Tag Archives: fantasy

Sarah and the Goblin-King

A snippet (the first couple sections) of a longish short story I’m working on. Just thought I’d toss it out there and see what people think. In particular, do you like the sort of archaic ‘voice’ of the narrative?

 

 

There was once a young woman whose father was a mighty knight in the service to his king. They lived in the king’s palace, a beautiful castle with thick walls for protection and cheerful stained-glass windows for light and large fireplaces with deep chimneys for warmth. The young woman, whose name was Sarah, grew up there. Unlike the other ladies of the castle, Sarah spent most of her time watching her father train the soldiers in the courtyard, or riding his horse, or jousting with the other knights.

 

Sarah was a sweet girl, well-liked by most of the men-folk of the castle. The women tended to get frustrated with her, because she refused to spend time in ‘womanly pursuits,’ such as weaving and embroidering and cooking. She did play the harp, however, and such was her skill with that instrument that on those few occasions when she deigned to grace the castle with a song or two, it was inevitable that those present would stand still, as if spell-bound, until her fingers left the strings.

 

“It is amazing she can play at all,” Lady Beatrice, the king’s spinster sister, was heard to remark on more than one occasion. “Surely all the time she spends out of doors, playing with the boys, have left her hands far too rough and calloused for such gentle work.” And indeed, it was true that Sarah did spend most of her time in the yards, playing chase with the dogs, or riding the half-lame gelding her father gifted her with for her sixteenth birthday. She spent time with her father’s squire, watching as he polished and repaired her father’s armor and weapons, and it must be said that more than once Sarah did these chores herself while the squire, a sturdy boy two years younger than her, sneaked into the kitchen to steal hot, sticky buns or pinch a joint of fowl which he would share with Sarah for their afternoon snack.

 

So avid was the girl’s attentions to the duties of knighthood that Sir William, her father, was heard, more than once, to joke that all she needed was a firm cloth to strap across her chest and a mummer’s beard, and she could sit a horse in the summer games. At these times, the men would laugh and the women, particularly Lady Beatrice, would scowl. Sarah herself had no reaction to this joke, for her father was ever careful to make sure she was not present lest he give her ideas he might later come to regret.

 

Her father needn’t have bothered himself over the matter, however, as these were thoughts Sarah herself had come up with on her own long ago. “It is not fair,” she would complain to Gerard, her favorite dog. Sitting in the lee of the kennel, with her legs drawn up to her chest and Gerard’s head resting on her knees while she gently rubbed a silky ear or scratched his broad forehead, she would oft tell him of her trials and tribulations (as she saw them) while he, with the wisdom of his kind, listened in silence and accepted the head rubs that were his due. “I know as much about fighting as any of the new squires. More, even!” she would complain, and Gerard would lick her nose. It is a well-known fact that it is nearly impossible for a young woman to stay angry when there is a dog licking her nose.

 

This, then, was Sarah’s life. It was a good life, if a little dull. It was a happy life, if a little quiet. It was a peaceful life, which was really the problem with it as far as Sarah was concerned.

 

It wouldn’t last.

 

#

 

Winter was normally a quiet time in that part of the world. The ground was too hard to till. The air was too cold to grow crops. The roads were too icy to invade one’s neighbors. There was little to do except the day-to-day business of keeping up the castle. Even the training of the men-at-arms in the yard was, for the most part, curtailed except for a few hours a week to keep the men in what the king liked to call ‘fighting trim.’

 

As the days grew shorter and the stores of lamp oil grew lower, people took to their beds earlier and earlier. Thus it was that one night, scarce past the seventh bell, most of the castle folk were preparing to adjourn to their rooms or cells or mats in the kitchen, when there came at the thick wooden door to the great hall a raucous clatter. Curious looks were exchanged, and Sarah’s father went, with two other men, to see what was the matter.

 

One of the king’s men was there, shivering in the icy night air. One of the king’s guards he was, one of two who had the misfortune to draw the gate-watching duty for that night. “There is a man,” he said between teeth-chattering shudders, “outside the gate. He seems grave wounded and more than half-frozen.”

 

Weapons were swiftly collected by the men before venturing out into the cold. More than one war had begun and ended on the same night when an act of mercy was rewarded by a swift van of soldiers taking and holding the open gate until the main force of the invaders could arrive. Charity is a gift to the Gods, it was said, but stupidity profits only the Black Lady.

