The King’s Road
The constant, pounding ache threatened to rip his skull apart as he woke. He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the cot, groaning with the splitting pain of every movement. It took a moment to remember he was at an inn.
He recalled having to stop for the night, because that was when the thieves came out to play on the King’s Road. He had been carrying something…
Standing, he shuffled slowly over to the cracked looking glass on the wall. Staring at his bloodshot eyes and the stubborn brown hair falling in lank waves onto his shoulders, he rubbed his face. His beard needed a good shaving. He was starting to resemble his father. He looked down for just a moment before the voice came into his mind.
You remind me of a man I once loved.
It was seductively female, and when he jumped with surprise, he knocked into the washbasin. It made a deep, metallic boom that resounded eerily as he swung around searching, but she wasn’t there.
That voice! It was the woman that had bought him a drink last night.
“You are the image of him,” the woman had said tearfully. “Please sit with me.”
He recalled deep blue eyes like sapphires and strawberry-blonde hair tied in a plait. He remembered their first drink, but the second was mostly a blur.
He had been carrying a bounty…
He tasted the familiar sweetness of the drug on his tongue as realization hit him. He flew to his rucksack and dumped its contents onto the bed.
There were some stale bread crusts and enough coppers to get him home.
The rest was gone.
He sat on the edge of the bed in numb disbelief. He had been robbed.
Halfway to Dover, Sapphire the thief smiled and tucked the precious gem back inside her cloak. Men became such fools when they thought themselves needed. They should be more careful on the King’s Road.
This excerpt meets two submission guidelines.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Karla V challenged me with “You looked down for just a moment…” and I challenged Kurt with “Your character or someone close to them is always getting sick. Write a situation under 500 words in which there is a conversation about this.”
Trifecta Week 12: image noun \ˈi-mij\ 1: a reproduction or imitation of the form of a person or thing;especially : an imitation in solid form : statue 2 a : the optical counterpart of an object produced by an optical device (as a lens or mirror) or an electronic deviceb : a visual representation of something: as (1) : a likeness of an object produced on a photographic material (2) : a picture produced on an electronic display (as a television or computer screen) 3 a : exact likeness : semblance b : a person strikingly like another person 4 a : a tangible or visible representation : incarnation b archaic : an illusory form : apparition
These characters and the setting are based on ideas from my original YA fantasy series, “Ebony”.
Bob had lived alone in the ranch house for near 30 years. Off the beaten path, on a side road in little Doylestown, Pennsylvania, he was well secluded from the outside world. He didn’t live near the city, because it was too noisy and had “too many damn kids”. He didn’t live in the country because of “all the damn geese”. Bob complained on a regular basis. He complained about the watery coffee from the local farmer’s market and their overpriced begonias. He complained about the main street’s changeable stores and fluctuating fashion sense. He complained about the few grey hairs left on his head, how they always stood up in all directions. How his kids never called. How the caretakers never looked after his wife’s grave quite the way he liked.
Bob didn’t need a lot to live on, despite his dissatisfaction with his life. He had moved from his comfortable flat in London, married for love, scrimped and saved for years, and when Mimi was still alive, they had planned on seeing the world. But as life goes, Mimi went on the greatest of life’s adventures without him, and Bob was left alone with two grown children and an empty house. He didn’t want to go back to London. It was ‘too bloody damp.”
Thursdays were weeding days. It was November though, and getting icy at night, so he decided he would just drop by the farmer’s market for a little while. He’d complain to the grocers about their cereal again, if for no other reason than to rile them up (and make his day more interesting.)
He wasn’t two feet out the door before he caught sight of it. Three little furballs, hiding under Mimi’s porch swing.
“Eh? What’s this?” he said, leaning over and peering under the seat, fearing rat infestations. Three sets of blue eyes blinked up at him. “Kittens?”
It was three kittens, one all black, one all white, and one white-and-grey, and they looked at him with the cautionary fear and curiosity that all young kittens shared. One of them started for his leg, and he stepped back, shaking his head and looking around the heavily forested neighborhood, as if he could peer into the houses around him and find answers there.
