached gently, reverently forward, before finding rest on the cool marble statue that stood before him. “Never have I seen such mastery in stonework; it is almost as if she were alive.”

Baeyn smiled lazily and gave a slight bow to the aged, portly man, the bells woven into his long tangled hair jingling lightly at the motion, his ribbon adorned horns dipping. A human gesture, but one he had adapted to with little effort. He approached the man slowly, his cloven hooves clicking against the stone floor.

“My people sing the song of stone, “he said, his voice a strange, melodic harmony, “our talents passed from generation to generation. Masters of masonry and sculpture, our works beloved and demanded by kings and priests and all great men.”

Baeyn paused, and turned his square pupiled eyes towards the masterpiece that stood before them. She truly was awe inspiring – every detail, every curve, every feature a mark of perfection. An illusion so expertly wrought that the coldness of her stone betrayed the warmth in her image.

“But yes…she is a masterpiece even amidst masterpieces. Lady Aileen Dafaar…an ancestor of yours, yes?”

Lord Ricard nodded but did not turn his head. His eyes felt unable to blink, his mouth agape but speechless. Again, Baeyn smiled.

“She was not easy to obtain. The mountains are more dangerous than ever, the caverns of my people infested with dark things I shudder to mention in such…refined company. It was a costly expedition, in more ways than one.”

The human lord’s mouth closed, his stance straightened. His awe, though it had not completely vanished, was shadowed by his greed. His eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly as he cleared his throat.

“I am sure we can come to an arrangement. What is your price?”

“Can there be a price placed on such a piece?” Baeyn replied. “Could you place a value on something so perfect? My ancestor, blood of my blood, shed that blood, and tears, and sweat, to capture her likeness. Wars have been waged over lesser works than she…”

Lord Ricard’s face hardened. He’d heard such tactics before.

“Come now! Don’t play games with me, satyr – your kind always has a price. Name it and stop this foolishness.”

Baeyn’s horns tingled, skin flushed. He forced a nonchalant chuckle.

“For anyone else, she would be beyond price. But you? You can have her for a song.”

The lord’s face collapsed into confusion.

“A song?”

“Yes,” Baeyn answered, “a very specific song. Sing it, and the Lady is yours. No further price.”

Try as he might, Rickon could not conceal his glee. He made sure that he was known as a patron of the arts, and prided himself on his knowledge of all the popular tunes, which he loved to sing. Badly.

“Name it then!” he cried. “Name it and I will serenade you more sweetly than any lover has ever been serenaded!”

“Sing me the Song of Shattering,” Baeyn said, his voice low and suddenly mirthless, the music gone.

Lord Rickon frowned.

“I don’t know tha…”

“You know the song,” Baeyn interrupted, “It’s been sung to you many times.”

“I…”

“With every brick that was laid in your courtyard, it was sung. With every stone that was placed in your manor, it was sung. With every rock and stone and sculpture you’ve commissioned, it’s been sung.”

Lord Rickon’s face paled, trembled. Had he? He tried hard to recall. He’d hired plenty of satyr stonesmiths over the years, and yes, they were always humming in their strange double voices, but the song…what was the song?

“I’ll remind you,” Baeyn said, as if he read the nobleman’s mind. He closed his eyes, and began to sing.

In truth, no one can sing like a satyr can. They are born with two sets of vocal cords, and through them, sing harmonies unimaginable to any other race. They sing with every task that has meaning, with every moment they wish to mark. They sing their histories, their memories, their wishes and dreams.

This song was a memory and a promise. A memory of lands once held by his people. A dream of a better time. An anguish for what his people lost. The bitterness of betrayal, when they sought help from allies that failed to give their aid. Even ancient allies…like the noble line of Dafaar.

Lord Rickon found himself paralyzed by the sound, the voice. His heart pounded, his body shook. He felt to his core the weight of his family’s past, of their use, abuse, and abandonment of the stonefolk who had sought their aid. As the song grew in fury and tempo, he fell to his knees.

And with a final, trilling, mournful note, the marble statue shattered. The flawless image of the matron of his line, a work of art so perfect its like would never again be known, crumbled to dust. Sobs overtook him. He buried his hands in the dust. He felt lost, helpless. He had not realized how much this connection to the past had meant to him.

Until it was gone.

