It is almost impossible to believe, yet true, that August is upon us. The days are growing shorter, the nights longer, and for the most part, also cooler. I am looking forward to a much needed get-away before summer's end, but for now, I'm excited to bring you the August post for A Drift of Quills. We are back to what has quickly become our favorite kind of post, and it seems to be yours, too. What kind is that? Why, flash fiction, of course!
This time around, Robin Lythgoe, selected the picture that we used for inspiration. It is always great fun to read the wildly different stories the three of us come up with to go with the chosen picture for these posts, so prepare yourself!
Below is the photo.
We Quills all seem to view the parameters of flash fiction a bit differently. My personal goal is to stay within 1000 words - if at all possible. Today, I've managed to do just that - coming in, I believe, at 998 words, title and all! But before I share my flash fiction story with you, I'm anxious to read what my fellow Quills have for us all. (Make sure you follow the links for each of Parker and Robin to get the full story for each.)
P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse, is sure to have a great read for us, and no doubt it will be loaded with wit and charm. Take it away, Parker!
The Standing Stone
I find language fascinating. Don't you agree? Have you ever spent time just reading about the origin of particular words or phrases? One of my favorite things to do with one of my daughters is to read idioms from other languages and cultures. We find the venture good for a laugh, as the sayings can be extremely funny while also providing keen insight into the workings of other cultures. For example, you've heard "it's raining cats and dogs," and that you should not "cry over spilled milk," and you know what it means when something "cost you an arm and a leg," but here are a few you might not have heard before:
"Not my circus, not my monkeys." This Polish idiom means, in short, "Not my problem."
Consider this German one: "Everything has one end, only the sausage has two." Apparently, it means, "Everything comes to an end."
I like this Japanese idiom: "Even monkeys fall from trees." Apparently it translates to: "Everyone makes mistakes."
For the most part, the above make sense to me. That said, I can't begin to imagine where the Icelandic idiom, "I took him to the bakery," might have come from. Apparently it means something on the order of, "I told him off." Have you any ideas?
In addition to idioms, another aspect of language I find fascinating, is the sheer number and variety of ways people have found to communicate. For example, I recently read up on whistling languages. Frequently, they are used to convey messages across wide expanses, such as in mountain villages. Oh, how I would love to find a way to incorporate a whistling language into a story! Have you any ideas as to how I might do that?
Now, with June upon us, we Quills are gathering once again to bring you a joint post. This time each of us will share with you, five of our favorite antagonists.
Before digging in further, it only seems right to take a closer look at the terms “protagonist” and “antagonist.” “Protagonist” is defined as “the principal character in a work of fiction.” Note that the definition does not say that the protagonist is the hero of the story. “Antagonist” is defined as “someone who offers opposition.” This definition does not say that the antagonist is a villain. So it is conceivable that the principal character of a story is a villain, while the antagonist of the story is actually the hero. Hmmm … I’m trying to think of a story in which that idea plays out in just that manner ... Can you help me out here? Maybe my fellow Quills can do that. Parker? Robin?
Here we go! (Don't forget to follow the links to my fellow-Quills' sites for more.)
Mine is a list of truly evil baddies, fantastic villains, complex antagonists, and lovable toad. In the style of FilmFisher's "Undefended" articles, I'm putting these forward with only minimal comment.
Thank you, Parker!
Now, Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, will share some of her favorite antagonists with us. Take it away, Robin!
Next—and to consider our theme for this post more seriously—I return to a work I’ve mentioned repeatedly over the years. It is my favorite work of all time: Les Miserables. (It is a work against which I seem to measure all others. In fact, I’ve considered re-reading it annually. It is so worthy.)
From Les Miserables, I’ve two—make that three—favorite villains. The first two are the Thenardiers. To avoid going too long for this post, I’ll just say what great theater those two make. They are horrible, horrible people, but on stage … Well, get ready to laugh!)
