Fighting

“Easy as a Spring Dress” – a Pinky Black prequel!

So I’ve been sitting on this one for several months. Submitted it to a flash fiction zine, but it didn’t get picked up. Since I have since taken the character I invented here and fleshed him into the noble savage that is Pinky Black, I thought some of you might like to see the very first aspect of our hard hitting friend of Jimmy the Gent.

Here’s “Easy as a Spring Dress.”

It was a quarter past one, and the heat of the sun beat down from a brilliant, clear sky with only slightly less fury then what my fists had just finished delivering to the poor sap on the ground in front of me. I nudged him with my foot. He groaned. Good.

Wasn’t dead.

Yet.

I bent down and looked at the bloody, broken mess that fifteen minutes before had been an asshole named Danny. He thought he was a tough one, I guess. Dressed like it. Walked like it. Talked like it. But when it came time to throw down, he’d merely gone down, like a sack full of cinder blocks and questionable evidence in a deep bay. I kicked him a bit harder, for good measure. He coughed up a bit of blood, and sobbed. I probably should have felt bad for that. I didn’t.

“Last chance, Danny,” I said, slightly louder than a whisper, but no more. He deserved having to strain to hear me. “I told you once before, if you ever touched her, I’d hurt you.”

I took a breath, looked over my shoulder at the girl cowering against the alley wall. Her face wore hurt and terror like a spring dress, loose and comfortable. That did make me feel bad. I hated that she’d run out here to see this, but you know? Maybe that was good, too.

“Believe it or not, Danny, I don’t like violence. I’m just good at it, see? I tried, I tried real hard, to let you off easy last time, but you didn’t listen. So you bought this, Danny.”

He groaned again. I sighed.

I didn’t make it a habit of being a hero. Wasn’t my gig. I was much better at being a low man, a hard man. And men like me, well, we don’t make good heroes. But there are some things I can’t abide, and one of them is beating on someone who couldn’t defend themselves. I guess I had a little streak of soft in me. Marbling in the meat, if you will.

“This is my last talk with you, Danny. I’ll be watching. I see another bruise on that girl, and you will never lay a hand on another living soul again. She so much as trips and skins her knee, and I’m going to assume it was you. No more warnings, no more beatings.”

I paused, leaned real close.

“No more Danny. You have my word,” I whispered.

He shook, and the sharp smell of piss confirmed that he’d gotten the message. I stood up, picked his jacket up from where he’d dropped it before the fight, and used it to wipe his blood off my fists. The girl stared at me the whole time, as I brushed off the dirt from my knees and cleaned his gore from my boot.

That’s when I saw it.

In her eyes, I saw a glimmer. The blossoming of something wicked, dark. I saw her picking a fight, saw him walking away. Saw her remembering my words, and acting on them. He didn’t have to hit her. She could bruise herself just as easy. But I’m a man of my word, if nothing more. Danny better hope he sees that glimmer too. Better hope he recognizes it, and doesn’t piss her off. Or else he’ll find out just how easily that sack full of cinder blocks goes down, with him as the questionable evidence.

I left him there. Her too. As I walked out of the alley, I saw her smile.

And that hurt, that terror? It fell off her, easy as a spring dress.

Where Runs the Warhorse

Where runs the warhorse when his time has come?
When his barding’s gone and his reins retired,
When sounds the beating of a different drum
Than the ones of war, that had once inspired
His gallant service to a noble knight,
With whom he galloped to honor, glory,
In deeds of skill, chivalry and might,
Inspiring many a young man’s story
Of bravery, mastery, battles fought,
And many a lass’s dreams and song
Of ancient days when true knights sought
To prove their mettle with courage strong?
To Elysian fields, where the sweet grass grows,
To await his knight, when the Trumpet blows.

This weekend, the valiant steed of a dear friend, the knight to whom I am squired, passed on to the Elysian fields. I am not a horseman, myself, being massively allergic to those noble beasts, but I know too well how strong the bond between man and his animal friends can be. Fare thee well, Luke, and be ready for your next ride.

“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.

“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.

“Rum Punch” – Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The Cocktail Is Your Title

This week from the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig comes a challenge to use the name of a randomly generated cocktail as the title of a story.

Using the dice roller at Invisible Castle, I came up with #12: Rum Punch.  Chuck gave us a limit of 1500 words, but the kind of story that came to mind needed a lot less, kind of like the protagonist. So here, weighing in at 690 words, is “Rum Punch.”

I saw him as soon as I walked in, standing behind the bar, polishing the table with an old rag. His knuckles looked slightly bruised, and I knew why. It’s why I’d come. I looked around, briefly. The place was dead. Good. I walked up to the bar.

“What’ll it be?” he asked.

“Rum punch,” I growled.

He looked up, took me in, a look of confusion on his face. Six-two, two-hundred forty pounds of heavy muscle. Long dark hair, goatee. Dark glasses. Motorcycle boots. Leather. That was me, and probably not the kind of guy who’d normally order that kind of drink. Not something a shithole dive like this would be prepared to make any way. He smirked. Thought it was a joke.

“Rum I’ve got,” he said, placing a half-empty bottle of swill on the counter, “The punch, you’ll have to provide yourself.”

Thought he’d never ask.