Baeyn left him there, weeping in the rubble. His hooves clicked on the stone floor as he left, beating a rhythm that pleased his ears. A breeze caught his hair, his bells jangled, and a weight lifted from his soul. He sighed in satisfaction. It was a costly vengeance, but it was worth it. This debt had spent a long time building interest.

A tune came to his heart. He smiled. And sang.

“Super Sexy” – Turn-A-Trope #7, #WOEGTTT

I know, I know, deadlines, right? Better late than never! Here is my entry to this last week’s Turn-a-Trope Tuesday, “Good People Have Good Sex.”  Sometimes, it just isn’t so…

“Silver Fox, you vixen, you!” cried out the Scarlet Saber with delight, “Don’t think I haven’t heard!”

The Fox blushed, and on her silvered skin, it glowed a deep, dark crimson befitting her BFF’s nom-de-vigilance.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Scarlet.”

“Please, sweetie. I have super senses, remember? I heard your door close three miles away, and the voice, thanking you for a wonderful night…at breakfast? If that wasn’t Captain Amazing, then I will hang up my bloody saber right now and never fight crime again!”

The Fox sighed. Well, if one couldn’t be honest with her besty…

“You’re right…it *was* Captain Amazing. He…uh…well…he came over for dinner…”

“And stayed for breakfast?” Scarlet interrupted with a wink. Silver Fox nodded shyly.

“Oh, you have to do better than that, love,” Scarlet prodded, “This is Captain Amazing we’re talking about! So tall, so broad shouldered, so perfectly chiseled, so impeccably dressed…such a large…codpiece…”

A glimmer of something crossed the Fox’s face, and Scarlet, her senses being super, after all, caught it immediately.

“By my sword,” she gasped, “Don’t tell me…Captain Amazing isn’t….”

She held up her fingers about an inch apart. Fox couldn’t help it. She broke into a laugh, which Scarlet joined. A few moments later, she wiped a tear from her cheek.

“No, no…It’s not that. He’s perfectly adequately, um….equipped. Not too big, not too small, just…”

“Spill it, sister,” Scarlett urged. The Fox swallowed, hard.

“Well, let’s just say that, romantically? He’s not so awesome.”

“Do tell! Is he too aggressive? I do love an aggressive man. If he is and you don’t want him…”

“No, it’s not that either. He is definitely sure of himself, and likes to take the lead, but…”

The Silver Fox paused. Was she really going to get into this? She sighed again. May as well.

“Let’s just say…maybe he and the Minuteman should change names,” she admitted, blushing.

Scarlet roared. At first, it irritated Fox, but soon she found herself rolling with laughter as well.
“That’s ok sweetie. Minuteman would be better off as ‘The Living Plank’, anyway. He’s dreadfully boring in the sack.”

“What? Scarlet, don’t tell me…”

Scarlet nodded.

“Remember the Kxylyntll Invasion? Right after that. It was terrible…for someone so passionate about patriotism, he sure is mechanical in bed.”

Fox laughed.

“But I thought you were with the Pimpernel then!”

“Ha! The pimp part is right…I caught him cheating on me with that floozy, the Silk Psychic!”

“No! The one that looks like…”

“…Charlie Sheen in drag!” the pair said in unison, before falling into more laughter.

“Maybe you should have gone after the Mighty Hammer instead,” Fox suggested.

“Gay,” Scarlet sighed.

“Nightshift?”

“Prude.”

“Cardinal Justice?”

“Way, WAY too kinky.”

“Scarlet! Now you’re just being silly…is there anyone in the super community that you haven’t bedded and rejected?”

“What can I say, sweetie, a girl has needs. And it’s a limited dating pool when you have a supernaturally strengthened libido! I was going to aim for Captain Awesome, but now…”

Fox grinned, her blush still evident.

“Surely, there has to be someone out there who has met up to your needs…”

It was Scarlet’s turn to blush, and Fox jumped on that eagerly.

“There is! Oh, you have to tell me who!”

“Only if you promise to never whisper a word about this to anyone! And not to judge me!”

Fox crossed her heart. Scarlet nodded.

“Darkstar,” she said, barely above a whisper. Fox’s mouth fell open, her eyes widened in shock.

“Darkstar?! The villain???”

Scar frowned, looked away, but Fox touched her shoulder and turned her.

“Do tell..I promise I won’t judge.”