His mental attitude was compounded of two very simple principles, admirable in themselves but which, by carrying them to extremes, he made almost evil – respect for authority and hatred of revolt against it.
Victor Hugo provided the rationale for Javert’s conduct. Having been born in a prison to criminal parents, Javert became an officer of the law because of his hatred for the very group from which he came. Hugo tells us that Javert’s life is/was one of “privations, isolation, self-denial, and chastity—never any amusement.” Perhaps Javert is one of my favorites because Hugo made him so understandable. So once again I say—and I say it every chance I get: if you have not yet read Les Miserables, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Your introduction to the antagonist, Javert, is just one of the many, many reasons to check out this great, great classic.
Parker took our challenge to new heights, in that he has provided various alternate beginnings to his prior work, Nightrage Rising. If you've not read it yet, here's your chance to jump in. If you have, you're sure to enjoy the beginning from these various new perspectives.
by P.S. Broaddus
Copyright, P.S. Broaddus 2019
Tigrabum Fendor had never been, nor ever would be, an ordinary cat, thank you very much. He examined the new pin that had been placed in the latch and chuckled silently. When would they learn?
He pried a paw between the crate and the pin and wiggled the latch. The addition of a pin added a finesse requirement and five extra seconds before he freed the lid. He hopped up on his hind feet, resting his forepaws against the crate to look around the dock. Nobody had noticed him yet. He hooked his paw under the lid and lifted. Hundreds of blank, white eyes stared up at him, cold and unfeeling.
Now, we move on to see what Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, has for us. Robin?
by Robin Lythgoe
Copyright, Robin Lythgoe 2019
I have come to the conclusion that all great people have their rivals. Qahan Nijamar, the mythic hero of yore, had his Ashlock; the pirate Maid Mihriban had her Princess Pakize; I have Raza Qimeh. Or at least he likes to think so. Most of his success stems from the fact that no one would believe someone as tall or broad or loud as he could ever be a quiet, agile, wily thief. Typically, he’s a mere thorn in my side. Like now, for instance ...
And now, it's my turn!
Fantasy authors often create their worlds in a first volume, and then use those creations in a number of volumes in a series. Occasionally, an author might write spin-offs, providing a whole new series around a lesser character from the original. These tales might precede the original, run parallel with it, or come later in time.
I’ve decided to use our inspirational picture—and Parker’s challenge—to tell a parallel story. In essence, I'm “adding a scene,” if you will, to Oathtaker. That said, I didn’t want to give anything away for anyone who has not yet read that story. Thus, you’ll find a blank space in my new scene. Also, I’m not giving you a full-fledged, stand alone story, as I prefer to do with flash fiction (and as I’ve done with my prior flash fiction tales), because I am unable to do so with a “parallel” scene. Even so, I hope you enjoy it …
To set the stage, in Oathtaker, Volume One of The Oathtaker Series, Mara travels with a group of friends, seeking safety for the infant twins, Reigna and Eden. The group makes its way to the City of Light. There, they can easily visit sanctuary and spend time studying. Mara knows their ultimate destination is the camp that Lucy created and then shielded with magic. Still, while reports from Ezra’s spy network tell Mara that Lilith is still some distance away, she wants to learn all that she can. Eventually, she sends everyone in her group, except for Dixon and Nina (who is wet nurse to the twins), ahead to Lucy’s. They take the great scepter with them so as to get it to safety as soon as possible. Later, Mara, the infant twins, Dixon, and Nina, will join them.
In the original Oathtaker, just as Jules, Samuel, Basha, Therese, and Adele, are leaving The Clandest Inn, someone new shows up there. The portion of the story reads:
Excerpt from Oathtaker
by Patricia Reding
“I’ll take the map,” Jules said.
“Don’t make any markings on it,” Dixon cautioned. “We wouldn’t want anyone to know where you were headed.”
Nina sat down. “It seems like someone is always coming and going,” she said as she glanced Jules’s way.
