House in Mountains

(Artist Juan C. Barquet)

Prompt: “It has been a long, exhausting day of walking through harsh mountain terrain. You’re cold, hungry, your muscles are aching, and the sun is about to set. Suddenly you come upon this place, nestled onto the top of a nearby peak. The windows are lit up with a friendly glow, and there is smoke rising from the chimney. The musk of burning wood that carries on the wind makes you long for warm, dry clothes, and a hot meal. But this is a strange place to live, remote and barren, with no good place to grow food, keep livestock, or even hunt for game. Who lives there, and how do they survive in this harsh climate?”

The chill was all the way to Horner’s bones.  He had been warned not to try the mountain pass after Krispert’s Day, but he was young and strong willed so of course ignored the warnings of his elders.

But now he saw the folly of his ways.  The pass had indeed been impossible to traverse and in his attempt to scale an ice sheet, he slid headlong into a ravine.  More flustered and frozen than injured, he tried to ascend the path of his fall, but found that too was impossible.  All he could do was try to work his way upwards on the parallel face of the ravine.

He found the climb easier than he had anticipated, and made good time. In his efforts, however, he failed to notice he had become further and further from his intended path.  In fact, he crested a totally unfamiliar peak.

It was then that he noticed a hint of wood smoke on the crisp mountain breeze.   Nestled nearly on top of the peak was a lone building.  The windows are lit up with a friendly glow, and there is smoke rising from the chimney. The musk of burning wood that carried on the wind made him long for warm, dry clothes, and a hot meal. But this was a strange place to live, remote and barren, with no good place to grow food, keep livestock, or even hunt for game. With night drawing in, and the lights seeming so welcoming, young Horner put the oddity of the place out of mind, however,  and made his way to the door of the dwelling.

Almost as soon as he set foot on the porch, the door opened and a bent, aged man stood before him.

“Come in from the cold, Friend,” the hermit beckoned.

Horner didn’t need to be invited a second time, and stomping the caked snow from his feet, he entered the warm tidily kept house.  A woman nearly as decrepit looking as the man was setting the table for four, and a young redheaded woman, about his age was huddled near the fire with a blanket wrapped around her.  Wet women’s clothes were on a wooden rack near the hearth, and a pair of soggy shoes steamed at the fireside.

“You are just in time,” the old woman said.  “I was a little worried that you might not find your way,” she added.

“Nonsense, Edie,” the old hermit said kindly.  “Young Horner here was always going to arrive today, Just like Rose over there.  Please excuse my wife, young man.  She’s always been a bit of a worrier.”

“How – how did you know my name?” Horner almost squealed as he jumped back from the old man.

“It’s destiny son,” the hermit replied.  “Been so for three hundred years.  Every fifty years, after the first major snow after Krispert’s, a couple arrives here to take over the care of the wayward travellers.  Tonight is your’s and Rose’s night. Edie and I will be moving on by morning.”

“Now you two young people come get a bite to eat, we have a lot to teach you in a single evening.  Rose you come sit next to Horner, you two should start to get to know each other,” the crone said with a kind smile.


Fantasy Art Friday





Rook’s Rooks

Crows’ Abbey

Beautiful, yet forlorn, this place is slowly succumbing to the ravages of time. The lonely figure walking this crumbling corridor is determined to remain its companion to the very end. It was a glorious place once, built by a wealth and power that has long ebbed away. But when this structure was new, and whole, it gave the lives of those within it meaning and purpose. This robed figure has not forgotten, even though its noble arches are now draped in vine, and the crows brazenly come and go as they please. There is writing etched deep into the stones beneath the pillars. Each word is a plea from the past; a silent but unyielding voice that demands a place in the present. The robed figure knows what they say. Do you?

Althan looked out from the gallery windows.  The vaulting of the ceiling was still secure, but the glazing of the windows had long succumb to the ravages of time.  But the inscriptions hinted as much.

“Only stone shall stand the wind of black wings’ blow. Hear me, for when the rooks enter the rook, the time of stone will have come.”

Yes, the builders thought they had mastered the stones.  Proud masons, and their even grander masters had dared quarry from the sacred mount.  “Our works and our fame will last forever,” they had claimed.

But now the pillars were askew.  Glass broken.  The haughty lords and ladies were long dead.  The self-congratulatory workers of stone – nowhere to be seen.

But how?  How did the magnificent place come to this?  Althan knew.  Althan’s mother’s, mother’s mother had been the first to see the words upon the wall at the base of the pillar.  They had just appeared one night.  She had been considered “just” serving maid, but she understood – as have her descendants.