Scarlet sighed.

“I didn’t know it was Darkstar at the time. Nor he that I was the Scarlet Saber. We met in our mundanes…he was Derrick Devlin and I was Samantha Smythe. We met on one of those dating sites…I was trying to, you know, scratch the itch without dipping back into the pool of Super Disappointment. But…oh, Fox…”

Tears fell from Scarlet’s face, and Fox took her in a comforting embrace.

“It’s just…he was so gentle, Fox. Sweet. Tender. Caring. And by the stars, so very, very talented in bed.”

Fox was flabbergasted.

“Are we talking about the same Darkstar? The one who wants to rule with an iron fist? The one who tried to conquer at least three different nations just last week?”

Scarlet nodded.

“He isn’t all bad, you know. He just can’t stand chaos, conflict…so he tries to solve it by taking over. But on the inside…he’s so much different. And alas, in prison now. Again.”

“I’m sorry, Scarlet.”

“It’s ok, sweetie. I’ll…”

An explosion rocked in the distance, interrupting the two heroines. In a flash, they were up, and on their way to the scene. Moments later, they stood outside the Metro City Maximum Security Prison. The Mighty Hammer and Captain Amazing were already there, talking to the guards.

“What happened?” Fox asked.

“Breakout!” the Mighty Hammer said, his eyes gazing longingly at Captain Amazing’s tights. Captain Amazing turned, and approached the trio.

“Fear not, ladies…me and the Hammer can handle this one. Darkstar is loose…but we can take him.”

“We’ll pound his ass into the ground,” the Mighty Hammer exclaimed, high-fiving Captain Amazing, “and have him back behind bars in less than a minute!”

Fox and Scarlet burst into laughter.

They couldn’t help it.

“Be Careful What You Wish For” – Turn-A-Trope #6, #WOEGTTT

After a hell of a week, I have finally gotten a chance to write something. I tell ya, it’s a huge relief. I had not realized how much I’ve come to enjoy venting a little fiction into the blogosphere, and how much it would aggravate me when I miss getting to do it. Hopefully, this story, my late entry for last week’s Turn-A-Trope Tuesday challenge, Make A Wish, will get me back on track.

Be careful what you wish for.

I use to find myself wishing for something more. Something bigger, something better, something different than who I am. A real life Walter Mitty, I guess, lost in day dreams about what might have been had I been fitter, sexier, richer. Or born in another era, where my prodigious talents would have been truly appreciated for what they were. Or where I could show off my knowledge of ancient skills and histories and brilliant intelligence and have those things impress instead of finding scorn.

I would wish every night, upon the same star in the sky. Of course, it probably wasn’t a star. It was probably Venus, or hell, something even less sexy. A satellite. Star light, star bright, first star I see at night, probably a Sputnik in low orbit flight. Still, every night, I’d go up to the roof and lay on my back and stare at the cosmos above and just wish, more than anything, to be something different. And every day, I’d awake, the same, old, boring me. And most of all, alone.

It was the loneliness, I think, that made me look for the first time at the space between those sparkling points of light. That emptiness, that black and unchanging void that screamed as much in its solitude as did my soul in its own loneliness. When all was sparkling and bright around it, it was empty. Black. Wanting. I wanted, too. I stared into that void, and wished. No light, just night, nothing sparkling clean and bright, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish…I suddenly felt very foolish. I think may actually have blushed at that moment, embarrassed by my own silliness. I sighed, hard, and for a moment had to fight back a welling wetness from within my eyes.

Fuck wishes. I think I said that aloud too. But seriously, fuck them. I’ve wished a million, billion things and never once have they come true. And the insidious thing about wishing is that the very act seems to drain you of ambition. I’d make a wish, and the part of me that wanted it was somehow a little more satisfied that at least I’d done something, right? And then I’d do nothing. Because I’d wished. Look at that star, or Venus, or Sputnik, and say “I wish I were in better shape” instead of just getting off my ass and going to the gym. And in my head, that part of me that was tired of being doughy and soft would smile at my effort, and the yearning would fade. I’d never get to the gym. I didn’t need to. I had wishes.

I swallowed the sadness that had lumped in my throat, wiped away the tears in my eyes. I got up off that dusty old roof, brushed my pants off, and started to walk back to the dormer window that brought me out to my nightly wishing spot. As I reached the window, I looked back, realizing that it was over. I was not ever going to do this again. I was done with wishes.