“It can’t be helped, Nina.” Mara rolled up the map. “I want to get the scepter to safekeeping. I probably should have sent the group off sooner.” She handed the scroll to Jules whose gaze rested on Nina.
His chair scraped against the floor as he pushed it back. “We can still get an early start—and we’ll need to if we’re to make it to Aventown before nightfall.” He tucked the map under his arm. “I checked at the stables earlier. Our horses are saddled.”
Adele groaned. Moody for days now, she’d intercepted Mara at every turn, each time with yet another argument for why she should stay behind. She’d even gone so far as to ask Mara to check with the oracle about whether to send her with the others, but the Oathtaker thought the idea preposterous. Why would the oracle bother over such a detail?
Bundled up in shawls and capes, they all made their way to the stables.
Dixon, late for an appointment with Ezra, clasped Jules’s forearm, urged him to keep everyone safe, then returned to the inn.
Mara and Nina each held one of the twins as the travelers mounted. Mara grasped Eden’s arm and raised it in a mock wave. Nina grinned, then followed suit, waving Reigna’s hand at those departing.
As the riders left the courtyard, a man in black, on a large rust gelding, rushed toward the inn. He nearly collided with Adele. Mara winced at the encounter, glanced briefly at the newcomer, then turned her attention back to her departing friends.
Adele stretched so far back in her saddle, that for a minute it looked like she was riding backward. She appeared troubled.
“Poor Adele,” Mara said as she, Nina, and Samuel, headed back to the inn.
Just then, the man in black nearly ran into them.
“Excuse me,” Mara said as he jostled past.
He glanced at her briefly, then went inside.
Arriving in Aventown
by Patricia Reding
Copyright, Patricia Reding 2019
The moon, now full, lit the way for the traveling entourage as it entered the village of Aventown. Dixon had described the town as “sleepy,” and so it seemed to be, in that few lights shown through any windows, although the hour was not yet late.
Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop. The travelers’ horses drummed a steady rhythm as they made their way down the cobblestone street, announcing their presence to anyone in the least interested. The sound startled Adele from her musings. Then just as she turned her thoughts inward again, unexpected laughter interrupted her reverie.
“What’s so funny?” Basha asked Jules who rode at her side.
“It looks like someone here held a contest for the wildest place names. See there?” He pointed. “It’s ‘The Pain in the Glass Pub,’ and next to it is ‘The Brewed Awakening Inn.’”
Still chuckling, he pointed once again. “Oh, look there! It’s the ‘Knead a Massage Parlor.’”
Basha, and her charge, Therese, laughed along with him.
Then, “Oh! There’s one!” Basha exclaimed as she gestured ahead. “See there? It’s the Quick Voyage Book Store.”
“And there’s the Inkwell Tattoo Parlor,” Therese added.
“These are great names,” Jules said.
“Yes, the place certainly seems friendly enough,” Adele offered with a pout.
“I guess we’ll know soon enough,” Jules said. Then, “There’s the inn ahead,” he added. “Earlier, I thought its name peculiar. I mean, who would use a name like ‘The Night Mare” for an inn, anyway? But, Dixon said I’d understand when I got here. Now I believe I do!” He waved his arm. “Come on, then, let’s make sure they have room for us.”
After confirming that there was indeed room at the inn, Jules sent the women ahead with Samuel to get a meal started. Then he assisted the young man in charge of the stables with feeding and grooming their mounts before he headed back inside.
Meanwhile, Adele remained in quiet thought while she helped to prepare dinner. Still upset about having to leave the twins, however, she left her own meal uneaten. Instead, she sat in a rocker in the corner, musing.
Shivering, as the inn’s stone exterior made for a damp and cold interior, she pulled her shawl more tightly around her shoulders. Her rocking remained slow and steady as she searched for some semblance of serenity.
“Is all well, Adele?” Basha asked her.
“Something bothering you?”
The young woman bit her bottom lip, then shook her head and said, “Nothing. Just thinking.”