She had been the daughter of a rook priestess.   She saw that it was folly to build a “house of frivolity” from holy rock.   The “betters” didn’t understand this.  They thought their own pleasure was all that had meaning.  But Althan’s kin knew better.  They knew that the rooks of the holy mount were the but shadows of the spirits of the stone.  When their nests were pulled down so the quarrying could begin, the spirits began waiting for their day.

Althan stood in the gallery and waited.  Today was the appointed day.  The rooks were coming.  The spirits were once again going inhabit the holy stones.  And she would be there to serve them.





No one had been here for hundreds of years. The narrow mountain road that had once wound its way up to the top of the peak now had wide and unstable gaps. He had taken the path as far as he could, but to get to the entrance of the ancient castle, the only way up was a grueling climb. The doorway he was trying to reach was still some distance upward, and he’d barely made it to the ledge he was on. His muscles were weak, and he was cold and incredibly hungry. The final leg of his climb would have to wait for morning.

He had no idea what would be waiting for him inside the structure once he got to it. The people who had once lived here were mysterious and reclusive. Rumors swirled about the strange powers and abilities they were said to have possessed. The greatest mystery was what had become of them. What would he find once he made his way inside? And could he manage to get the answers he sought without sharing their fate?

He had an uneasy night.  Despite the fact that no one could have followed his from below without making a terrific racket in the dark, and that the path ahead seemed even more treacherous, he could not get past the sensation that he was being watched.

When morning dawned, he was bone weary having not managed more than two hours sleep in the night.  But the castle lay before him, and it would take most of the day to make the gate.  He did not want to spend another night outside the walls!

The first hour was a torturous climb using what ever hand holds he could manage.  The next three were even more difficult as there were few places to grip or to affix rope.  But by three in the afternoon, bloody fingered and with bruised knees, he stood before a wicket gate.

Bronze, he mused.  The main gates were a milky green, and yet the wicket still held some vestiges of a copper sheen.  Were they some other material?  Or have they been maintained and used more recently than the others?  He inwardly hoped for the former, though he feared the latter.

There was a large ring on the wicket, which he attempted to turn.  It twisted just a little too easily, and there was a metallic click as the mechanism engaged, and he could feel the door release pressure.  He pushed gently and it began to open inwards.

He stepped into a paved passageway.  Above him he could see corroded bronze hatches which were intended to pour death down upon any would be invaders.  They did not open, however, and he cautiously exited the passageway into a paved courtyard.

He stopped suddenly.  The stones.  What is it about the stones?  then it occurred to him.  Most all of the courtyard had a thick covering of moss and lichen.  But there were two distinct pathways in which the stonework was bare apparently from recent wear.

He stepped onto the clear path on his left, and as nonchalantly as possible loosened his dagger in its sheath.  He proceeded along the path and stopped again before his progress would expose him to a window which overlooked the worn trail.  It slowly drew his dagger and stooped down to slowly duck walk under the aperture, so that he might not be observed by anyone who might be within.

Just as he began to stand again on the far side, he heard a clear voice from a rampart overhead.

“That was a very clever move, I ‘m impressed,” a man of about sixty observed.  “I am glad you’ve come, and I am even happier you have a dagger.  My tin opener broke last August, and I waste so much food trying to crack cans open with rocks.   I am Owen, buy the way, are you hungry?  If you lend me your dagger we can have hash.  The warehouses her are still full of stuff.  Yes, its a century or more old, but really quite tasty.”

The adventurer just stood in amazement.

“Oh don’t worry, the ‘Old Ones,’  abandoned the castle after an earthquake collapsed the road,” the old man said.   My great great grandparents, grandparents, or something like that were left behind to care for the place until the others return.  Seems they’re a little late.”




Beyond the Sacred Sea



The waters were surprisingly calm as our ship entered the Sacred Sea–the place where many of us were eventually destined to go. It wasn’t my time just yet, but my friend was on the ship ahead of us and I was there to see her off. Though I would miss her terribly, I could not grudge her good fortune when I saw the pure joy in her eyes.

As her ship approached the center of the Sea, ripples of cloud formed in a circle above it. From the center of the circle, a bright light broke through the darkening sky, out-shining the stars and what was left of the setting sun. It was a portal to another world…another time, perhaps. There were plenty of tales of what lie on the other side–of shining cities, and lush fields and forests. Wealth and beauty beyond imagining. But no one really knew for sure. What was on the other side would always be cloaked in mystery, for no one who went through it ever came back. Yet it had always been this way, since the beginning, that on the last day of each year, a ship would be sent with the lucky chosen. New lives awaited them on the other side.

The ship began to rise, creaking and groaning as it lifted just above the water, then higher and higher into the air. Those of us watching looked on with awe. What was awaiting our loved ones on their journey into the sky? And what would we find on our appointed day to follow? 