Almost.

I looked to that spot, that void, and I made my final wish.

“I will not wish ever again,” I said, low but heavy with shame and anger, “I will not ever ask another thing, so these are my last. I wish, how I wish, that this wasn’t my life, that I were someone, anyone else, somewhere, anywhere else. I wish that wishing stars weren’t absolute bullshit, and that tomorrow I could wake up and be anyone but me. I wish…”

I paused, fighting back the tears, the lump in my throat, the wetness coming again to my eyes.
“I wish I wasn’t alone.”

And then…I swear, the patch had been empty, black. But I saw a twinkle there. Bright, dancing, sparkling in the night. I laughed, hollowly. My void had been nothing more than a cloud obscuring a star. A star just like all the other junk in space. Brilliant and wishless. I went inside, locked the window, and found my way to bed. Sleep came to me, heavy and burdened. Fitful. I tossed and turned all night, struggling with my self-conscious that didn’t want to accept a world without wishes.

And then I woke.

And I was not in my bed. I was not in my home. I was not in my clothes. All around me, a world of strange and alien sights, strange and alien smells, sounds. I leapt up to my feet, pinched myself. I looked to the sky, and saw darkness filled with points of light, all in patterns I’d never seen. Elation washed over me! My wish! Oh could it be? Had I gotten my wish?

And then, shock. Realization. Numbness, as I began to fully understand.

I was not smart, here. My talents were nothing, here. My knowledge, useless, here. It was like I was someone else entirely. Chills washed down my spine. God, what was I going to do?

And then…oh god, then. I heard it. Out there, far, but getting closer. A horrifying, shrieking sound that reminded my of the last part of my wish.

Because it’d come true. All of it. I wasn’t me here – the me of my world was gone. My world was gone. The stars weren’t bullshit. I had awaken someplace else, someone else.

The shriek was closer now, angry, hungry sounding.

I was not alone.

And the stars above me twinkled and laughed.

“The Measure of a Man” – Turn-a-trope #4, #WOEGTTT

This one was incredibly tough! Were it not that I refused to be beaten by my own challenge, I would have tossed in the towel. That said, I think the following tale does a decent job of skewering the trope, “A Man is Not a Virgin.”

Enjoy.

Tomas rode with the fury of a man possessed. The gates of the ancient temple of Kalziban lay behind him, and in his wake, the bodies of a legion of slain hellions. Ahead, he could see the door that lead to the inner temple, and the Pool of Tears. He knew that he would find her there. Lillian. His sworn ward.

As the Knight of the cloak, it has been his responsibility to protect her. And he had, through countless dangers, countless attempts on her life. She was the last of the purest bloodline, and her death would profit many an evil man. He had fought dozens to defend her, and bested them all. Sir Tomas of the Cloak was, perhaps, the greatest knight who’d ever served.

She had vanished in the night, despite all precautions. Tomas knew this time would come, had since the moment of her birth. Tonight, the moons above aligned with the Dread star, the Blood Eye of Kalziban. He knew that whoever took her, would take her here. His horse stumbled, fell. Tomas leapt from its back as it went, tumbling to the ground in clash of steel and leather. He cried out as he struck a stony pillar. His horse, ridden far beyond exhaustion, cried out, and expired. He rose to his feet, and ran up the stairs and through the temple’s doors.

“You’re too late,” Alcyon cackled. The dread summoner held up his hands, dripping with blood. “Too late, hero, too late to save her, too late to stop the summoning!”

Tomas fell to his knees with a sob. Before him, splayed across the pentacle carved into the ground, was Lillian. Sweet, innocent Lillian. The last of legal heir to the kingdom of Tancreath. The Virgin Princess. The Keeper of the Barrier. His sworn ward.

Tears fell from Tomas’ cheek. He cast away his shield as he took her hand in his own, felt the cold lifelessness therein. Her body, a ruin of blood and savagery, her thighs, a spectacle of disaster and debauchery.  Tomas’ sword slipped from his free hand, and reached, tenderly, for her cold staring eyes, unfocused and staring into the void. He closed them, softly, and brushed away a lock of coal black hair.