“You picked the wrong house to find yourselves in front of…” he muttered. “I wonder who left you here.”
Since the barely visible windows of his neighbors offered no answer, he turned, and the kitten that was almost at his foot tumbled to the porch on its little paws. He looked at it, and it got itself back up a moment later, letting out the tiniest of mews.
“Don’t make those noises at me,” he said, raising a scraggly eyebrow. “I’m no animal lover. You won’t get anything from me, you hear?”
Its sibling came forward too, hobbling towards him with small mewling noises.
He left for the store. When he came back, hours later, they were still there, curled around each other by a porch pillar in a small patch of sunlight. They ran to him the moment they realized he was there, meowing in their tinny voices.
He looked down at them, shouldering his market bag and sighing. “You bloody fools,” he said, opening his front door and waving a hand furiously at the inside, “Get in the house before you freeze to death. Where the blazes is your mother anyway?”
Over the next few days, he tried calling the few neighbor’s numbers he knew, gleaning more numbers from them as he went. No one knew where the kittens had come from, and no one wanted one. He was sure they were lying, and stupid. What little child didn’t want a kitten?
He got plenty of advice from the farm, though, on cat care. It was only temporary, he insisted, not wanting to buy the best food for them. They could eat the discount kibble and be happy with it.
His wife’s sister, Marjory, came to visit a week later. She lived in Philadelphia. He didn’t know how she could stand it. When she came in, she was surrounded by the kittens. He assured her it was only temporary, until one of the neighborhood children agreed to adopt them.
“That one’s Jack, and the one always on the counter is Nimble,” he said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder to indicate the cats as he fixed them tea.
“What’s this one, Quick?” Marjory asked with a little smile, scratching the white one under the chin.
“Don’t be an arse,” he snarled, pouring milk into a pitcher. “That’s Annie. Can’t rightly name a girl Quick.”
“You’re sure it’s a girl?” Marjory said, unfazed by his attitude. It was just part of Bob.
“I may have taken them to the vet,” he said, looking sullenly out the window. “Can’t give them away if they’ve got rabies or some other feline nonsense.”
Marjory just smiled behind the rim of her tea glass. “Bob?” she said finally, setting the glass down and folding her fingers on the tabletop.
“What?” he barked, carrying over the plate of biscuits and clattering it onto the table.
She spoke evenly. “You’re allowed to keep them, you know.”
He scoffed. “Isn’t for an old man to keep cats. I’m not some wrinkled old woman living on a hill. It’s just until the kids can take them,” he insisted, putting two lumps of sugar into his tea. “I don’t even like cats,” he added.
Three months later, Marjory returned. When she went to the back door of the ranch house that was always left open for her, a streak of white and grey ran past her before returning to entwine itself around her legs.
“Jack!” Bob’s voice boomed from inside the house. “Get back in here before the fox eats your innards for lunch! I won’t be held responsible for it!” She leaned to see inside. She could just see Bob in the room beyond, sitting on the worn green armchair. “I don’t even like cats,” she heard him mutter to Nimble, who was curled on his lap. “Damn cats.”
“Bob, you old softy,” Marjory whispered. She was glad she had convinced her niece to leave the kittens here. It was amazing what people would abandon in the city. The kittens had found a good home with Bob. She bent over to pick up Jack, who was very clearly used to affection, then closed the door behind them and went inside for tea.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, DimDom challenged me with “You open your door one morning and find three little kittens have been deposited there.” and I challenged Lance with “Your inspiration for the week:
“Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
Men were deceivers ever.
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never…”
from “Much Ado About Nothing”, II:III by Shakespeare.”
I love kittens! Based roughly on some real people and situations I know, but entirely amalgamated until pretty unrecognizeable.
Except for my dad’s famous line in this: “I don’t even like cats!!!” as he pets one of our two lapcats.
It had started so simply, Carina thought. A careless word here, a wayward glance there.
