It’s the first Friday in August (already!) and A Drift of Quills is back with another round of Fiction Shots. This is—without question—our favorite kind of post to write. In case you’re just joining us, we take turns choosing a picture for inspiration, then each write our own stories based on that image. Oh, my goodness, fun! It’s amazing what different stories one picture can prompt.
For this round, we’ve chosen this amazing photo of a standing stone, taken by Steven Erixon. Twilight and a weighty sense of age promise adventure aplenty…
Fiction Shots #6
When I started this one, it featured a random character in a random world. Though it’s not very long at all, it quickly tugged me toward Tairenth—Sherakai dan Tameko’s world. I chose not to tie it to anyplace in particular that world, but there are a few details that might be picked out. While I’m writing these shorts, I get so involved in them. Nearly every one of them suggests longer stories to me. Who knows? Maybe some day The Judgement Stone will put on some weight…
Flash #1: The Judgment Stone
by Robin Lythgoe
There’s a town near the Rhogan coast that has a unique way of dealing with undesirables. Their “undesirables” consist of murderers, rapists, and arsonists. Thieves—unless their theft ruins a citizen’s livelihood or affects the entire town—are generously permitted a second chance. Upon conviction, the criminal is immediately taken to the Stone of Judgment, bound there, and left to the whims of the local dragon. If he or she is still breathing at the same time the next day, freedom is restored. Apparently the almighty dragon decides whether or not they are innocent, no matter what other proof previously stood against them.
You can safely imagine that those who escape leave the surrounds and never return. You might also imagine my astonishment at being arrested, tried, and found guilty of something called “High Thievery.” I’ve never stolen a thing in my life, unless you count a nap now and then. Well, I have helped myself to apples in the orchards I pass on my way between towns… But a face? How does a person steal a face?
The townsfolk adamantly insisted I’d used dark magic.
I contended—with very real passion—that I didn’t know anything about using magic. Truly, I had no use for magic, dark or any other flavor. I sold paper and fine parchment, quill pens, reed pens, delicate nibs, and a wide variety of special inks unavailable in that part of the country. Up and down the Rhogan coast I traveled, and had done so for a good six years. No one in this thriving center of trade had ever stopped me, questioned me, or even treated me with dislike. They enjoyed the news I brought, even if they weren’t of a station to make use of my wares. The exchange of information was worth many a meal.
Was I rich? Not at all, but I was happy, and I was free to come and go as I pleased.
Until some grizzled old nob by the illustrious name of Dedrick Sprunt grabbed my arm, spun me around, and accused me of being his dead wife. Several of his friends and peers supported his claim. Things went downhill from there. And then they went uphill as the good townsfolk marched me over the fields and up the butte to the legendary Judgment Stone.
It was mostly rectangular, of unimpressive height, and it tended to curve a bit out of square. Words and runes carved into the surface gave it a sense of mystery, as did the dark stains it wore. Scrubby grass brushed the base. The surrounding gorse was low, and charred bits suggested that occasional fires kept it that way. Further away, the shrub grew to its natural height. Thoughtfully, the condemned were presented with a fine view of the sea.
The townsfolk ignored the scenery, efficiently bound me with chains, then beat a hasty retreat. I learned that they didn’t like hanging about to witness the Judgment on the off-chance that the dragon might accidentally consume them along with the victim. Er… convict.
Logic was not their strong suit. If the dragon only ate the guilty party, what did those dear innocents have to fear?
Notwithstanding that my pleas had fallen on deaf ears thus far, I screamed my innocence after them as they hurried away. I was not too ashamed to beg or bargain.
When that didn’t work, and I found myself alone, I turned my attention to getting out of the chains. Oh, for a hairpin I could use to attack that lock! I didn’t even have the ribbon I’d tied off my braid with this morning. Frequent escape attempts had only tangled my hair, torn my skirt, and left bruises everywhere.
I tugged vainly against manacles so tight they’d have hurt a grown man. Maybe they kept manacles in several sizes…
That line of thinking didn’t get me anywhere but more frantic and more angry. Wrists raw and bleeding, one thumb certainly out of joint, I leaned against the stone to catch my breath and try to come up with another plan. I’d have welcomed the ability to use any variety of magic. And a kerchief to wipe away stupid, vain tears.
“Wasted water,” I scolded myself, licking chapped lips.
