Friday Fictioneers – The Fan

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 on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © ROWENA CURTIN

The Fan

Wu Chang lounged against the lacquered cabinet, which was decorated with intricate marquetry and held the finest of linens and silks. He was a bold rascal, black hair held in serpents’ tails by silver clips. His armour gleamed.  

Zhang Chynna, attendant to the Empress, flicked her fan.

“Come no further,” she said.

“That wasn’t your song last night!”

Leering, he stepped forward a pace. “I wonder what your mistress would say about that?”

Zhang Chynna stared directly into his eyes. She gestured minutely with her fan.

Five arrows pierced Wu Chang. Regrettably, the sixth chipped the lacquer of the cabinet.

Inlinkz – click here to join the fun

Friday Fictioneers – Not an Option

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 on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Not an Option 200826

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

Not an option

Pain flickers, then flares.

The sound of my pulse is loud and swift.

I can smell blood; my own blood.

My eyes open on an unfocused world.

Forty feet below me lie the shards of my mobile phone. Ten feet above me is the canyon’s rim. Unless I climb those ten feet, I have no hope of rescue.

I nearly faint as I take the first step on my shattered left ankle.

I clutch a rock. Failure is not an option.

I struggle out as the sun is setting. There is a Jeep. I wave – and it turns towards me.

Inlinkz – click here to join the fun!

What Pegman Saw – Scoop!

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. 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 location is Panama.

WPS - Panama - 200531

Scoop!

The cable-tie bit into my wrists, stopping me saving myself when I stumbled. The FARC soldiers laughed.

“Not far now,” said one of them, “only another couple of hours!” They laughed uproariously.

Their camp in the jungle looked permanent. They shoved me, wrists still secured, into a cabin. It smelled stale.

In the conflict between pain and exhaustion, exhaustion won. I slept, until a boot in the ribs woke me. Groaning, I opened my eyes.

The girl carried a knife.

“Sit still. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Startled by her American accent, I looked again.

“Lucy! You’re Lucy Cullen the girl who was kidnapped!”

She drew a finger across her throat.

“Shh!”

Swiftly, she cut the cable-tie.

“Go west. You’re only five miles from the road.”

“You coming with me?”

She glared.

“You’re just Yankee shit. Rafael, the boss, is my man. He told me to kick you out.”

What Pegman Saw – Finisterre

“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 Roscanvel, Brittany.

Roscanvel is a rocky peninsular in Finisterre. The literal translation of Finisterre is ‘The end of the world’…

WPS - Finisterre 200418

Finisterre

How the wind shrieks in the rigging! The frigate tacks desperately, seeking sea-room. Surely the storm can’t get any worse?

The cannon are silent, lashed to stanchions. God help us if one of them breaks free. The portholes are tight shut, but water spurts through cracks as the vessel heels and the opening is submerged in the swell.

The gunners, too, are silent, apart from gasps of exhaustion. They pump like demons to clear the bilges. Wilkinson lies, spent. The others glance at him with contempt, even as they dread that they, too, will succumb.

It is worse on deck.

A handful of seamen struggle desperately to reduce sail.

Crack!

The main mast splinters.

The vessel yaws helplessly. She smashes into the rocks with a shock that throws many into the breakers.

A few of us cling to the rigging, from where, one by one, the raging ocean plucks us.

 

What Pegman Saw – Gratitude

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. 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 location is Everest!

WPS - Gratitude 190223

Mount Everest base camp, Nepal | mkslalove Google Maps

Gratitude

Anne’s first impression as she came out of blackness was of complete surprise. Surely it wasn’t possible to survive a fall like that? The pain in her shattered limbs rapidly convinced her otherwise; she was definitely alive.

She looked up the mountain. The slope at the bottom of the sheer drop was ice-covered and very steep, and then gradually levelled to a plateau. She had hit obliquely and slithered.

There was no way back.

She struggled, painfully, to open her parka and reach her cell-phone. She fumbled it with frost-bitten fingers. Mike! She called him.