Their love had once been so fierce, it had burned hot like a thousand summer suns. She trembled just to recall it. Their wedding was the joy of the colony, and all of the Roma had praised them on their prudent choice in a mate. Their caravan wagon was always the brightest colored, the happiest, and its blue fabric shone in the sunlight as they rode the hills with their people.
And then their love burned so far and fast that it turned to embers, and her heart to ash.
How different would things be, if they had never met that brown-bearded Wizard in the wilderness of Twin Thicket? If Jacobus had never learnt of the Legend as Carina tended the Magician’s wounds?
Years passed with him coming and going. She looked at the other men, and he saw it when he was home. It stung her more that he didn’t say anything; just let it pass without a word.
She prayed to Eirel, the goddess of Love and Marriage. She prayed to Mystriel, goddess of Mysteries. She prayed to Lena, the old Fertility goddess of her tribe, for a child, for something to bring Jacobus back to her bed, and her heart.
“You’re always with the Guild!” she screamed at him one night, trying to get feeling out of him, any emotion to show her that he still cared. She threw his books to the floor, scattered the papers across the wagon, slammed the wooden spoon against the stew pot. “Why can you not tell them to stay out of your life? To let you come home, to your wife?”
“This is my job, Carina,” Jacobus had yelled back, picking up the papers one by one, replacing them in order. “They need me to help them translate the Book. I’m the only one that can. I know Ancient Yenken.”
“There must be someone else that does too,” Carina shouted. “Or maybe you don’t care enough about your old life to return.”
And that time she thought he would slap her. His hand moved, she saw the twitch of his wrist at his side, and even though it was never raised against her, it still hit her like cold water on the skin.
She would never be as important to him as that Legend.
Whatever fire had been left between them burnt out that night.
Maybe she should not have prayed to the gods of the white men so freely. The old gods would never have let this happen. They were punishing her for her unfaithfulness to them, and her sinful thoughts of other men that were not her husband.
There was the empty bed between them the nights he came home, the chasm that grew wide as a ridge when she laid there at night, listening to him snore. She no longer turned to watch his black beard bounce up and down on his chest as he slept. She no longer studied the sharp curve of his nose where it met his thick lips, longing to kiss him.
There was the empty womb, too, forever unblessed. The other women made the sign against the evil eye whenever she neared, and she knew they thought her cursed.
She felt hollow.
She sought refuge in the old magic ways, in selling her jewelry to the small villages. But the growing idea to do something about her life grew too ferocious, and she went to the head wagon for help.
“If you ever want peace,” the Wagon Mother told her as she took Carina’s hands into her unsteady grasp, “you will leave Jacobus.” The Mother raised her aged head to the air, barely seeing through her blind eyes. “This Book…this Legend of his brings evil into the caravan. It brings death. I can smell it on the air like a perfume. You will leave him, if you want to live.”
Carina did not want to listen to her at first. But then, there was the mountain village. The night she saw Jacobus talking low and laughing with the redheaded beauty by a fence.
Perhaps it was nothing.
Carina had looked on other men in revenge many times. But somehow…it wounded worse coming from him, from the cold embers that lay between them. If he could feel nothing for her, how could he feel something for a white woman?
There was her cousin Gavin in Midvalley—the one that was born from a white man and a Roma woman before he was shunned from his village. He had a caravan there. Carina could join him.
And yet, as she placed the few things Jacobus still kept in their wagon onto the ground outside the inn where he slept and re-hitched the donkey, she wondered what it would be like if she just waited…if she stayed…if she burned his Book and the Legend with it. He would be no use to the Guild after that. She would have him to herself.
But he would never love her again, she knew.
The memory of the redheaded woman was fresh in her mind.
She walked up to the campfire burning by the inn, the flames growing in her eyes until they were all she could see, huge as mountains in her mind.
Curious locals watched her, raven hair wild over her shoulders as she raised the Book, eyes wide as she lifted it high above the flames–
But before could throw the cursed thing onto the fire, she hesitated, and lowered it into her palms.