 

The precautions were unnecessary this time, however. The man collapsed outside the gate was alone and unarmed. The king called for the fires, previously banked for the night, to be built up again. The castle chirurgeon came down the stairs quickly, still tying off his night-robe around his frail old body. Curious on-lookers were made to stand back so that the chirurgeon had enough light to ply his craft as he looked over the nearly frozen man. From her place at the balcony over-looking the great hall, Sarah also looked the man over although it is unlikely that she and the chirurgeon saw the same things.

 

What the physicer saw was a man in his mid twenties, suffering from malnutrition, frostbite, and a particularly nasty gash along his left thigh. What Sarah saw was a man in his mid twenties, fair of skin and dark of hair, with a pleasingly handsome look to him and the well-worn clothes of one who has seen much and done more in his time. In short, she saw her One True Love, or so she imagined at the time.

 

“Oh, let him be well,” she whispered softly to herself. Many of the other young women in the castle expressed similar sentiments, and the older women smiled knowingly. If the young man lived, the collective fathers of the castle were in for a rough winter.


 

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The Hawk in Flight Pt. 1

The coronation was going well, if you liked that sort of thing. Marcus didn’t. He was fidgeting enough that the High Priest glanced at him several times, his old features set in disapproval.

Marcus couldn’t help it. The day was sunny and warm, and while the vaulted ceiling of the Cathedral of Coranon was impressive with its myriad stained glass windows, those windows let in the sun but not the cooling ocean breeze. In his heavy velvet ‘dress’ tabard over his brightly polished armor, Marcus felt as if he were melting on the spot. A little puddle of Marcus for the staff to have to clean up. The image in his mind drew a snicker, which in turn caused the High Priest to glare at him again.

“Warm enough for you?” whispered Malcolm with a faint grin. Marcus turned his head to glance briefly at his friend, and grinned back.

If I’m hot, he must be about to burst into flames. Malcolm’s own armor was covered, not with a velvet tabard, but with a heavy velvet and fur robe with a high collar. The rich carmine of the robe with it’s sable fur lining weighed around 25 pounds and would keep a man warm during an Arrandarran ice-storm. What it was doing to poor Malcolm there in the balmy south of Krythe was something Marcus didn’t care to think about.

“If this goes much longer, we won’t need an assassin,” Marcus whispered in reply. “The heat’ll kill you as dead as any Regentist blade.”

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Brats Boiled in Beer, with German mustard

Inspired by my friend Amei. Thanks!

Grandmother Lazybones looked out the window of her cottage and sighed. Not for the first time, either.

It had been a long day, and she was hungry. There was, however, nothing in the cupboard to eat. Which meant it was time to go out and get something. Being lazy, she liked to know what she was going to get before she left the house, since it made shopping easier. Thus, she withdrew her recipe book from the shelf and flipped idly through the pages, waiting for inspiration to strike.

And strike it did, like the axe of a woodsman cutting off a head. “Brats boiled in beer, with grilled onions and dark German mustard on a roll,” she muttered aloud as she gazed at the recipe there on the open page. She sucked on her teeth as she considered it for a moment before nodding firmly to herself. It was decided.

“Let us see, let us see,” she stood from the stool she was sitting on and began to wander the kitchen, pacing as she planned out her shopping trip. “There are onions in the garden, so that’s ok. I need the roll, the mustard, and of course the brats. I think I have some beer left over from last October. Let us see, let us see.” She went to the cold cellar and looked inside. Sure enough, an entire keg of good, dark German beer left from last Octoberfest. Wait, was it Octoberfest? Were they doing that yet? Well in any event, she had beer and she had onions. Time to go shopping.

She put on her best shawl and strode to the small living-room. Settling herself on her favorite chair, she commanded, “Turn your front to the village and walk and walk and walk.” The cottage lurched, as if in an earthquake, but Grandmother Lazybones was expecting that and she held on to the arms of her favorite chair tightly. The cottage swayed slightly side to side as it walked through the forest, and Grandmother Lazybones, lulled by the motion, took herself a little nap.

When she awoke, it was late afternoon and a village was seen through the window. She slowly rose to her feet, trying to ignore the popping of her joints. “I’m getting old,” she thought. Not for the first time, either.

Slipping out the door, she turned to her cottage and said, “Turn your back to me, and your face to the forest.” As she turned to begin the short trip into the village, the door vanished behind her. With the ease of long practice, she stepped aside just as three riders thundered past: one on a white horse, one on a red, and one on a horse as black as pitch. “Hooligans,” she muttered irritably.

