A Drift of Quills are writing Fiction Shots again! We look at one picture, then each write our own stories. I love doing this! For this round we’ve taken our inspiration from “A Quiet Man,” done for a charity commission by Pete Mohrbacher on DeviantArt.
I love how mysterious and broody it is. Please go look at his wonderful work here: Pete Mohrbacher.
Fiction Shots #4
Do you know the average reading speed of an adult is 200 to 250 words per minute? That means that none of these stories should take Joe or Josey Average more than 7.5 minutes to read. Unless you’re really distracted. I suggest you get your drink and snack before you start!
Flash #1: The Sword of Seysan
By Robin Lythgoe
Let me tell you a story. I was chosen as the Royal Companion to Seysan, the younger prince of our fair country, on account of my virtual nothingness and my possible usefulness. My insignificance came firstly from having no genealogical claim on the throne, and secondly through the persuasion of the king’s good friend, the Master of the Hunt.
My usefulness needed demonstration, but performing secretarial duties for the prince and protecting him from distraction or annoyance didn’t prove terribly challenging. I learned to dance, sing, ride, paint, and play a decent game of cards. In all other things I must be expertly unexceptional and perfectly neutral. A balm. A pet to soothe the so-called savage sovereign. Faugh.
Amid this perfectly normal, perfectly dull process of coming of age and adulthood, things went decidedly south. The queen discovered the king having an affair, left the court, and joined a religious order, ending all connection to the royal family—her sons and her allowance included.
The king died. Not from despondency or anything so romantic, but by clumsiness. He tripped descending the stairs to the Royal Audience Hall and broke his neck. Right in front of everyone. It was rather a shock.
We crowned Seysan’s brother, and then he died. Choked on a fishbone. It might happen to anyone. Overnight, I became Royal Companion to the King, which is a somewhat more complicated thing.
My current attempts to dissuade him from a drastic decision proved one thing: my well-honed mediocrity. “Are you certain they received their invitation to the wedding?” They were the up-landers, presently engaged in an all-out attack against us.
“I am certain, Julimyko.” The prince settled his ceremonial white silk robes and held a hand out for the sash. “I am also certain the wedding is an opportunity long awaited.”
“Perhaps the Fyrsi will bring their armies.”
“To a wedding?” He gave me a look of patient affection.
“You never know.”
Ours is a small country, land-locked for all practical purposes. The single access to the vast ocean is a river hundreds of miles long. Imagine, if you will, a silver ribbon flowing through the emerald countryside, gradually cutting into rich soil, then deeper—until the water carves its way through coal-black rock where it finally joins the sea. The coastline is mountainous and fierce. Our beautiful river is a lifeline, and our capital city is built into and atop the towering cliffs.
Everyone wants it.
The up-landers, who otherwise trade with us.
The Fyrsi, whose job it is to raid from the sea every year, undeterred by little obstacles like cliffs. Or armies. They were behavior modifiers for children. “If you aren’t good, the Fyrsi will come take you!”
I’d yet to decide if Seysan was actually wicked, or if instead he’d happened on a brilliant solution. Either way, he was set to marry a Fyrsi princess in two weeks. Maybe the raiding from the other end of the river would stop then. Except the other-enders were upon us now, and no Fyrsi ships in sight. And if they came, would it be to claim a husband or to mop up the invading army and claim the cliff-side city themselves?
Ah, but the Patriarchs, in their infinite wisdom, had a contingency plan for a young, overwhelmed king long on faith and short on men, supplies, allies, and mages. They’d created the Bone. Some argued that it was, in fact, a Boon. Whatever the intention, we now had at our disposal an ivory-colored, irregularly shaped cylinder carved with marks no one could read anymore. The rounded ends didn’t look like joints, but the middle bit looked like it had once been hollow. Bone. Boon. Who could say?
Endowed with magic, the Bone would bestow upon a desperate monarch (but only the rightful desperate monarch) a magical gift suitable for dealing with whatever catastrophe he or she faced.
“Is there no other way?” I asked as Seysan lifted the thing, keenly aware of being the only person trying to discourage him from this path.
The king’s two huge bodyguards had faces to project the opinions they couldn’t speak: eagerness and bloodthirstiness. They’d teach those greedy up-landers a thing or two.
Yteana, the Matriarch of the Holy Church, had agreed to Seysan’s decision without argument. Two bishops flanked her, murmuring prayers and burning incense, eyes gleaming with fervor.