She still loved him. Behind all the hate, there were the happy years. The times he smiled at her. The promises and the kisses and the memories.
She could not curse his smile.
She clutched the book tightly against her chest, embracing it like a lover, and began to walk away from the inn.
She could not stay, either. Her heart ached for someone to love her back far too much.
She would take the Book with her, and sell it. Someone would buy it—Magicians were always looking for new books and spells. What was one more? She could even sell his translations separately, too. That would fetch an even higher price, untangled into the Common Yenken as they were. She could save Jacobus from his fate.
A Book of gibberish and a pile of papers. That would be all that she had left of her last memories with Jacobus. Somehow it was fitting that it should be something so far removed from their roots as Roma, and as lovers.
Something cold and paper, and not at all like the heat of a fire.
She tightened the straps on the donkey and placed her hood over her face as she shivered in the cool night air.
She was leaving to join Gavin’s train, and she was never coming back.
She guided her donkey and the wagon back onto the King’s Road, and vanished into the dark.
This story contains original characters and settings from the backstory of my original YA fantasy series, “Ebony”, currently in submission to agents.
This week’s IndieInk Challenge came from Cheney, who gave me this prompt: “You’re getting on that train and you’re never coming back.” . I challenged Lillewith the prompt: “Your main character sees an old familiar face at a public event such as a concert or a sports game. They would rathe die than talk to this person ever again. Why? Do they meet today?”
I had to be a little creative with the definition of the word train. After all, I much prefer writing medieval fantasy!😉
8:34 am. The purr of the engine, his palms sweaty as they squeaked against the smooth leather of the steering wheel. The sharp creak of the seat under him as he gripped tighter and tighter in the hot car.
Jim Feeney dimly recalled the words in that hazy back room.
“You don’t have to worry about a thing,” Tommy had said. “It’s all taken care of. We’ll be in and out in under five minutes. The cops won’t be anywhere nearby. We’ll be a figment of their imagination by the time they show up.”
They entered the bank at 8:30 am. The security guard was old and stupid—Marco had him out before he even knew what hit him. They shot guns at the ceiling—he could still see the white dust of plaster falling on them like indoor snow, turning their hair dusty and gray.
They wore cheap Halloween masks, and their clothes were so baggy their gender was anyone’s guess.
They made a big show of getting everyone down on the floor, and Jim stayed in the front while the other guys forced the bank manager to give them the vault keys.
It was all taken care of.
He sat behind the wheel of the getaway car, chest heaving. His eyes travelled down to his middle. He watched blood weep onto his lap and the floor like red tears.
Back in middle school, he and his friends snuck fresh fruit in and plugged up every toilet, thinking how hilarious it would be when someone entered a stall and found bananas or apples there. Thrillseekers Anonymous. They hadn’t expected someone to try flushing some and flood the first floor.
Like the guys today.
They hadn’t thought about the possibility a customer might have a gun.
Might try and play the hero.
They hadn’t even stolen anything. It was a game.
They just wanted to see what it was like to taste criminal adrenaline at 8:30 in the morning.
At 8:42, Jim Feeney was dead.
This entry meets the requirements for TWO challenges this week.
Trifecta, Week Nine, for the third definition of the word:
weep transitive verb
1: to express deep sorrow for usually by shedding tears
2: to pour forth (tears) from the eyes
AND Indie Ink:
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Sunshine challenged me with “You have just robbed a bank and are in the getaway car. What happens next?” and I challenged Kurt with “’You’re made of my rib, oh baby, you’re made of my sin…’ ~Jon Crosby of VAST”.
I greatly enjoyed getting away from the world of Ebony for a bit, and proving to myself that yes, I can write other things that are not fantasy.
God and the Devil sat on a mountain.
That would have been poetic. There would have been towering red cliffs and brown dust riding the air. A battle of wits, perhaps
But as it was, God was nowhere to be found, and the Devil sat alone on a mountain in Tyrol, Austria, watching the morning mist rise. He was tousle-haired, blonde and razor-thin today, dressed in a white shirt and black breeches. Tomorrow, perhaps he would be redheaded, or Asian. He had not decided.