Arriving at the village, she paused and sniffed deeply. The smell of bread, baked that morning but still fresh enough, drifted to her from a bakery in the center of town, and so there she trudged, a-grumbling all the way. The bell over the door jingled merrily as she pushed her way inside. The baker’s wife was a plump, cheerful woman with red, round cheeks and a pleasant smile. “Welcome, Grandmother,” she said politely in German, and Grandmother Lazybones smiled that she was in the right place. “What can I get you this fine afternoon?”

“Two rolls, if you please,” Grandmother Lazybones asked in her old voice like the creaking of a door in an abandoned house. “Nice, plump rolls for some nice plump brats I intend to boil in beer and eat with onions and mustard.”

“Ooh, I have just the thing,” the baker’s wife smiled as she stood on a small stool to reach the high shelf. “And we have mustard too, if you need some.”

“I do,” Grandmother Lazybones smiled, her sharp, rotting teeth visible for a moment before she hid them away again. “I will have a pot of that also. I don’t suppose you have any brats?”

The baker’s wife set the rolls on the counter and began wrapping them in paper. “Oh no,” she said with a shake of her head, “We’re a bakers, not a butchers. You can try up the road, Herr Sweinbaur has been known to make bratwurst from time to time.” She set the pot of mustard next to the paper-wrapped bundle and said, “That will be 2 coins, if you please.”

“That’s not what I…” the old crone trailed off with a shake of her head. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter. Here are your coins,” she handed the baker’s wife two bits of rock from the road outside. The baker’s wife smiled and thanked her, and wished her well. The bell over the door jingled merrily as Grandmother Lazybones left the shop.

“Now, about those brats,” she sucked on her teeth for a moment. “Well, no help for it. I’m too tired and too old to be wandering all over town, I’ll just have to make my meat come to me.” She began to trundle back to her cottage, dropping bits of dirt as she walked and each bit of dirt became a glazed cookie when it hit the ground.

Arriving at her cottage again, she told it firmly, “Turn your back to the forest and your face to me!”  Grudgingly the door appeared and she smacked the the jamb as she stepped through. The cottage shook slightly in response. Grandmother Lazybones stood for a moment, her hand on the wall, and she muttered to herself. “Walls of gingerbread, shingles of icing. Windows of sugared glass and frost of peppermint creme. House of wonder, childhood’s dream.” Then she went inside the gingerbread walls and set her bundle on the table. She looked out the sugared glass windows with their dusting of peppermint creme ice, and waited for her meat to come to her.

“Oh, goodness me,” Grandmother Lazybones shook her head in annoyance at her forgetful ways. “I almost forgot to put the beer on to warm.” Down into the cold cellar she went to bring back the keg of beer. She poured a couple of gallons into the big cauldron over the fire, and banked the blaze to keep the beer warm but not yet boiling. Soon, the house smelled pleasantly of hops and barley.

Voices from outside distracted her from her musings, and Grandmother Lazybones glanced out the rock sugar window. Two children, blond of hair and blue of eye and red of cheek, came skipping up the road towards her cottage. They would stop every few yards, alternating as they bent over to pick up this bit of cookie or that sweetmeat, and pop them between their fleshy lips. Fingers were sucked noisily as they skipped onto the next treat.

Suddenly one, the girl, saw the cottage and gasped. “Hans, look!” she cried, pointing at the fairy-tale confection house. They turned to look at each other and desire shone in their eyes. They darted forward as one and began to rip pieces of the house off with their greedy, grubby little hands. Grandmother Lazybones smiled inside and waited.

Soon, the voices of the two children grew sluggish. The children, stuffed to the gills on sweets, leaned against the wall under the window to take a nap.

Later still, as Grandmother Lazybones stirred the cauldron filled with beer and two plump brats, she sucked on her teeth and thought about the wonderful meal to come. Soon, she would suck the succulent flesh from bones and wash it down with good, dark beer.

Not for the first time, either.

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Blood Fury – Preview part 2

Picking up where part 1 left off. Let me know what you think.

By the time I reached the balcony outside Marilee’s apartment in the mid-Wilshire district, I felt I had recovered sufficiently to attempt a slow change. Thus, I only slightly frost-damaged Marilee’s window-box full of spider plants. Getting Marilee’s attention turned out to be more difficult. I pounded on the glass sliding door for several minutes, and had just about made up my mind to break it open and pay for it later, when Marilee came out of the bedroom, wrapping a robe around her voluptuous body. She scowled when she saw me standing there naked on her balcony, but she opened the door and let me in.
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