“It would have been enough,” the knight croaked hoarsely, “to have just killed her. ”

“Oh,” the summoner spoke, his voice filled with sarcastic mock pity, “yes, it would have. But then I would not have gotten to see this, would I have? The undefeatable Sir Tomas of the Cloak, brought to his knees? Not by a sword, not by a lance, not by an army of men…but by a man. A single man, with nothing in his hands…but blood.”

Alcyon continued to laugh madly. Tomas felt his head swim. A strange, numbing wave crashed against his nerves, his face, his limbs tingling. He rose, slowly, a final sob given to his fallen ward as he raised her up in his arms. He turned, looked to the Pool of Tears. Slowly, he walked towards it, heedless of the summoner and his madness. Around him, lights began to grow, strange, glowing, otherworldly emanations that rose from the ancient runes and sigils carved and cast throughout the hall.

“Too late!” Alcyon cried, sobbing in mirth, “She is dead!”

Tomas didn’t listen. He continued to the pool, till he stood overlooking its pale, milky waters. A drop of blood fell from Lillian’s outstretched arm, and slipped into the pool, an angry red swirl on a sea of pearl.

“She is dead,” Alcyon repeated, but his laughter cracked, slowing, “It is over, fool! And besides…”

The summoner nodded at the pool.

“It takes the life of a virgin of royal birth to halt the summoning of the Dread Lord Kalziban. She was the last. It is over!”

Tomas, silent still, lowered the girl’s body to the pool, then watched her slip beneath the surface. He stood then, turned to the mad summoner.

“Do you know the measure of a man, summoner? Do you know why I took up the Cloak?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper. Alcyon’s grin faltered.

“The Cloak is not an easy burden to bear. Its wearer must be good and strong. Generous and just. Compassionate and merciful. Swift of blade, swift of defense. Trustworthy and…pure.”

The knight turned and looked at the summoner, his eyes rimmed with red, stained with tears, but cold, so cold.

“Pure. Untouched by the hands, the lips, the body of a lover.”

Tomas ran a hand through hair as black as pitch, the same color as Lillian’s.

“I took the Cloak because I was born a bastard. And now…”

Tomas stepped to the edge of the pool. Alcyon stumbled forward, slipped in blood. He crashed to the ground, then looked up, his eyes wide with something they had never known.

Fear.

“…now I will see my sister safely to the Underworld.”

Tomas dived into the pool. Alcyon shrieked, raged, as the knight’s heavy armour pulled him quickly downward. The summoner scrambled to the pool, plunging his arms in, staining the water pink with blood. But the knight was gone, the pool empty.

Around him the walls began to shake. The sigils began to glow a violent red.  A sharp smell of ozone filled the air, and the crack of the barrier, the gateway between worlds, slammed through the air. Alcyon howled as the dissipating energies tore about the room. The ceiling quaked, and pieces began to collapse.

Then bitterly, he laughed, as the temple collapsed around him.

#FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 26 – “A Subtle Streak of Red”

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Howdy all! Time for week 26 of the lovely Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge! This week, I return to a world I touched on briefly in “A Little Bit of Magic…” with this week’s theme, ”Do you notice anything different about me?”.  I thought it apt! Here we are, right at 500 words, with “A Subtle Streak of Red.”

Magic is a squirrely thing. The universe doesn’t like it, but it’s willing to accept it, so long as it stays quiet and unobtrusive. Kind of like that weird kid who sits in the corner and hums all the time; you can pretend he isn’t there, until he does something shocking.

But there’s nothing wrong with him. His reality is just different from yours, the two don’t agree with each other. He does little things; rearranging the pieces on a chessboard repetitively. No one cares. He stacks books on each other. No one cares. It’s not till he’s jumping on tables, flinging objects and howling at the top of his lungs that we react. Depending on the intensity of his outburst, we don’t do anything at first. We sit there, shocked, watching as he screams obscenities and beats his chest.

It may take a moment but eventually, someone snaps, tries to settle him down. They straighten up the mess, shush him, and guide him back to the corner, humming. Then, everyone pretends it didn’t happen, and goes back to doing their thing. But things have changed. The books he threw are damaged, torn. The plates, shattered. The nick-knacks all unbalanced and rearranged. Everyone pretends like it’s back to normal, but it’s not.