Adele could not get the image of the man who had arrived at the Clandest Inn just as they were leaving, out of her mind. She was certain she’d recognized him, and the thought of his being anywhere near the twins, worried her.
After some minutes of silence, Jules spoke up, addressing no one in particular. “I made arrangements with the innkeeper, who as you all know is a spy in Ezra’s network, to send a messenger back to the City of Light to update Mara and Dixon on our progress according to the itinerary we'd prepared earlier. I know we won’t have the luxury of doing so everyday, but I’d like to keep them as informed as possible.”
Adele turned his way. “You’re sending Mara a messenger?” she asked. “This evening?”
“That’s the plan.”
“May I send one, as well?”
Jules glanced at Basha who then addressed the young woman. “There is no going back, Adele. Mara will catch up with us at Lucy’s soon enough.”
“No— I mean, yes, I know all that.” Suddenly overcome with a longing for the infant twins she’d grown to love so deeply, a tear ran down Adele’s cheek. She wiped it away. “I just— May I send a message anyway?”
Jules shrugged. “So long as you don’t mention where we are or where we’re going.”
Adele waited for Jules to finish writing his note, then took up his quill and ink. For a moment, she couldn’t think just what to say. She didn’t want to alarm Mara unnecessarily, but that creepy man was too close to Lilith for her liking.
Adele bit the end of the quill. Finally, she penned: Mara. Had to write immediately. Thought I saw _________ as we left the inn. He’s trouble. Use care.
She wondered if she should say more. Should she tell Mara how the man frequented Lilith’s chambers? About how the two of them laughed at Lilith’s threats of cruelty? Should she tell Mara about how he stood by when Lilith did the most despicable things, and that he did nothing to intervene? In truth, Adele didn’t have any more evidence about him, or against him, than she’d had when she left the palace. While there, Dixon hadn’t seemed particularly concerned about him—and he’d not mentioned the man since he’d escaped from Lilith’s clutches. So, maybe there wasn’t cause for great concern, after all.
Still, she argued with herself, Dixon couldn’t possibly know everything that she knew.
Confused, she shook her head.
“You need anything Adele?” Basha asked.
The young woman sighed. "No. Like I said before, I'm fine." With that, she turned back to her missive and added: We're all well. Once done, she signed it, Adele. Then she folded it, affixed a wax seal to it, and handed it to Jules.
So, what do you think of our latest flash fiction efforts? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
I try my best to keep my flash fiction stories within 1000 words. This time, I just hit the mark, after honing the story down, down, down. (It is more difficult than you might think!)
Please take a minute, enjoy, then share your thoughts.
A Minor Magician
by Patricia Reding
Copyright Patricia Reding 2019
“What did you say?” asked eight-year old Amelle.
Brigid looked her way. She’d been shocked to discover that the girl hadn’t fallen to the wiles of the criminal deviants that abounded on the streets where she’d found her living a couple years earlier. It was a testimony to the girl’s curious genius that, almost miraculously, she melded into her surroundings. She had an uncanny ability to seem invisible while in plain sight, thereby learning the most confidential things. So when Brigid needed information, Amelle was her most reliable source—and it was details Amelle had learned and shared with her on which Brigid would act tonight.
“Nothing, little one.” She pulled a protective leather band over her arm. “Now you wait here,” she ordered as she headed for the door.
“I’ll know if you follow,” she warned.
“No you won’t—err—wouldn’t. No one sees or hears me when I don’t wish for them to.” Amelle grinned impishly.
“I’ve no time for arguments. I must mizzle.”
“Where are you going?”
“To find Derry Rault.”
“No, wait!” Amelle cried, but her protector, dagger in hand, was already gone.
Brigid scurried out the back door and across the street, then hid in the alcove of the Forever and Ever ink parlor. There she waited, making sure no one followed.