Before the sun had fully risen, he walked the wandering hillside path down towards the village, and stopped at the first log cabin he came to under a broken birch tree.
He had business here. Some twenty years ago, he had made a wager. And now, it was collection day.
He knocked once. The Peasant answered, now in his forties, sallow faced. He was once muscled and proud, and while he still looked hard-working, he was also worn. He stared wearily at the Devil and gave a great sigh, looking years older than he was.
“I suppose you’ve come for my soul, then,” he said. The Devil may have looked different from his shape twenty years ago, but once one had met him, they knew him in all his forms.
The Devil raised an eyebrow. “Your soul? Why would I want that? I have hundred of souls in Hell that put themselves there every day. I don’t need another one. No…I want something better.” He pointed at the dilapidated cabin behind him. “I want your life for a day.”
The peasant looked befuddled, and shook his head as if to clear gnats away from his face. “W-what? You want–”
“Your life,” the Devil repeated, growing impatient. “One day. You take my life, I take yours.”
The peasant scoffed. “Do you remember our bargain? You gave me power and riches! I plundered kings, and womanized all throughout the land. I killed hundreds, and all knew my name and feared it!”
“And now, your name is forgotten. You are no one, living in a mountainside village, married to the clan leader’s daughter. You hunt game and sell it to the village below to make your bread. I know who you are and what your story is,” the Devil snapped. “I don’t care. That is my price for our wager.”
The Peasant tilted his head, considering it for a moment. “Let me tell my wife,” he said at last, disappearing inside of the log house. When he returned, it was with a determined look on his face, his hand outstrecthed.
“It’s a deal,” he said. When the Devil took his hand, the man vanished into thin air, into Hell, where he would resume the Devil’s duties.
The Devil took a deep breath, and began his day. He wandered through the wheat fields, feeling the golden grain against his palms. Then he hunted game, grunting and sweating and fighting against his own fatigue to take down three deer. He trapped four rabbits as well, and took them to the cabin. He skinned them, and sold them in the village below for more than their worth, but was forgiven because of the quality of the meat.
He spent the afternoon on a lake dock, fishing for trout or pike. He caught two trout, and carried them home to the Peasant’s wife to make them for dinner. After they ate, he partook in the young wife’s beauty. He knew she would never be completely satisfied by her husband ever again, and almost felt regret. Almost. But it was not enough to stop him.
They walked along the lakeside after dinner, watching the will-o-wisps float and bob above the cattails like tiny stars. Then, he looked up and admired the clear view of all the constellations.
“You have to admit…he has a keen eye,” he said to no one in particular.
The wife returned to the cabin first. The Devil stood outside, staring up at the moon, and summoned the Peasant back to his side.
Sweating, trembling and hyperventilating, the Peasant appeared on all fours before stumbling to his feet. “That was more than a day!” he said finally.
“No it wasn’t. One day, that was the bargain,” the Devil said.
“It felt like ages!” the Peasant said, wiping his face on his sleeve. “I had to oversee Hell. There were thousands being tortured by lesser demons. They all cried out for mercy! One of them was my cousin, who committed suicide years ago, but he could not see or hear me!”
The Devil nodded, waving at him to continue.
“I tempted the innocent and encouraged the wicked. An angel told me to play his advocate, and I drove a man to kill his own wife because he believed she had slept with another man. She hadn’t!”
“I don’t often tempt anyone,” the Devil said. “That was probably the angel’s idea of a joke. Men do just fine tempting themselves, although sometimes it looks good for the particularly virtuous.” But the Peasant was so distraught, he didn’t hear any of this.
“Then, I thought that was the worst, but it wasn’t. There was what felt like days of just sitting, doing NOTHING! I stared at a wall for an eternity! I have never known the depths of boredom before that!”
The Devil was smiling when the Peasant finally finished and looked at him.
“How do you do it?” the Peasant asked, his eyes a hollow memory of what they had been that morning.