It seemed to take an eternity for him to answer.

“You’re alive! Thank God!”

“Mike – don’t try to rescue me. It’s hopeless. I love you! Goodbye!”

She scrolled to her Mom and Dad, looking at their profile picture as her eyes dimmed.

“Thank you for letting me have my adventure,” she breathed as she died.

Friday Fictioneers – Fire!

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 - Fire! 180718

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

Fire!

The hazy sun told the story; bush fires were raging, driven towards Warrnambool by a blistering wind. The kids fidgeted in the car as Judy rushed out with photos and the cat. Bruce chucked the document strongbox into the trunk, then sprinted next door.

“Ain’t no good, I’m stayin’. Eighty’s too old to start again.”

A glowing ember struck the window.

“Goddamit, Sam, get in the wagon!”

Sam’s wife, Alice, was wheezing asthmatically in the choking atmosphere.

Bruce grabbed her and pushed her into the car. Sam followed, protesting.

As they roared away, the rear-view mirror was filled with flame.

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 4

Here is Episode 4 of my fantasy serial, “The Bridefarer’s Choice”.

If you missed any of the previous episodes, you can find them here

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 1

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 2

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 3

 

The story is proving longer than I expected. I will publish successive episodes every Monday (except for next Monday, of course, which is Christmas Day).

I very much hope you enjoy it!

The bridefarer's choice - part 3

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 4

I wondered who was tolling the church bell, and who had died.

I wondered who was sitting so heavily on my chest, until I could hardly breathe.

I wondered why I felt so cold, so icy cold, as cold as death, and yet my right arm burned as though in fire.

I forced open my eyes to the sight of mud. I was lying in it. The tolling of the bell became quieter as I realised that it was my pounding head. There was nobody sitting on me, but my ribs ached all round.

Carefully – very carefully – I raised myself so that I was propped on my left arm. The pain made my eyes water.

Wait! What’s this?

There was a note tucked into my belt. Slowly I edged around until I could lean against the wall, freeing my left hand to hold the note. My right hand was useless; just too painful to move.

“Dear Bumpkin,

In a fight, a good man with a quarterstaff will beat a master swordsman every day of the year. There is no charge for this lesson.

However, you know what to do. I suggest you’re quick about it.”

With the note to remind me…

I cringed with embarrassment. I hadn’t come anywhere near him, and he had toyed with me. He hadn’t even bothered to disarm me, simply used the staff to – hell, yes, there’s no other word for it – he’d used the staff to chastise me. And when he grew bored, he lured me into a rush and clipped me behind the ear as I lunged. No wonder my head was throbbing!

My pride suggested I shouldn’t allow the beating to drive me out of Merrydown. Groaning, I forced myself to stand. ‘Which is worse,’ I asked myself. ‘Limp out of town in humiliation, leading my horse because it’s too painful to ride, or stay here and take another beating with perhaps an even worse ending.’ Put like that, it wasn’t a hard choice to make.

I didn’t cover many miles that day, or the next, but the pain in my right arm was gradually easing. When I came across an inn on the second evening, I started to hope that my luck had changed.

It was pleasant to eat hot food after a diet of bread and cold meats. A glass of wine eased the discomfort of my bruises. There were a few sidelong looks from men at the bar, and I wondered whether word had reached them of my business.

A small, wiry man with grey hair approached my table, and asked if he might join me.

“Be my guest.”

“Perhaps you will instead be my guest? I hope so anyway. Let me buy you another beaker of wine.” He gestured to the serving man at the bar, who brought two beakers.

“Sláinte mhaith”

“Sláinte agad-sa”

The wine was good, much better than I’d received with my meal. What would this stranger want in exchange?

“You go bridefaring I hear?”

“What is that to you?”

“Ho! I rush in too quickly. My wife always says so. My name is Cieran.”

“And mine is Diarmid.” I took the hand that he extended and shook it, trying not to let him see how painful the action was. “Yes, I’m bridefaring. I ask you again; what is that to you?”