Finally satisfied, she wrapped a bandana over her cheeks to keep the streetlamps from reflecting off them. Then she climbed to the rooftop to make her way expeditiously to Derry’s favorite pub, The Good Ferrett. She’d learned from Amelle that there, he intended to meet Liza Kergoat, the best-known fence around. The woman was shrewd—and ruthless. To cross her was to sign your death warrant. But while Derry was Brigid’s former flame, she wished him no ill will. Thus, she had to act quickly.
Back on the street, she removed her kerchief, then entered the pub. She glanced across the room. Sighting Derry with Liza, she headed their way.
“Oh, you!” she cooed as she reached his side and sat. She greeted him with a kiss that lingered excessively given their estrangement, but then everyone agreed Derry Rault was one fine looking man.
Surprised, he pulled back.
“Who’s this?” Liza asked.
Derry sat mute. His eyes narrowed.
“Oh, hello, Ma’am,” Brigid said, grinning. “Don’t mind Derry. He’s shy.”
Liza’s brow rose.
“We’re . . . together.”
This time Derry opened his mouth to speak.
Then, “Honestly,” Brigid said, nudging him, “has the cat got your tongue?” Leaning in, she whispered, “You have the wrong package.”
He pulled back. “No, I don’t.”
Giggling, playacting, she drew even closer, keeping her voice low, yet choosing her words carefully in the event Liza overheard her. “I didn’t know you’d intended to meet Madam Kergoat.” She turned to smile at the woman. “Now, then, Derry—”
“I don’t know what kind of trick you’re playing.” He extricated himself from her hold. Then, standing, he dropped something on the table and pointed at it. “I’ve the correct items right there.”
Brigid sucked in a breath, hoping she could save the man from himself. “No, surely, this is the purse you meant to take.” She stuffed a pouch in the palm of his hand.
Liza’s eyes never left the two.
Clearly angry now, Derry deposited Brigid’s bag back into her pocket, roughly. Then he took up the one on the table. He opened it, removed a few jewels from it, showed them to Liza, and then returned them.
Slapping the pouch back down, Derry glared at Brigid and growled, “Enough of your games."
Dumbfounded, she stood, then turned away. What had happened? She’d stolen the jewels from Derry earlier, leaving him with a bag of stones. The only reason she’d tried to return the goods now was because she didn’t want to learn of his death at Liza’s hand. But then . . . how could he have brought the gems to The Good Ferrett?
Upon returning home, she called for Amelle, but got no answer. She called again.
“Here!” Amelle slipped inside.
“I told you to stay put! Where were you?”
Amelle hung her head. “I knew you’d stolen the jewels from Derry. When I heard he planned to deliver them to Liza, I also knew I’d have to give them back. So I took them, leaving a bag of stones for you, hoping I could replace it later. I’m sorry, Brigid, I know we need to eat, but I couldn’t bear to think what Liza would do if she thought Derry had tricked her!”
“You should have told me.”
“You left too quickly! So I flew out the front door to evade you, then headed straight for The Good Ferrett, where I’d intended to go anyway, to save Derry.”
“And you gave the jewels back to him. But . . . when?”
“Right after you handed your bag to him.”
“He dropped his pouch on the table. You tried to give him yours, but he shoved it back in your pocket, then opened the one on the table.”
“Well, during the confusion, I’d exchanged the bag I took from you earlier for the one he’d set down. So he picked up the correct bag.”
Brigid fell back into a chair, dumfounded.
“Then, I removed the bag from your pocket as Derry handed his to Liza. You left and she put the loot in her coat pocket.” Amelle reached into her own pocket, then dropped a purse in Brigid’s hands. “And I replaced it with the one you’d brought along, leaving you with the jewels here.”
Patting her empty pocket, Brigid’s eyes widened. More than ever she was convinced the child was a magician—an invisible, lifesaving, pick-pocketing, wizard.
First up today is Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies. Take it away, Robin!
Next is P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse. What have you for us this time, Parker?
Finally, I have some thoughts . . .