The Devil, his hands in his pockets, gave a little shrug and began to walk backwards into the evening shadows. “Well…it often feels more like a burden than a good thing…” And as he vanished into darkness, his voice lingered along with the faint scent of hellifire on the night mountain air.
“But then…there are always the wagers.”
This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Finding a skinnier me who gave me this prompt: “Sometimes it felt more like a burden than a good thing….”. I challenged MRMacrum with the prompt: “Take the first random person you see in a magazine ad after reading this prompt. Write about their life: who they are, what they like and don’t like. Their professions, hobbies, passions. If you formulate a short story from this, all the better. Final version should be no more than 600 words”.
I immediately regretted giving that prompt, lol, because I had to do it in writing class, but I’m not sure I would want to do it now. Sorry, MRMacrum!
For once, this story is NOT based on anything Ebony-related. This is just some fun original fantasy-fiction. On that note, I don’t want to get into any religious discussions or debates with anyone because it’s fantasy. I read the prompt and the first sentence of this came into my head. The picture on here just inspired it further.
I probably owe some influence of this story to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, especially the part where Lucifer leaves Hell, and later when he admires the sunset.
She was a lone white figure on a vivid green hillside, wandering as freely as the clouds she stood beneath. Questions buzzed through her head like bees, and a lone voice sought to break through, sounding every bit like the father of her child.
Why don’t you want to leave this town?
She had grown up here, she reasoned. Twenty-odd years in a place had to mean something. She knew every cobblestone, every face. Every mountain peak. She could tell every trail through the woods, and where to find the best herbs and where to bathe in the coldest streams. The summer festival actually meant something to her. Such traditions of evening bonfires and Gypsy caravans made the months fly by easily.
Again, her lover’s critical tone.
But you don’t even like it here.
I do, she argued with the voice in her mind. Of course I do.
But she didn’t. She knew it, even as she thought it.
She was fast becoming an outsider. Too beautiful for the liking of the other village women and too sickly to be much use. She had grown up there, yes, but she was always a bit too smart. And the friends she kept…she recalled the gossiping wives now, their harsh whispers as she and her lover walked past.
She approached a hillside shrine and the scent of its cloying incense and floral offerings filled her nostrils. Meddling…the gods are meddling, she thought to herself. It was because of them she woke up every day longing to be free. Why she felt the need to leave everything she had ever known. If only she could have remained blissfully ignorant of the world outside the confines of her village.
She couldn’t pretend she understood their motivations. Some town preachers talked about the will of the gods…well, whatever their will, she didn’t care. She still left the shrine gods an offering of an orange from the South though, its flesh prickled with fragrant cloves.
Just in case they were listening.
She returned from the shrine, walking in silence, every breath taking in the aroma of the North Mountains. She could go over them, into Northwilde, into the unknown new territories that so many were starting to call home in order to be safe from the Fae. To start fresh.
But was she really so deluded as to think anywhere else would accept her with a babe born out of wedlock and, gods willing, a Mage for a husband? Could life be that forgiving?
Probably not, she reasoned. Everyone would be just as small minded as the townsfolk here. They turned their soil and planted their crops and knew simple. Simple was good, and welcome. Not like the complexities of her life. Living outside of the gates wouldn’t be any different.
And yet…she thought.
She held her stomach, her womb, between her fingertips, feeling the life inside her move at the touch, as tiny and fragile as the heather she stood above. One of the small village children ran past, and she smiled at his unplaited blonde hair as it flew, wild and free, in the summer breeze.
And yet…she wouldn’t know unless she tried.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Michael challenged me with: “’When you begin each day by describing the looks of the same mountain, you are living in the grip of delusion’-Thomas Merton” and I challenged Fran with: “100 Word Challenge: Empty Hallways and Ashen Faces”. This is for the week of December 26-30th.
This excerpt is based on characters and situations from my original YA fantasy series, “Ebony”, which is currently in the process of being sent to agents.
Music listening for this? I highly suggest Solas’ “Lament for Frankie”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nt7AzgKAk8c&feature=related
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