My fist connected with his nose in a blur of meat and fury. I felt the bones beneath my blow bend, give, break, till his face felt a bit like jelly beneath the pressure of my fist. He reeled back, tumbling against the back counter, arms flailing. I cleared the front one in a leap, grabbing the bottle of swill as I cleared it. I brought that down on his head, hard.

A bottle of rum, even the cheap shit, is tougher than it looks. It’s not like it is in the movies. It doesn’t break when you look at it funny. I clocked him with it. Clocked him again. A third time. When it was clear he wasn’t going to move, I flung it to the side, towards the concrete floor. That’s when it shattered.

I breathed in, deep and heavy, and looked down at my work. He was a mess, that was for sure. I nudged him with my boot. He groaned. Good. Wasn’t dead. I snatched the rag from where he left it on the counter, and wiped his blood from my knuckles. I grabbed another bottle of swill twisted the top, and poured it over his bloody form until he started screaming from the burn, and then I reached down, grabbed him by the shirt, and hauled him up to the counter.

He whimpered, covered his face with his hands.

“Don’t feel too good, does it Tony?” I barked. He winced. I slapped him.

“This is a message, Tony. Jimmy don’t like guys who beat up girls. Especially not girls under his protection.”

His face paled more from the mention of my boss’s name than it did from my beating. Jimmy “The Gent” Alvarez was a hard, low man, but he’d earned his nickname for his civility towards the opposite sex. Since he’d taken over this side of town, decided to make it clear that certain actions would no longer be tolerated.

That’s where I came in.

You see, I’d been out of the game a long time. I’d taken my bruises, given back more. But Jimmy was an old friend, and I knew that, unlike some of the shit stains who took up turf in this town, Jimmy wanted order. Profitable order, sure, but order. And it was clear the cops weren’t ever gonna provide it. So he came to me.

“Pinky Black,” he’d said, strolling into my garage, “Been too long. I’ve got some work for you.”

He made me an offer. I countered. No women, no kids, no one who wasn’t a dirt bag. I wouldn’t be shaking down storeowners or the like. The Gent liked that.

“It’s more profitable to protect than to threaten,” the Gent said.

So here I was. I made a brief search behind the bar, tucked the hand cannon I found there into my waistband. No sense catching a bullet on my way out. I turned back to Tony, who still sat trembling on the bar back.

“This was your warning, Tony. You only get one.”

I turned, walked out. I flipped the sign on the door to “Closed” as I passed. A handful of roughnecks paused as I did.

“He’s closed,” I said. “Ran out of rum.”

 

Feeling bruised, sore, and joyous…

I have mentioned here before that one of my odd hobbies is the practice of medieval combat. Last night, I was invited to a demonstration of our fighting skills for a large group of Cub Scouts, as the culmination of a week-long camp with a theme of knights and chivalry. It was a long demo; I was in clad in 85 pounds of steel and leather and chain for just over three hours total. By the end, I was roasting hot. Imagine, if you will the number of layers I had on. An under shirt, a padded gambeson (basically a medium weight winter coat), a layer of chainmaille, a layer of thick, saddle strength leather, and then a layer of steel atop it all. Then, imagine that you are wearing this in the summer time. In Georgia. That said, I am still, even now, many hours later, riding the high of yesterday’s fighting.

 There is a deep, indescribable joy at the feeling of being hit during a good fight. I know that sounds ridiculous, especially to someone who has never tried it, but it’s true. Not that the stuff leading up to it isn’t thrilling on its own; wearing armour, on its own, has a unique ability to make one feel utterly invincible, even when you are very aware you aren’t. Still, when you are standing there, clad in steel and/or leather, cloth, even plastic, you somehow feel stronger. Better. Capable. And the combat itself is, in a word, astounding. To be able to swing a weapon, be it a sword made of steel or a glorified piece of grass pretending to be one, with force of arm and strength of purpose, is indeed a glorious thing. And it is also a glorious thing to see one’s opponent fall beneath the blow, to feel it strike hard and true and watch them tumble in acknowledgement of the skill of your shot. Winning is definitely fun.

 But there is also a strange joy in losing combat as well. There is so much tension on the field; not a bad tension, but tension all the same. A complex, intricate dance of emotions, thoughts, instincts. Flinches, dodges, feints, blocks. All of these building to a sharp anticipation of what will happen next, who will falter, how will they fall? And then, bam! You are struck. Hard. In a moment, all that tension and anticipation is relieved, and you are free to fall, to relax the muscles you had tensed before that fatal moment and to let yourself crash, protected, to the waiting earth below. It is, at the risk of making it sound more awkward than it actually is, almost orgasmic. Every bit of you that was moments before straining is released, relaxed, and done. And sure, you lost that fight…but you lost it to someone you like. We only ever fight as friends, and it is joyous when a friend succeeds, even when it is a success against you.

 Sure, there is sometimes a sting to that loss. Perhaps you realize, as you crash in a thunder of steel and chain, that you could have blocked that shot if you had turned this way or that. And sometimes that sting is more literal; a pretty little bruise where your friend’s clean blow landed unhindered in a spot you didn’t have armour. But it is a good sting in either case, like the good ache of a loose tooth you cannot help but wiggle. And the wincing gasp a day later when you find that spot again? Perhaps it is different for you, but for me, once the momentary sting is gone…it too, is joyous.

 A reminder of a fight that was honorably fought, joyful to participate in, and lost with dignity.