“Let me tell you a story,” countered Cieran. “There was once a man, a poor man, who came into possession of a magnificent jewel, worth ten thousand times the value of the whole village in which he lived. A lucky man, yes?”

“Most certainly.”

Cieran nodded approval of my answer.

“That was what he thought too. He hid it somewhere very secret and very safe. He told nobody, not even his wife. He was a patient man, and for several years he gloated over his great good fortune but did nothing.

Then, one day, a nobleman came to the village with a dozen soldiers. He asked questions, many questions. With a shrinking heart, the peasant realised that the nobleman was trying to find the jewel. He thought, ‘I shall take it to the town and sell it.’ And then he thought, ‘But which town? Who will buy such a gem? How could I spend the money, even if I could sell the stone?’ He shuddered with terror, hid the jewel even more secretly, and cursed his evil fortune.

The nobleman toured all the villages, and, not finding the jewel, came back to the village where the peasant lived. He took five elders of the village, and announced “Tomorrow I shall flog these curs until they are half dead, unless whoever holds the jewel brings it to me before midnight tonight.”

The peasant dug up the box holding the jewel, opened it, and gazed at it for a long time. It was so beautiful. He wanted it more than anything in the world. But it wasn’t worth the torture of his friends. At last, he wrapped it in a kerchief and took it to the nobleman.

The nobleman took it, examined it and declared himself satisfied. He gave orders for the release of the elders. Then he drew his sword, and lopped off the peasant’s head, as casually as a young boy knocking conkers from a tree.”

I looked at him, trying to understand what he was telling me.

“Some more wine?” he asked.

I held out my beaker and he filled it.

“You see,” he said, “in our village we have the priceless jewel, and already the nobleman is searching.

Ten years ago, in the dead of night, a woman all clad in silk and velvet came to the Oldest in our village. She brought her daughter, nine years old, a beautiful child with hair the colour of the morning sun, and eyes that changed like the northern sea. The daughter of the King of Denmark, she told us, who had been driven out of his kingdom by his brother. She begged that we would look after the girl, keep her safe and keep her hidden.

For ten years, Freya – for that is her name – has been cared for by our Oldest as though she were her own flesh and blood. She has guarded her, and taught her the virtue of purity. But now the young men are watching her, courting her.”

He shook his head.

“A Danish thane and his warriors came to our village two weeks ago, asking questions. We kept Freya hidden, for the thane owed fealty to the old king’s brother; he meant nothing good to Freya, we felt certain.”

He looked at me, with a wry smile. “You begin to see my problem, I hope?”

Indeed I did. If Freya married within the village, either she would draw the Danes like hawks to a lure, or she would have to take her husband into exile with her.

“You come from over the mountains,” said Cieran. “That is far from our village, far from the danger of the Danes. You could safely take her home and make her your wife.”

“If she’ll have me,” I laughed. “I’ve not been lucky in love so far.”

Even as I said the words, I thought of Mairin. Had I really not been lucky, or had I made a poor choice when I passed by her dwelling on my bridefaring?

“Oh, she’ll have you. Our Oldest has the Sight, and she told me where to meet you, what you looked like and what your name is. She says that Freya will go with you out of love and bear your child.”

A rage of ambition boiled up within me. A king’s daughter, beautiful, more beautiful than I could imagine! Why, if I could offer my sword to her father, who knows what I could win?

“Where is your village, Cieran?” I demanded.

*       *       *       *

 

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 3

Here is Episode 3 of my fantasy serial, “The Bridefarer’s Choice”.

If you missed Episode 1, you can find it here https://pennygadd51.wordpress.com/2017/11/27/the-bridefarers-choice-part-1/.

Likewise, Episode 2 is here https://pennygadd51.wordpress.com/2017/12/04/the-bridefarers-choice-part-2/

I think the story will take another two episodes to complete. 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 3

Skylarks were trilling in a cloudless pale-blue sky. It seemed a favourable omen.

