The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 7

Here is Part 7 of my fantasy serial, “The Bridefarer’s Choice”.

If you are new to this story, you can find the earlier parts here

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 1

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 2

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 3

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 4

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 5

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 6

I will publish successive episodes every Monday.

The Bridefarer's Choice - Part 7 180115

I very much hope you enjoy it!

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 7

Freya and I had barely reached the plain before we were apprehended by a troop of Lord Conor’s men. They bound my wrists behind my back, and made me ride all day without reins. My legs burned with the fatigue of controlling Mavra like that.

I hadn’t realised that Lord Conor would maintain a guard on such a little-used pass through the mountains. I glanced across at Freya. She rode serenely, ignoring our escort. At least they were treating her with courtesy.

“Here we are – the High Hall of Conor. Down you get!” I nearly fell as I dismounted.

The soldiers manhandled me beneath the portcullis, across the pebbled yard and through the strong stone entrance to the Hall. The mighty oak door thumped shut behind me, trapping me in a place of shadows.  Even in my exhaustion I realised that the building had been newly strengthened and fortified.

Onward they urged me, past flaring torches, until we stood in the Great Hall, in the presence of Lord Conor.

“Here’s the man, my Lord, and this is the shield he was carrying,” grunted one of my captors.

Lord Conor eyed it.

“A Danish weapon.”

“As was the blade he was carrying, my Lord.”

“This man is not a Dane.”

I dropped my eyes before Lord Conor’s stare.

“Bearing arms in my territory without my approval is forbidden. Bearing arms carrying a foreign device compounds your crime. The penalty is death. Do you have anything to say?”

I raised my eyes to his.

“My Lord, I crave pardon for a crime committed unwittingly. May I say too, that both shield and sword were packed on my beast, with the device concealed? I have no wish to offend, my Lord; I am a liegeman of Lord Robert, your ally.”

“Is he telling truth, Roderick?”

“Aye, my Lord. The shield was packed as he said.”

Lord Conor’s gaze seemed to pierce me.

“How did you come by the shield?”

“My Lord, I was journeying from Fasthaven through the mountains with my bride. The folk of Fasthaven provided me with the weapons lest we meet with Danes on the road.”

“And did you meet any?”

“Yes, my Lord.” I hesitated. How much to tell? Lord Conor’s expression became grim. “My Lord. We met two Danes, warriors. I killed them.”

Lord Conor’s eyes opened very wide. He climbed down from his high seat and walked around me, looking intently at me. The top of his head just reached my shoulder.

“You’re no warrior, lad. You killed two Danes? I think not.”

The men around us sniggered.

“Do you think you could best me, lad?”

“My Lord, you are the ally of my liege lord. I would not raise blade against you.”

“Cut his bonds. Set him free.”

Roderick cut the thongs binding my wrists. My hands felt dead.

“Give him the blade and the shield.”

Roderick fetched both. I fumbled them with my numb hands. The soldiers loosened their blades.

“No!” Lord Conor’s voice was harsh and full of authority. “If he bests me in fair fight, release him and let him go where he will with his bride.”

I looked him in the face. He had a faint smile.

“My Lord. I will not lift blade against you.”

“Then you will die.”

He raised his sword high.

The blade was long and dark in the shadows. The steel looked very sharp. I looked at his eyes and read death there. I forced myself to keep looking. I saw him tense, saw the minute flicker of the muscles that presages a blow. That would have been the instant to raise my shield to parry. Instead, I remained perfectly still.

The heavy blade sang as it passed my ear, ripped the elbow of my jerkin, nicked the skin of my ankle.

“Ha! You’re no Dane. You’re loyal. Stupid, but loyal. Roderick – we’ll take care of him and set him on his way.”

“Very good, my Lord.”

I was shaking, but pulled myself to my full height.

“Thank you for your gentle courtesy, my Lord. Insofar as I may under my own liege lord, I pledge my sword and my life to your service.”

The warriors around me smirked, but Lord Conor looked grave.

“Insofar as I may without breaching my alliance with the Lord Robert, I accept your sword and your life. You are a brave man, Diarmid MacDiarmid, and I have need of such.”

I started. How did Lord Conor know my name?

“Lord Robert, that matter we were discussing earlier; I think we have the man for the job?”

A tall, pale-faced man, whose demeanour would have fitted more a scholar or a monk, emerged from the shadows. I had only seen him once before, but I recognised him immediately. I bowed my head, sank to one knee and proffered the hilts of my sword.