Hugo lived in a time of social upheaval and his works reflect that, as they include commentary on social issues, misery and poverty. He greatly influenced later writers, far and wide, including Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Not only is Les Miserables replete with beautiful, poetic prose (such as, by way of example, the following: “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words, and that which cannot remain silent.”), but it also speaks out about “speaking out.” Perhaps because it seems difficult to engage in genuine discussion about hearty issues these days, I though I'd share a few of my favorites on that topic:
Not being heard is no reason for silence.
You ask me what forced me to speak? A strange thing: my conscience.
It is not easy to keep silent when silence is a lie.
As with stomachs, we should pity minds that do not eat.
My next quote comes from someone likely considered less of an author and more of a philosopher, although certainly he wrote, and that is John Locke (1632-1704). Locke wrote on topics including the consent of the governed, the labor theory of property, and the concept of separating church and state. His works influenced others, including some of the founders of the U.S., namely Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson. Perhaps my favorite John Locke quote is:
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse ... A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself . . .
I’ve one more quote here (sometimes attributed to John Locke, other times to other sources), before I move on because it is another I’ve repeated many, many times over the years. It is: “Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.” Or as I like to say it: “Your rights stop where my nose starts.” The idea here is that “rights” are something a person possesses innately, by reason of existence, through no doing of that person’s own, and having required nothing from anyone else. Thus, “rights” include, for example, the right to speak your mind, to practice your religion of choice, and to defend yourself. When you exercise those things, you take nothing from anyone else. It costs your neighbor nothing to allow you to speak; it costs your community nothing for you to worship in your chosen way; it costs your fellow citizens nothing to allow you to defend your life. By contrast, something is not a right and cannot be a “right,” if it requires anything from anyone else. To demand that another provide something to you would be, essentially, for you to make a slave of your neighbor. And so, “your right stops where my nose starts” means that you do not have the “right” to demand anything from me, including my labor or the fruits of it, for your benefit, nor may I demand the like from you. That doesn't mean that we should not help one another. Rather, it means that we cannot force others using the power of the state (which really means, at the threat of the loss of liberty or life), to give from the fruits of our labor to others ... So in the end it seems that this simple quote evokes deep meaning ...
Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and under a just God, cannot long retain it.
The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island for an undetermined period of time, what three books would you want to have with you?
All that said, getting stranded on a distant island sometimes sounds like a holiday. I wonder how long I would procrastinate starting a signal fire ...
Choosing a mere three books is serious business. I think I’ll go with something old, something new, and…
Here goes ...
The 1000 pages or so of Les Miserables are filled with personalities and descriptions that pull in the past, thread in the present, and foreshadow the future. Altogether it reads like poetry, as follows:
If you have not read Les Miserables, I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you are not generally a reader of classics and find the challenge a bit daunting, give yourself permission to skip the parts that don’t speak to you or that are hard to follow. For example, skip over the complicated historical and political issues if you like. Concentrate on the people, and on Hugo’s spellbinding descriptions of their past and present lives. If you rise to the challenge, I am confident you will not regret it.
While it’s hard to pick just one great Dickens work, perhaps there is nowhere he is more amusing than in the opening pages of Great Expectations, first published in 1861. I know. I know. It is intended to be a serious work—and it is, and the opening sets the stage for all the seriousness to come. Still, there is also great humor to be found there.
Once, years ago, when my two youngest were about eight and ten or so, I started reading Great Expectations out loud to them. (I love to read out loud and I do so with a great deal of, shall we say . . . flair, or perhaps, drama would be the correct word here.) Through the first chapter or so, as I read (and this was not my first reading of this work!), I laughed so hard that tears rolled down my face and my stomach hurt. Yes, I know that the story opens with poor Pip staring at his parents’ tombstones. But consider the way Dickens sets forth those facts from Pip’s point of view. Not only do we see with the eyes of a naïve child (who has nevertheless already suffered greatly), but the images we see are, in a word, hilarious. Sad—and hilarious. For example, consider Pip’s contemplation of his father’s tombstone:
Then of his brothers, Pip thinks:
To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine - who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle …
Imagine one the age of young Pip already concerned about making a living … Yes, this passage is sad because in that day, making a living was such a struggle. Even little ones felt it. But there is also something humorously intriguing about the way Pip ponders those things.