Mavra, my horse, stepped out proudly, his black coat gleaming. I gloated over his harness, black leather with silver studs, knowing that the other villagers envied my wealth. I filled my lungs with the bright air, scented in equal measure by the sea and by the machair, and exulted in my strength.

My father held my bridle.

“Good fortune on your bridefaring, son.”

“Thank you, father. I shall try to make my family proud.”

A shadow fell on his face.

“If I may advise you, my son,” his voice trailed away, but then he straightened his back and looked me in the eye. “Do not be led astray by false hopes of grandeur. Mairin is a fine woman, plenty good enough for the pride of our family.”

“It is I who am bridefaring, not you, father.”

He released the harness with a sigh.

I rode steadily for two days, sometimes walking, sometimes trotting, and once – I confess it – galloping a half-mile for simple delight. I left the six villages and headed to the mountains, to Peak Town. I’d been there a few times with my father – we sold some of our catch to Michael the fishmonger.

I knew him well enough to call him friend, and we passed a merry evening in the Jack o’ Lantern Inn. On hearing I was searching for a bride, he chuckled and said “You should journey on to Merrydown. There’s a lass lives there, Scanallan, ripe for wooing. And you’re a bold chap. Red hair she has, and a big…”

“Keep it clean!” yelled someone.

“A big dowry, I was going to say” continued Michael, grinning.

“And her family?” I enquired.

“Well, that’s a thing. People say she’s a Lord’s bastard; can’t account for the size of the dowry any other way. You’ll find her serving in the Checkers Inn. And now I must be off, or Gerda will give me a black eye!”

It took me five days to cross the mountains and reach Merrydown, days that were as harsh and exhausting as any I’ve spent at sea. I was mighty relieved to reach the Checkers Inn.

But they had no room. Despite my fatigue, I had to tramp the streets, leading Mavra before I found a household that let out a room. It was not clean and it cost double what seemed fair, but it was dry and, if not warm, it was less cold than being outdoors.

The Checkers was lively, with tasty food and large portions. I could see how the inn got its name; there were half a dozen checkerboards, each one occupied. There was a constant bustle around the bar, young chaps mostly, laughing and joking with each other, and when I had finished dining I joined them.

A tall man, only a few inches shorter than me, approached me in friendly fashion.

“So, I’m Brendan,” he said. “Who are you, and what brings you to our town?”

The others fell silent, and looked at me.

“My name is Diarmid Macdiarmid. I’m bridefaring, and I heard your town is famous for the beauty of its women.”

“Bridefaring? And what might that be?”

It had never occurred to me that people wouldn’t have heard of the custom. As I explained, I could see smirks on the faces of some of the men.

“Bumpkin!” The word came from the back of the group. It was quiet, but perfectly audible. My hand sought my sword hilt, but I made no move to draw the blade.

“You have checkers. Would you care for a game?” I addressed the man who had spoken.

“Do you play checkers out in the peat marshes then?”

He sat down at a board and gestured to the seat opposite. All his friends were grinning; I guessed he was their champion.

“You go first,” he said.

As the game progressed he frowned. I won.

“Not bad – for a bumpkin.” He set up the board again, played the first move himself. He won.

“Best of three.” It wasn’t a question. He gestured that I should start. Six moves in, he made a beginner’s mistake. I hesitated and saw the sudden realisation on his face.

“Play it again,” I suggested.

He went white, his lips narrowed to bloodless lines and his dark eyes blazed.

“Don’t you dare patronise me,” he hissed.

Brendan laid his hand on the man’s shoulder.

“Easy now, Iain, easy.”

The serving woman came over quickly.

“Iain, that’s the wine talking. You’ve had enough. Time to go. Brendan?”

Brendan nodded assent, then turned to me.

“Best you make friends with some of the townsfolk before you try stealing one of our women.” He offered me his hand, and I shook it.

As the party left, I looked at the serving woman. She was indeed handsome. Now that I was paying attention I could see her hair was copper under her headscarf. She looked at me with green eyes.

“Do they allow you time away from here for relaxation?” I asked.