“My Lord!”

He accepted the weapon.

I remained kneeling. He touched me with the flat of the blade, first on my right shoulder, then on my left, then on my right again.

“Arise, Thane Diarmid.”

I stood, and he smiled at me, without warmth or humour.

“You will need this honour if you are to accomplish what we need.”

“Come,” said Lord Conor. “We will eat and plan. Thane Diarmid, you will join us at table.”

 

What Pegman Saw – Proposal

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Fiji. My story features Adrian and Sue who were introduced in my Friday Fictioneers story “Close to the Wind”

WPS - Proposal 180113

Paradise Tavenuni Resort © Kathy Barrett, Google Maps

Proposal

Adrian swaggered up to Sue.

“Do you fancy crewing for me?” he asked.

“In your dreams!”

“It’s in Fiji. Flights and accommodation paid; work trip.”

Sue goggled at him. “That’s work?”

He grinned. “How about it?”

Adrian bagged the window seat on the plane.

Sue smiled at the man in the aisle seat.

“Would you mind swapping seats?” The passenger obligingly moved next to Adrian.

But Sue couldn’t escape Adrian’s invitation to dinner on the evening after their arrival. In truth she enjoyed the meal, their table under sparkling stars and overlooking rippling water that reflected the gentle moon.

Adrian looked nervous.

“Actually, I really want to do the Oyster World Rally.”

Sue gasped “That’s round the world! Two years!” Then she said firmly, “Only if I skipper.”

“Every other day?” suggested Adrian

There was a long pause.

“OK. Deal.”

Adrian kissed her.

“Bastard,” she murmured – and kissed back passionately.

Friday Fictioneers – “Hullo, Mr Spider”

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Hullo Mr Spider 180110

PHOTO PROMPT © Victor and Sarah Potter

“Hullo Mr Spider”

I bash the alarm clock.

Wow! That’s a big ol’ spider on the window!

“Hullo, Mr Spider.”

Any bread in the kitchen? I shift the heap of dirty plates. Nah, course not.

Telly’s on in the lounge. Mum’s wrapped up in her duvet on the floor, snorin’. Been drinkin’ vodka, I ‘spect. I open the curtains, but she don’t stir. I nick some of her takeaway. Not bad, but too spicy.

I wish she’d wash me shirt. I hate goin’ to school smelly, and gettin’ laughed at.

It’s quarter past eight – I gotta get the bus to school.

“Bye-bye, Spidey!”

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 6

Here is Part 6 of my fantasy serial, “The Bridefarer’s Choice”.

If you are new to this story, you can find the earlier parts here

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 1

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 2

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 3

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 4

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 5

I will publish successive episodes every Monday.

I very much hope you enjoy it!

The bridefarer's choice - part 3 

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 6

Malcolm looked at my sword with dismay.

“You might as well carry a bodkin. You couldn’t kill a cat wi’ that thing.”

He took out a dirk, held it gently, easily, in his right hand

“Kill me wi’ your sword,” he invited.

“Kill you?”

“Aye.” He grinned. It was not an attractive grin.

I took a deep breath, and took a swing at his left upper arm. It wouldn’t kill – I hoped.

There was a rattle. The dirk was now in his left hand, my blade caught by its hilt.

“My wee lad could do better than that. You might at least aim for somewhere vital.”

He released my weapon. I chopped vertically down at his head.

My blade hit the ground. Very shortly afterwards I followed it. Duncan had stepped aside from my blow, leaned forward and unbalanced me, helping me on my way.

“The only way you’ll kill a Dane, laddie, is if one of them dies laughing.”

I picked myself up, snarling.

“Again?”

“As you wish.” He balanced on the balls of his feet. This time he was at least paying me the compliment of taking me seriously.

I thrust as fast and hard as I could at his heart. My blade turned against the hilt of his dirk, and he disarmed me, and stood on my sword.

“My dirk will take any number of blows from your bit of tin – and look at the state of it now.” He showed me the two weapons. His dirk, unmarked. My sword, bent and blunted.

“But I couldn’t do that if you were wielding a Dane’s sword. It’s three times the weight, and much stronger. What I would need then is a Dane’s shield, like this.”

And so the day passed. By its end, I was bruised, bloody and aching in every limb.