That’s magic. Either you work your casting carefully, making tiny changes that the universe will ignore, or you do something drastic, and accept that parts will fade as entropy forces itself upon reality. If you know what you’re doing, things won’t be the way they were before the reset. You’ll make big changes, even if they weren’t what everyone thought they were. Like a stage magician, it’s distraction, making a big show with one hand while carefully doing the real work with the other. It’s harder than it sounds. Or, wait…maybe it’s exactly as hard as it sounds. Because it doesn’t sound easy, does it?

So I’m practicing. A subtle change, a streak of color in my hair. The kind of thing that someone will look at and double-take, but then make excuses for having missed. Small magic, to get the hang of the basics. I close my eyes, concentrate. I recite softly the incantations that let me exert my will over reality…and there. A streak of red sprouts from my bangs.

I turn to the guy next to me on the bus. He doesn’t know me, but I made sure to chat him up when I got on, made sure he got a good look at me. That’s important. I get his attention.

”Do you notice anything different about me?”

He looks at me, friendly at first, then his brow furrows. His eyes glaze slightly. I can smell the faint hint of ozone, that indicates that the universe is about to rebel. Damn it!

And then…

“No, sorry. Should I?”

I breathe out, just becoming aware I’d been holding my breath.

“No, thanks man.”

He nods, turns back to his book.

The color stays. Just like magic.

Duke Lazell’s Missing Finger – A flashback flash fiction!

So, this is a flash fiction I did a couple months back, but I wanted to share it here because it was a fun exercise. The deal behind it was this – my buddy sent me a text with a title and the first sentence of a story, and I had to come up with the rest of the tale, in under an hour. This is my result.

That fucking bird didn’t know it, but it had seen its last sunrise. It wasn’t even properly dawn, for light’s sake, but the bloody thing was there, just outside the window, caw-cawing away at the great threat it perceived rising in the east every morning, a threat that even now was only thinking of creeping over the horizon. And this bird, this loathsome little jackdaw, overly impressed with its size and ability, thought that its mere voice could keep that great fiery bird from infringing on its courting territory. Enough.

The hangover, of course, didn’t help. My head throbbed with the beat of a thousand swords against a thousand shields, a relentless thump-thumping that alone could drive a man to madness. When combined with that shadow-sworn bird and its ceaseless melody of avian chest thumping, it was a cacophony that even I, Galmor the Great, newly appointed wizard supreme of the court of King Phalian the Kind, could not endure. And trust me, normally, I can endure quite a lot. You have to when you’re a wizard.

I stumbled from my bed in a wobble, a half-stumble, half-fall towards the washbasin. Thank the light that the porter had seen the pitcher filled, and a touch at its side confirmed that it was at least still lukewarm. I chanted a brief incantation, and the copper that formed the pitcher glowed. In moments, steam rose, and I poured a bit of the now hot water into the basin, splashed it upon my face, and tried to wash away the remnants from last night’s feastings that still remained in my beard. The bird continued to screech, and my face in the looking glass sneered.

“Bloody bird,” the image spat, “I really wish you’d see to that beast.”

I sighed, irritated that what I had previously wished was now being demanded of me. Like most wizards, I have a deplorable dislike of authority, and it took nothing more than the vocalization of my own desire from someone other than me, no matter how incorporeal, to spark a thought of resistance in me. And then the bird called, and my resolve returned.

“I intend to,” I growled, and the me in the mirror gave a smug little smirk of satisfaction. Shadows take me if I didn’t think seriously then about breaking the glass, but such things bear ill fortunes and clearly my day was full enough of those as it was. Right then, to the bird.

Storming over to the window (literally storming, I might add, for a small cloudburst had formed over my head in my wrath, and even now was growing in size and darkness), I flung back the curtains and immediately closed them. Blast, but the sun was growing bright already, despite the desperate efforts of that damnable bird! A flicker of lightning danced within the cloud over my head, and the air filled with the scent of pending rain. I reached over, grabbed my staff, and pried the curtain back more slowly, letting my eyes adjust to the brightness, wincing through the pain it caused behind my much abused and still slightly inebriated optical nerves.