“Relaxation with a boy?” she mocked. “That’s the wine talking again for sure. I think you’d better go home, child.”

I thought of home that night, as I lay sleepless in the cold bed. Mairin would be a fine wife. But what if she turned me down? She’d been very upset and angry when I’d told her I was seeking a noble bride.

A noble bride! I snorted with derision at the thought. I couldn’t even persuade a serving wench to spend an evening with me. That said, if she were the daughter of a king, as the Oldest had read in my fate…I dozed, dreaming of red-gold hair and red-gold wealth.

I left the house in the morning, planning to meet some of the town’s traders. A skinny young man stopped propping up the wall of the house next door. He started whistling. I heard footsteps from behind, and from the side streets as we crossed. I glanced round. There was a group of half a dozen men. Two of them had been in the inn the previous night. I loosened my blade.

Iain stepped out from a porch, in his hand a quarterstaff that he pointed at me.

“Why do you bar my way? I intend naught but courtesy towards you.”

“If that is so, return to the hovel where you’re staying, settle your account, and leave town this morning.”

“I have business in the town.”

All the time we were speaking the other members of the group were moving to completely encircle me. Each held a quarterstaff.

“I ask you – in courtesy – to leave our town. Do you demur?” His voice was the silken purr of the wildcat; his eyes were madder than the rolling, bloodshot glare of a horse galloped to exhaustion.

“I ask you, in courtesy, to move out of my way so I may continue with my business.” I half-drew my sword.

Iain nodded.

The blow from my right caught me on the elbow. Gritting my teeth against the pain that shot up my arm, I pulled my blade fully from the scabbard and adopted a crouch position. A staff cracked across my buttocks. I hadn’t been struck like that since I was twelve! They were playing with me!

I let out a roar of rage and sprang at Iain, my sword seeking his heart. He parried expertly, easily, with his staff.

“We are in every way your betters, bumpkin. Down on your knees and do homage!”

“Like hell!”

The memory of the Oldest’s prophecy ‘You need not fear blade or fire or hemp; but beware of water, beware of the sea,’ heartened me.

“What do you say, bumpkin? Your sword against my staff?”

I nodded. If that was what he wanted. I’d aim to wound, not kill. My breath came short.

The other men stepped back a pace, still enclosing us but leaving enough room for our combat. Iain smiled, mockingly.

I raised my blade and took guard.

Friday Fictioneers – White Nancy

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 - Realising perfection (icicles) 171206

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

Word count: 99

Sorry, folks! I’ve been greedy this week and posted two stories.

White Nancy

The chill I feel isn’t just from the frost, nor even from the wind-chill. Prone on my sledge, I’m peering down from the summit of White Nancy. Tracks like scars in the snow disappear into the blackness of the night. There’s a drystone wall down there, with a snow bridge over it. Tilley lamps gleam either side of the bridge. They mark its location but are too dim to show anything else. I will have to steer between the two, and then fly like a ski-jumper.

“Get a move on!”

“Chicken!” whispers Steve.

I brace myself and push off.

What Pegman Saw – Going Solo

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the 360 degree view of 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. Today’s location is Casablanca.

WPS - Casablanca 170930

Going solo

The cabin walls pressed in on her. In port, the cruise ship had looked huge to Darcey’s fourteen-year-old eyes, but at sea its steel superstructure imprisoned her.

Arrival in Casablanca was a relief. She slipped a note under her parents’ door.

“Gone sightseeing. Back in time for dinner.”

Her pulse quickened as she entered the Ancienne Medina. This was foreign! The streets were lined with stalls selling fabric and food, spice and souvenirs. Darcey wrinkled her nose.

A goat bleated frantically. As she watched, a man briskly drew a knife across the creature’s neck, and the blood gushed out.

Nauseated, Darcey entered a shop selling fabric. A man moved and blocked the exit.

The draped samples of cloth darkened the shop, blocking her view of the street.

“We have finer fabrics in the back?”

“Thank you – no!” gasped Darcey.

She pushed past the man, and ran for it.