“Well, laddie, you’re learning, but you’re no warrior. The best advice I can give you is to stay away from any Danes. The second best is to use your shield before your sword. Good luck.”

Staying away from Danes it would have to be.

I’d reached Fasthaven by the high road, but there was another route through the mountains.

“Freya will guide you,” Oldest Caitrin told me. “She knows the way. You will travel to the mountains by night, and start your crossing at first light. The way is narrow and stony. How will Mavra fare on such a path?”

“She is sure-footed enough.”

“Hm. She’s a strong beast and you’ll need such. We’ll just have to risk it.” She turned to Freya, and smiled at her.

“Are you happy, dear heart? I shall miss you, my daughter.”

“I shall miss you too, Mother. Perhaps when times are easier I shall see you again? Or you may come and visit.”

Oldest Caitrin shook her head.

“I fear this is forever, beloved child.”

They embraced, and Oldest Caitrin’s face was wet with tears.

“I am a king’s daughter, Mother. I must be about his business.”

“Take care of this precious jewel, Diarmid MacDiarmid.”

“I will protect her with every ounce of strength, every breath of courage, with my life and with my honour.”

“Then go with peace and honour.”

Malcolm helped Freya mount her palfrey, Alba. I climbed onto Mavra, somewhat impeded by the borrowed shield slung on my shoulder, and the long, heavy, borrowed sword.

The skylarks were a-bed. Mavra was scarcely visible in the dusk. I had removed the silver from her harness for concealment and silence. Alba gleamed like a wraith. The gates of the town opened silently and our journey was begun.

Freya rode on my left, and we trotted easily enough. The sound of our mounts’ hooves was muffled by the turf. Occasionally we would pass cattle, sometimes sheep. We said nothing.

There was no moon, only a great band of stars. I looked up in wonder. The night sky had never sparkled so sharply. My heart sang. I was riding with my bride-to-be, and she a king’s daughter – why, I’d heard her say so herself! She was beautiful, and she would bear my children.

Her hand reached out gently, and just touched my sleeve. She pointed, and placed her finger on her lips. It was just possible to see the outline of some dwellings. Awake now to the danger, I listened carefully. There was a lowing of cattle. A chain rattled; a dog, perhaps. We stole past.

The sky began to grey behind us, and grey shapes loomed up at us. Ahead, the path began to rise. My gaze followed it as it climbed into the peaks. I glanced at Freya. She sat very upright, staring intently up the slope. She pointed, and I saw a twinkling red-orange light, with a faint plume of smoke. Someone had a fire.

“Could it be a shepherd?” I whispered.

Freya shrugged.

“It’s more likely to be warriors. There’s no pasture up there.”

“Is there a way around them?”

“No. The track broadens for about twenty yards, then the real pass starts. They’ve camped there. There are some trees at this end of the broad way. That’s why it’s hard to see the fire.”

‘I will protect her with my life.’

I took a deep breath, dismounted, and tethered Mavra.

“Stay here, Freya. If I don’t return by the time the sun is fully risen, you must return to Fairhaven as quickly as you may.”

“I shall do the king’s business, not your bidding.” She raked me with grey eyes that picked up the faint trace of blue now visible in the dawn sky.

The way was steep, and I went as quietly as I could. Whatever hope I had would lie in surprise. At every moment I expected a yell and a rush of men. Or worse, a feathered arrow from a hundred yards, that would pierce me through and cut off my breath.

I reach the trees, and I’m still undiscovered. They keep a sloppy watch.

I pause, then advance under cover as silently as I can. There look to be two men. Danes. One is sitting by the fire, the other is standing with his back to me, about ten yards away. I must kill him, unawares if possible.

Unawares. Murdering him in cold blood. Not in the heat of battle. Murder.

‘I will protect her with my honour.’

I stride forward, drawing my loaned sword as I go. He half turns, but he’s too slow, I strike at his neck and the blade slices through skin, through flesh, blood spurts, fountains of it, he gurgles, tries to shout, blood gushes from his mouth, his legs buckle. I stand gasping, wanting to retch.

But the other man has heard. He’s risen, he’s seizing his sword but it’s behind him. I run forward as he stands up, sword half lifted. I beat down his defence, but now he’s grasped his shield.

Shield. Use your shield before your sword.