There it was, my tormentor, my torturer, my morning nemesis. There, perched upon the outstretched hand of a statue of Duke Lazell, father of my king (and current employer) and to my unceasing consternation, a great lover of all things fowl. Indeed, the wretched squawker that so constantly irritated my mornings was no doubt one of the many specimens the late duke had collected in the palace gardens, with the assistance, no doubt, of the former wizard supreme. Much to my displeasure, when the two accidently blew themselves up (and the previous king, to whom the Duke was heir) several years prior to my employment, the explosion didn’t take the damnable birds with them. And doubled to that displeasure was the fact that Phalian the Kind, earning his name, took a soft-hearted liking to all the things his father loved (at least, the things his father loved that suited him), and had declared that all things feathered protected under kingdom law. To kill a fowl was to foul the king’s law, and the punishment, surely, would be far less kind than the king’s sobriquet implied.

But I was wizard supreme, and damned if I was going to suffer one more early awakening. Thunder rumbled over my head as I took aim upon the blighted beast, pointing my staff in its cursed direction, and with a fury equal to any demon of shadow, I muttered my lethal curse at it. Lightning struck from the cloud above my head, coursing down to my staff and then arcing outward towards the bird. There was a sharp snap, the deep, tangy smell of electrical discharge, and shortly, the lovely scent of roasted bird. And then, a crack, a thud, and a gasp.

I rushed to look out the window to see the cause of the latter. There, on the ground at the feet of the statue of Duke Lazell, lay a great stone finger. I glanced to the statue’s hand, and winced when I saw that perhaps my fury had been a bit over exuberant. For in my need to unalive the beast of my disdain, I had added a bit too much umph to my spell, and it had severed from the stone effigy the rocky likeness’s middle finger. As for the gasp, that likely belonged to the manservant who even now scurried off towards the king’s guard. Lovely. Great. Just what my morning needed. I had better think quick.

“Good morrow, and light be praised!” I exclaimed when, very shortly thereafter, the door to my chambers was kicked open by said guard. And who should be there with them, but his Majesty, still in his dressing robe, and his seneschal, his chief royal advisor, and if some were to be believed, his lover.

“GALMOR!” the king bellowed, “What is the meaning of this?”

“The meaning of what, your Majesty?” I asked, my voice the essence of calmness and civility.

“You know damned well what!”

I shrugged noncommittally. The king sighed, and pointed out the window at the statue of the duke, framed perfectly through that portal.

“Ah!” I said, as if it had just occurred to me what he was speaking of, “You’ve noticed my improvement to your father’s statue!”

“IMPROVEMENT?” he roared.

“Yes, your Majesty. You see, I noticed upon taking residence in this tower that the statue of your father was…imperfect. The middle finger on his outstretched hand was clearly too short. And as any learned wizard can tell you, a too short middle finger is a sign of bastardry. It has bothered me since my appointment to this position, and I could bear the insult to your name no longer!”

The guards glanced at each other, clearly confused. The king looked to his seneschal, who shrugged. The great advantage to being a wizard was that no one ever questioned your logic. The king harumphed a bit, as the seneschal shifted nervously from foot to foot, and the guards continued to stare in evident confusion.

“Well then,” the king said, clearly still angry but unable to justify punishing me for removing any doubt to his lineage, “There is still the matter of the bird!”

“The bird?” I asked innocently.

“Yes, the bird, shades curse you! You killed one of my father’s birds!”

My face took on a look of abject horror.

“Light, no!” I cried out, “Alas, the poor beast must have seen what I saw, must have meant to cover the insult with its own presence, and alighted just as my spell was cast upon that wretched finger!”

The seneschal sniffled suspiciously, but I ignored him. The king harumphed again.

“Then you did not intend to kill the fowl?”

“Your majesty, I assure you,” I said extending my middle finger, “I aimed but for this. I never in my life intended to shoot the bird.”

“To Heed the Call” – response to Turn-a-trope #3! #woegttt

On time this week is my entry to last week’s Turn-a-trope challenge: “Resigned to the Call”

Did you take part in the Turn-a-trope challenge? Reply with a link to your story in the comments below!

Just under a thousand words, here is, “To Heed the Call.”

“You don’t want me for this.”

Galyon sighed, his lips a tight line of resolve.

“We have no choice,” Galyon rumbled, his voice deep and graveled and as scarred as his body. “There is no one else who can face the coming threat of Eldinia and her minions. Already, they overrun the outer territories. Soon, they will reach the Realm.”

Hethian stared into his cup, swirling the dregs that remained slowly, thinking. He was a hard man, and his visage showed it. Sharp angles creased his face, hard muscles worked beneath his thin tunic. Unconsciously, he rolled the shoulder of his sword arm, feeling it crack and pop. He was getting too old, too worn, to be the hero.