Then, there is Dickens' masterful way of summing up the entirety of a person or thing through a few short words. Try the following. Keep the flow going so that the first two sentences move at a normal, almost slow, pace, while from there, it gradually moves more quickly, quickly, quickly, then ends with the last clause slowly ... Ready? Read:
by Patricia Reding
Copyright Patricia Reding 2019
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 set him aboard a ship that hauled him away.
Soon after awakening in chains, trapped into sea service to the cruel pirate, Wyn More, Aiden fell victim to jungle fever. For months he knew only the mercy of forgetfulness that unconsciousness granted him. But eventually his illness passed and his memories returned. They harassed him unceasingly. He longed for Fenella and the revenge he would have when he returned home where he knew she waited for him.
When the opportunity arose, Aiden jumped at his chance to escape. The cliff from which he dove was higher than the three tallest trees imaginable standing one atop the next. Still, he’d have taken the risk even if that distance had been doubled. Fortunately he resurfaced alive from the water below.
Aiden didn’t have a single copper buckle to his name. Nevertheless, he headed for Dorberg, rendering his services along the way in exchange for food. Occasionally, he picked a pocket, but only after confirming that his mark was truly wealthy, and even then, only when in dire straights. He’d never forget that gelid morning when he awakened, shivering, to find his boots missing. Then there was the time he went for almost a week with naught to eat but a half loaf of stale bread ...
Back in Dorberg, Aiden’s first stop was The Tipsy Dove Inn. Entering, he jingled the buckles in his pocket that he’d won at dice. He was proud to have played without cheating—well, mostly so, anyway.
Sitting in a corner, a hood obscuring his face, he watched his old friend, Payton, tending bar. He surmised that Payton had wed Bronwyn Glynn, daughter of the previous barkeep, as she was waiting tables. Sadly, the intervening years had not treated the now-buxom lass kindly.
No one recognized Aiden, but then he’d yet to cut his scraggly locks or to trim his beard. Also, he remained underweight following his recent adventures. Still, he kept his hood up. Nigel mustn’t hear of his return too soon.
The evening grew late when, unexpectedly, a waitress shuffled to his table. Glancing up, Aiden went speechless. There stood Fenella, so close he could smell her sweet breath.
“Shift change,” she said, setting down a mug of bock roughly. Some sloshed out. A towel in hand, she wiped the table clean. “I’m waitin’ your table now. Need anything ’fore the kitchen closes?”
Aiden struggled to contain his delight in seeing her, but caution won out.
“Bread ... please,” he whispered, eyes downcast.
She set off, then seconds later, delivered his order.
The sight of Fenella encouraged Aiden. He knew how to break the magician’s spell, as Finn Mock had included that information when he’d cast it. Such was required of any mage who didn’t want to risk his life operating contrary to the rules. So to reunite, Aiden and Fenella would have to face Nigel together—since he was the party responsible for the spell—and confirm their undying love for one another.
At closing, Fenella removed her threadbare apron, then tossed it over the bar. “To home!” she exclaimed as she departed.
After leaving payment, Aiden rushed to the Duke estate, grateful for his familiarity with it. At least something good had come of his having served as secretary to Nigel in years past!
He made his way to the man’s study through secret passageways he’d created for his former employer. There, he went about his task, pilfering no small fortune from a lockbox he knew of. Then he absconded—like the thief in the night that he was.
The next morning, his pockets full of coin, Aiden set out for the public baths, then to the barbershop for a grooming. Lastly, he visited the tailor, grateful to find some premade clothing available for purchase. Now he could meet his love!