The descent of twilight did nothing to calm me. Did the dragon feed at night? A rustle through the bushes would have scared the spit right out of me if I’d had any left. Heart beating like a wild thing, I waited for a scaly snout and a hundred deadly teeth to snap out and chomp me.
Nothing happened. Overhead, the stars silently wheeled past. Darkness deepened. Light from the barest sliver of moon danced across the waves. The suspense itself threatened to kill me. Was it too much to hope the dragon wouldn’t put in an appearance?
I heard it coming, heavy body scraping up the steep side of the bluff, rocks tumbling and crashing to the shore below. Three alternatives presented themselves: I could die screaming, I could die with as much quiet dignity as possible—or I could try to strike a bargain.
Inch by majestic inch, the dragon rose before me, pale moonlight glittering on scales robbed of color by the darkness. Unblinking emerald eyes studied me. A long, forked tongue slithered out, wrapping around intimidating chops.
My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth.
The creature came closer. Sniffed. Canted its head.
I didn’t know what a dragon ought to smell like, but this one bore the distinct odor of fish and something more, something… spicy.
“You came.” For such a big beast, it had a very quiet voice. And a terrible accent. A long snout and a thousand teeth might do that, I supposed.
“I did?” I squeaked. “I mean—I did. Yes.” Clearing my throat helped get more words out. “You’re very handsome.”
It made a long, low sound. Contemplation, or maybe derision. “You, beloved, are not. Why do you keep that hideous form?”
Well, that stung, with or without the endearment. “It’s a curse,” I said drily. No one had ever complained before.
“Yes.” It paused. “Ah.” The violent sweep of its tail uprooted vegetation and sent rocks tumbling. A deep-throated growl shuddered the Stone behind me. “When I again see that wretch Bengith Greenpath, I shall blast him to cinders!”
The dragon’s brows lowered. So did its snout—until we were nose to nose. For a wonder, I didn’t pass out from sheer terror.
“The mage who gave you this ugly shape and stole your memories. You are mine!”
“Your what, exactly?”
“My wife! My only and forever mate!” Tipping his head back, he bellowed to the heavens. Stars should surely have fallen from the sky…
While I struggled to comprehend the dragon’s announcement, he whirled and struck at the Stone. It didn’t splinter to rubble, but my chains fell away. The manacles remained, but I’d take my wins where I could.
“Come,” he ordered, and lifted one wing away from his sleek, scaly body. It took a moment for me to realize he meant for me to climb aboard. “We’ve vengeance to wreak.”
He made it sound so tantalizing. Dusting my skirt, chains clanking, I hesitated as I approached. This was not a turn of events I could ever have predicted. As choices went, I could be a dead woman, a dragon snack, or a dragon-wife. The latter had better potential. “Can we start with the town?” I asked, gingerly settling myself on his shoulders between wicked spines.
“Burn it to the ground for the insult they’ve delivered?”
The idea of toasted people changed my mind in a hurry. “Perhaps we could just fly over and show them your judgment.”
I will never forget the stomach-lurching leap into the air, the first kiss of the night wind on my cheeks, nor the terrifying roar that set bells to clanging and people to shouting.
Hundreds of pale, astonished faces lifted skyward as we passed.
How’s this for fancy magic? I smiled and waved.
Flash #2: Left Ahead
Author of the Oathtaker Series
A musty odor greeted Lorna as she awakened, stiff and cramped. She groaned. Her head hurt; her body ached.
A clicking sounded out, as something brushed her cheek.
Lorna’s eyes flashed open. She bolted upright, then turned to the source of the touch. Although semi-dark, there was no mistake.
“Onyx!” she cried, recognizing her long time companion, a snowy owl that had adopted her shortly after her father’s death. She wrapped her arms around his neck and combed her fingers through his soft fur-like chest feathers.
Flash #3: The Standing Stone
Author of The Unseen Chronicles
The guardian standing at water’s edge hadn’t always been there. At one time no shadow from the pillar of rock crept across the long salt-grass, as the western sun sank into the wine-dark sea. The path that ran along the coast from the capitol of Plen toward the high timbered trees of Greatwood Forest didn’t always have the patch of stone shade that marked the half-way point. There hadn’t been a section of the monolith rubbed smooth by thousands of hands, touching the rock and then touching the forehead for good fortune.
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