Uskuldi, Prime Chancellor of the Court of Magic, had explained the rules and helped rehearse the words. Magic was his element, and this particular magic created to protect us. He exuded tranquility, and possibly superiority.
“Stand back, Julimyko,” the king ordered. Everyone moved back. He spoke the spell. Light and thunder and gale-force winds erupted. When they abruptly ended, and we stopped our staggering and uncovered our eyes, it was to see a brilliantly glowing sword spinning like a compass needle in the place where Seysan had stood. It came to a quivering stop, pointing at me.
“That’s unexpected,” one of the guards dared.
“Has anything like this ever happened before?” the Matriarch inquired.
“Well, bring it along.” Uskuldi gathered his robes. “We must present it—him—to the council.”
Neither guard could move the sword, nor could anyone else. Even Uskuldi’s magic proved useless. “Julimyko.” He gestured me forward from where I cowered near the doorway, stunned by what had just happened to my lifelong friend. Gone!
“Me? No, I cannot…”
Words versus magic. I had no physical difficulty lifting Seysan the Sword.
The council required time to assemble. It took me the length of the journey from the chamber to decide on my own course. Seysan was gone. I was no longer a Companion.
The others deposited me in the Audience Chamber to wait.
Things went further south.
I left the sword there. Left the castle. Left the life I’d known. What would Father make of this?
Crossing a bridge as I made my way through the city, my black brooding came to a precipitous halt when a weapon stabbed through the timbers between my feet. Settling my eyes back in their sockets and my heart in my chest, I debated. Decided again. “No,” I said, and moved past it.
The sword followed me, scraping along the pavement, lurching over bridges to land beside me, gleaming, and drawing all kinds of attention. I had to go back to the council.
They did not like the idea of me being a chosen anything, never mind having the responsibility of rescuing the country from the invading up-landers.
I agreed with them. I could sing and dance, not fight.
Despite that, I found myself stuffed into armor and paraded out to meet the enemy. Terror multiplied their numbers. Gripping Seysan in both hands, tight against my chest, I requested an audience with King Ralok and, it turned out, three other kings. It also turned out that the sword magnified my voice like thunder.
I sheathed it, then drew it again, because I dare not go unarmed.
“You’re no king,” Ralok observed.
I tightened my grip on the sword. “I hold the power of the king. We do not wish you harm, despite what has occurred on these plains. Leave now and do not bring your swords against us again.”
“Or my arms are really going to hurt.”
He stared. Then he laughed, and the others joined in. Until they lifted their weapons and ran at me.
And my arms did get really sore, and it was awful and magnificent and strange all at once. Seysan did not sing, he roared. When he was done, the four kings were no more. Scores of blackened lumps surrounded me, falling apart, blowing away in the wind. Beyond, the rest of the armies stood silent. Staring.
I couldn’t lift my tired arms to sheath Seysan. Apologizing, I dragged him back to camp. Back to the council who had come to witness our assured victory. Back, as it happened, to the Fyrsi princess and her escort of a hundred axe-maidens, and more of her people still at their ships.
Apparently the Fyrsi did bring armies to weddings.
“Great King Seysan has sacrificed himself in this war for the good of our people,” one of the papery ministers intoned in a sad rasp.
The princess hushed him with a glare. “Who is your king now?”
They had no answer.
“I will have this one.” She pointed at me, the needle on a compass, sure of her course. “He holds the power of the king. Can any of you defeat him?”
“Can any of you take his sword?” A sly look, then.
My mouth worked. “I’m no king.”
“What is your name?”
“Long live King Julimyko!” she shouted, throwing her axe in the air.
A hundred and more fierce warriors copied her. It was not insignificant to become king among raining axes.
What would Father make of this?
Flash #2: Breaking Spells
Author of the Oathtaker Series
Aiden Piper journeyed from the Burara Wilds back home, where six years earlier, Fenella’s father, Nigel Duke, had forced Finn Mock to put a spell on him. It happened the day before he and Fenella were to exchange their vows in the cobblestone-paved Dorberg village square. As a consequence, Aiden and his love would remain divided until they broke Finn’s spell. But Nigel, taking no chances, had paid crimpers to trick Aiden, drug him, and then…
Flash #3: The Trickster Guardian
Author of The Unseen Chronicles
When Gregus first took the idea to imitate his master it had been as a joke. At least, that’s what he later said.
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Want to read more short-short fiction we’ve written? This link will take you to a list.
This is such a fun way to write a story. I hope you enjoyed reading our flash as much as we enjoyed writing it! We’ve decided to make this a regular feature. Have you got a title or a picture to inspire us?