Throughout the day, Aiden listened for news of Nigel or Fenella. He rejoiced when he discovered the two would dine at The Tipsy Dove Inn that evening.
Handing a street urchin a short unsigned missive along with the last of the buckles he’d stolen from Nigel’s lockbox, Aiden instructed the lad to deliver the note to father and daughter while they dined. It read, “Awaiting you in Nigel’s study. Hurry home! Grievous news.”
At evenfall, sporting striped trousers, a wool cape, and the finest boots available in Dorberg, Aiden returned to Nigel’s study. He poured himself a glass of his former employer’s finest claret. It’s color, bordering on purple, glistened in the firelight. Gazing into its depths, Aiden anticipated the moment he’d reunite with Fenella.
He added a log to the fire. Its crackling flames flickered. Satisfied, he emptied his glass in one swallow and then refilled it again before settling into Nigel’s favorite chair, a tentative smile on his face.
Loud voices soon sounded out from down the hall, interrupting his thoughts. Initially unintelligible, they quickly grew nearer and clearer.
As Aiden stood in anticipation, Fenella’s voice rose out above the shouting, clicking of heels, and clanging of weapons.
“Duncan!” she cried. “Father got a message! Was it from you? Oh, what is happening? Hurry, my beloved husband! Hurry! Hurry to Father’s study!”
Aiden’s grip on his wineglass loosened as he grasped the facts. Fenella loved another. No longer could he face Nigel together with her for the two to swear their undying devotion to one another. No longer could they break Finn Mock’s spell.
With that, Aiden’s glass slipped to the floor where, like his dreams, it shattered.
The Sword of Seysan
by Robin Lythgoe
Copyright Robin Lythgoe 2019
The Trickster Guardian
by P.S. Broaddus
Copyright P.S. Broaddus 2019
It happened like this.
From time to time I read something that doesn’t seem to fit (for me, at any rate) into any traditional genre classification. Such was the case with The Junk Yard Solution: Adventures Among the Boxcars and Other Lost Causes, by Peter Kelton. The story opens with the discovery of Loretta’s body hanging from a cell phone tower in the middle of a village made up of abandoned railroad boxcars populated by a cast of characters one might classify as “misfits.” The boxcars are as uniquely finished and decorated as the personalities that inhabit them. Each of those personalities exhibits its own unusual idiosyncrasies, as does the Federal Marshal, Rick Senate, who investigates Loretta’s death. Throughout the journey to discover Loretta’s killer, the reader is taken along on a series of adventures as parts of the villagers’ past stories are presented.
For me, the most notable part of The Junk Yard Solution, by Peter Kelton, was the cast of characters. There is Loretta herself, who is described as having been “a health nut, a cleanliness freak, [and] a Yogini of the first order.” Loretta had a passion for learning. Then come the actors, Arthur, and his “friend” Oswald (who makes a fine plumber); Cicero who is also known as Don Quixote (and as CVR), who sometimes wears a monk’s robe and is the one to whom the others go with their problems; and Helena, the Chocolate Lady, whose life goal (at age 70) is to travel to India to spread her late husband’s ashes there; to name a few. My personal favorite is the widow, Ellen McDougal, who “converses mostly with her deceased husband, the historian.” I especially enjoy Miss Ellen because she “wanders among the boxcars at night, kind of like an itinerant fundamentalist of a proselytizing faith, quoting The Elements of Style.” Meanwhile, a couple of her neighbors, Jefferson Davis McClandish and Justine, don’t unsettle her in the least when they take up nudism, but they annoy her no end with their incessant use of the word “like.” (Seriously, that is a person I’d like to meet!) The various characters’ lives generally include some details as to how each has been in touch with—or has come within only a couple degrees of separation from—some famous person or event. Those in this odd and entertaining group share two things in common: their dislike of digital life, and their desire to discover who is responsible for Loretta’s murder. Together, these factors make for an interesting afternoon of reading.
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