“I say again,” Hethian muttered, “That you don’t want me for this. Are there no others you can ask?”

“Who remains?” Galyon asked, desperation causing his grumble to crack. “All our greatest warriors are gone. Dead from previous campaigns, or lost to mad adventures. There are none, Hethian, to heed the call of the King Felrick. Will you deny it as well?”

Hethian’s eyes burned, narrowed. He stood, and even Galyon, no stranger to combat, gasped. Hethian was a giant of a man, towering at least two heads above even the tallest man Galyon had ever known. The mass of angry muscle stalked towards a trunk at the end of the room. He flipped the lid, gazed inside a moment, then reached down. Gently, almost as if cradling a child, he raised a long package wrapped in old blankets. He unfolded a corner, and looked at the gleaming steel within. The blade caught the fire within his eye, and glinted. A very slight smile formed on the warrior’s face.

Galyon did not care nor question why Hethian had hung up his sword. The wars had been hard, the losses great on both sides. He knew only that the great warrior had returned to the capital, walked up to the king, and resigned his commission, forfeiting all titles and rewards his service had granted him. He was stripped of all; land, uniform, titles. The king, though, granted him his sword. The war had been hell, yes. King Felrick understood that, and though law may require the rest, the king could still grant him the right to bear arms.

“When have I ever denied the call of the king?” Hethian said, almost in a whisper. The blanket fell away, revealing the massive blade beneath. Hethian slung it over his back, adjusting the leather belts that secured it to his heavily muscled torso.

“Very well. You have asked me. I have tried to deny you, but you will not have it. I will go and meet Eldinia on the field.”

Galyon breathed a sigh of relief.

***

The kingdom was shattered, the forces of King Falrick, routed. Galyon, his face bloodied, his body weak from wounds deep and soon, deadly, lay propped near the throne. Falrick himself lay beside it, his eyes staring emptily towards the ceiling.

Eldinia approached. She wore no armour, no protections. He clothes, cut scandalously, hugged her curvy frame and swayed as she walked. In the distance, the sounds of screams and clashing swords grew less and less vivid. The battle would be over soon, entirely. The kingdom was lost. Behind her, a heavily armoured warrior kept step.

She paused, looking down at Falrick, and for a moment, Galyon saw a hint of sadness fleet across her face. It made his stomach churn. Don’t, he thought. Don’t pity him.

She turned, as if she had heard his very thoughts.

“Ah, you must be the noble Galyon. Seneschal to the King, steward of his hall.”

She looked about, gestured to the bodies fallen within.

“I fear we’ve made a bit of a mess…but do not worry. I do not think your position will last much longer.”

“Shut your mouth, witch!” Galyon roared, summoning the last of his reserves. “We have not fallen yet! Hethian remains! He will find you and avenge us, if nothing more! He will see your corpse rot beside our own!”

Her face softened. She kneeled, coming closer to the dying man.

“Sweet Galyon. Have you not heard?”

She gestured towards the armoured beast behind her. The man approached, his hands raising to unclasp the straps that held his helmet, his breastplate. As they fell away, Galyon sobbed. Hethian stood there, his face, stony.

“Hethian,” he sobbed, “Why? You were our greatest…”

The warrior held up a hand, stopping him.

“I was never yours,” he said, bluntly. “Never once. Did no one ever question how I survived when all other heroes fell? Did no one ever wonder why those who remained sought out dangerous quests from which they did not return? It was I, Galyon. I whispered in their ears about treasures to be found, powerful artifacts to save the realm. One by one, I ensured that every hero fell…till I alone remained.”

Hethian reached back, unstrapping his great sword.

“I did find pity for you. I tried to resign. Tried to remove myself from a position of power. But in the end, you came back to me. You begged me. You insisted that I must fulfill my destiny.”

The sword hissed softly as it slid from the metal rings that bound it.

“I tried to resist, Galyon. I tried to back out. You brought this. You brought me.”

The sword swung. The seneschal, to his credit, did not make a sound. Hethian dropped the heavy blade, and turned.

“It is over, my love,” he said, sorrow heavy in his voice. “The kingdom is yours.”

Eldinia smiled, took his face into her hands, and kissed him.