Growling, I raise my borrowed shield. The other makes a sharp intake of breath, gesturing at his own shield. My shield bears the same device as his. I rush him, shield raised, using my weight and height to press him back and back to the edge, and he falls backwards, but I stumble, my sword catches and he’s rising and…

Freya steals up behind him, jabs a dirk into his neck, drags it across his throat. He jerks a few times and then lies still. Freya is looking around.

“There’s only two packs.”

I nod, heaving. Freya looks at me.

“They were soldiers. They served their lord with honour, but you bested them.”

I nod again. Then I turn away and vomit until I am empty, until my stomach muscles cry out and hot tears stream down my cheeks.

“Come, husband! We need to move.”

What Pegman Saw – A Present for ISIL

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Tel Saki, Syria.

 WPS - A Present for ISIL 180106 - 02.jpg

WPS - A Present for ISIL 180106

A Present for ISIL

“Go kill me a terrorist,” said the armorer as he kissed the smart bomb.

Nizar watched his son, Hussain, as his football ricocheted off the bullet-pocked walls of their block of flats. His wife, Amena, had shooed them out while she fed the baby. Nizar glanced at the sky, clear, pale blue, and empty of warplanes.

He shuddered as he remembered last night’s encounter. He’d gone downstairs just as masked men with guns barged into the lobby. He’d tried to hide, but one of the men called, “Nizar. Say nothing of this. We know where you live.” Quaking, he had obeyed.

The warplane rocketed off the flight deck. Twenty minutes to target.

Nizar heard the plane.

“Hussain, come now!”

“Aw, Dad!”

Hussain turned away and chased his ball. Nazir followed.

“Now, Hussain!”

The rubble of their home pursued them as it collapsed under the shattering blow of the smart bomb.

Friday Fictioneers – Close to the Wind

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Close to the Wind 180103

PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

Close to the Wind

“Gonna wipe you out today!” Sue grinned at Adrian in the next dinghy.

“Get away! Women can’t sail!”

The cannon boomed. The race was on.

A gentle breeze blessed the sapphire water of the estuary with diamond waves. Golden brown cattle grazed peacefully on the lush pasture of the south bank. Woods on the north bank perfumed the air with pine.

Two boats converged, too close, for the first turn.

“Keep away!” Sue yelled at Adrian, as he drew level on her windward side. Her dinghy shuddered as it lost speed.

“You bastard, you stole my wind!”

Adrian just laughed.

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 5

Here is Part 5 of my fantasy serial, “The Bridefarer’s Choice”.

If you are new to this story, you can find the earlier parts here

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 1

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 2

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 3

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 4

I will publish successive episodes every Monday.

I very much hope you enjoy it!

 The Bridefarer - Part 1 171127

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 5

The sky became gradually lighter at the horizon, and I guessed that I was close to the sea. A longing surged through me for the sound of the swell breaking on the shore. Until my bridefaring, the song of the sea had been my constant companion. It had whispered while my mother nursed me; it had stirred my soul as I learned my trade as a boy; it had screamed and shrilled in my ears as my father and I struggled to wrest a living from the ocean. Not a day, not an hour had passed when I hadn’t been within earshot of its music.

Perhaps Mavra could already hear it, for her ears pricked up. She needed no urging to trot briskly up the hill.

It was the time of evening when the sun, low in the sky, gives a light that burnishes everything it touches. The tiny flowers at the cliff-top glowed scarlet and golden against the vibrant green of the grass. The silver studs of Mavra’s harness were transformed into amber jewels. And yet I barely had eyes for this richness as I gazed on the tranquil ocean, feeling its peaceful strength cleanse my heart from the striving of my bridefaring.

As the little waves gurgled against the shingle, my thoughts turned to home. I wished with all my heart to be back there. I wished to be only a short walk from my mother’s table, and my own comfortable bed. I wished Mairin were beside me.

She was a beautiful woman, no denying it. I recalled the look on her face last summer on her nineteenth birthday, when I had kissed her, once, twice, and then many times. Why did I want more than that? What riches could a queen offer that would be more satisfying than taking Mairin to my bed? I was going home.

“Well, girl, back to Red Bay,” I said to Mavra. She whinnied in approval and moved to turn round.

But what was that on the beach? I had been staring so intently at the sea that I hadn’t noticed the figure until it started to move towards the water.

The sun, low in the sky, dazzled me, but it seemed to me that the figure moved gracefully. The thought came that it might be a selkie, a maiden of the sea, carrying her seal skin down to the waves. I shuddered; such creatures bore an ill fate for those who met them.

As the figure moved out of the direct line of the sun, my fears were allayed. It seemed more likely to be somebody in strange attire that covered the hair and most of the body. What were they doing, wading out to sea? I feared that whoever it was would drown in the deep water. Swiftly, I tethered Mavra to a tree, and ran down the cliff path. By the time I reached the shore, the person was waist deep.

Even as I threw off my cloak, I saw that the figure was swimming, kicking its legs, and undulating its body in the water. I sat down on a rock and watched in fascination. Hardly anybody in the six villages could swim – I certainly couldn’t – and I was intrigued at how fast this stranger could move through the waves.

Back and forth he went, now nearer the shore, now further away. Then, when the sun’s disc just touched the horizon, he let the waves carry him towards the shingle. I stood up and walked towards him.

The person gasped, and clasped their arms across their chest. Why, it was a young woman! I approached slowly. She raised a hand.

“Go!”

I halted.

“I mean you no harm. I come in courtesy.”

She looked at me, and raised her arms as though to push me away, although I was at least twenty feet from her.

Water was running from the strange, enveloping garment that she wore, which hid her hair but not her face. She was fair and stern, and she used her eyes like swords.

“Go!” she repeated.

“I leave you with goodwill.”

I turned, donned my cloak, and returned to Mavra without looking back.

I no longer thought of home, or Mairin, but only of my quest.

I walked Mavra up the next hill; the light was fading and the way was rough. At the summit, the path went between cairns, just as Cieran had described, and we emerged above the village.

Village! It was a sizeable town, with stone walls and stout wooden gates. It well deserved its name; Fasthaven. Torches in sconces burned on either side of the gates, which were shut.

I dismounted some fifty yards short of the gate, and led Mavra forward. To my surprise, the gates opened as I approached. I halted at the threshold. There seemed to be no-one there.

“I come in peace,” I ventured.

“Then you are welcome.”

A man of medium height emerged from behind one of the gates. His hand rested on the pommel of his sword. He looked to be a fighter through and through.

He gazed up at me.

“Welcome, Diarmid MacDiarmid. I am Donal. You are to come with me to Oldest Caitrin. Malcolm here will take care of your fine mare.”

Another tough-looking man came silently from behind me. He took Mavra’s bridle, and walked off with her without a word. I looked at her receding back with regret; my sword was in her pack.

The doors were closed and barred behind me.

“Come,” beckoned Donal, lifting a torch from the wall of the gatehouse.

I followed him down the main street. The street and the houses seemed in good repair although the guttering torch showed little.

We turned left. It was even darker, the houses close together squeezing out the light of the moon. At the end of the road was the stone wall of the town, and pressed against it was a cottage. Donal rapped at the door.

The sudden light as the door opened dazzled me, and I blinked.

“Well met, Diarmid MacDiarmid. Enter, be seated and be welcome.”

“Reverence, Oldest One. I come in courtesy and peace.”

“Leave us now, Donal.”

Her voice was sharp.

“Yes, Oldest.”

The fire blazed. The room, set with lamps, was almost as bright as day. Oldest Caitrin led me to a chair by the fire.

“So…” she said, and looked me over, from feet to head.

She wasn’t, in fact, particularly old, possibly forty-five, no older than fifty.

She met my eyes with hers. They were the colour of treacle. I couldn’t look away. I became more and more uncomfortable, as she probed with her gaze. I could hear her voice, questioning. I could hear my own voice answering. The fire beside me seemed to swell and shrink, swell and shrink, rhythmically. I thought of the ocean, I thought of my family, I thought of Mairin.

It was as if I had slept. I forced open heavy eyelids. The fire had died down, leaving glowing embers. Oldest Caitrin was placing new logs on them, neatly, systematically. I mumbled an apology, but she waved it away.

“It is I who should perhaps apologise to you, for questioning you,” she said, “but I needed to be sure you were who you appeared to be. Our enemy is both cunning and treacherous.”

Not without apprehension, I looked her directly in the eyes once again. She smiled faintly but whether with amusement, or encouragement I could not tell. She gestured to a door at the back of the room.

“Diarmid MacDiarmid, behold your bride.”

As I gazed, the door slowly opened. There was the whisper of silk brushing skin. I rose from my seat and she entered the room.

She was beautiful. Her hair was red-gold like the setting sun in October; her eyes were blue-grey like the ocean after a storm; and she used them like swords.