The reality then gripped me that she was gone, and tears began to run down my cheeks.

“None of that now, Laddie,” the old helmsman said.

“It’s just – it’s just the not knowing for sure,” I choked.  “None return.”

“That’s not strictly so,” the old mariner said, wisdom and compassion in his eyes.

“What do you mean?” I said grasping at a sudden hope.

“There was one from the other side that came to live here for a spell, and he told us that his father had rooms aspare awaiting.  Then he went from here dying in a horrendous way.  His ship journey, one of storm and pain, but three days later he returned to tell folk that he had made sure the gates, so those who sail the way will find their course true through waters calm.”

“But how do we know?” I challenged, again feeling despair rising in my heart.

“Because I am one of the ones who saw him.  Both before his voyage, and on his second when he returned for good.  He set me on this course as helmsman, one to steer others to the way.”

“What do they call you, helmsman?” I asked.

“My name is John, and I was a fisherman along with my brother, James.  We and our friends Peter and Andy knew the journeyer well.  I have ever since his rising into the clouds shown others the way.  Trust me, Lad, stay true to your course and you and your lady friend will be together again in the wonders beyond the Sacred Sea.”



Written on this fourth full day since my lady made her journey beyond the sea.  I miss you Dianne, but know you have found paradise.  I will join you when my sailing date comes.

Ursula’s Mission

Castle by Mateusz Michalski


She hurried along the path, carrying nothing more than what could hang from her belt or fit in the satchel strapped to her back. She dreaded the long, lonely, and dangerous journey that was surely ahead of her, yet she had no choice. Sighing heavily, she dared to look back one last time at what she was leaving behind. The castle that had been her home looked so beautiful sitting there, perched on a throne of rock and greenery. Such a peaceful scene, with the spring flowers waving to her on a gentle breeze, and the blue of the distant mountains blending into the depths of the sky.

But the serenity of the castle’s surroundings belied the turmoil building within its walls–the ravings of a king slowly succumbing to madness, and the treacherous whisperings of power hungry nobles. There was something else too…a moving shadow that lurked in the bowels of the castle. She had caught glimpses of its movements from the corners of her eyes, and caught whiffs of its scent. Pain…death…malice. Perhaps it was the shadow that was causing the king’s madness, she did not know. She only knew that she had to get away from it–away from him. She hoped one day to return with the power to save him–to save them all. But the road ahead loomed more with uncertainty than promise. Would she survive the journey and find the cure she sought, or would all be lost?

These concerns lingered in Ursula’s mind.  But where should she go first?  Home, her real home, held little prospect for the answers she needed.  After all, it had been twenty-eight years since she left there to become the nurse for the then newborn prince.  They had been happy days when she first arrived, and she found no urge to return to her home city.   Why would she want to, the “Old” king had been kind to her, and Queen Hilda seemed more like a sister than a mistress.  No, her ties with Lintea were too distant for there to be any help there.

It then struck her – Benopor – the ancient centre of her order.  Surely one of the Abbesses or High Sisters would know how to overcome the dark Shadow.  Forty leagues – it was quite a distance for a middle-aged nurse to make on her own.  She had little coin, and no weapons, say for her wits, but it had to be the right destination.

She could not possibly afford the river journey, and the swamp-lands were not practical for her on her own.  The forest path was the only option.  Little did she know that the Shadow too had its eyes on that lonely road, and worse still it was aware of her intentions.




The Awakener


(Title and Artist Unknown)

He was finally there–the place described in the ancient book he’d found. There was no mistaking it for any other. Circular pillars of stone reaching skyward in the heart of a desolate valley, he mouthed silently, repeating the words he’d burned into memory. But while the pillars might appear cold and lifeless at first glance, he knew better. They had only been sleeping, waiting through the ages for this very moment when they would finally be restored. His limbs trembled as he raised the staff that he had carried and protected for so long, rarely letting it leave his hands, let alone his sight. Carved into its surface were markings he barely understood. One by one, the same markings appeared on the pillars–not as carved images, but as light. A vibrant, violet light that popped, sizzled, and flickered like a roaring fire. Everything was about to change; a new era ready to begin….

That new beginning was slow at first.  Barely perceptible to the human senses changes to the fabric of the land began.  The staff bearer’s gaze, however, was upon the violet light and so he missed the sprouting of the first green shoots among the craggy rocks that surrounded the stone circle.

Suddenly the fire of the light shifted to green, and almost immediately grass began to grow beneath the staff-bearer’s feet.  All around him the grey slate of the once desolate valley was coming alive with greenery.  As he watched in wonder, the symbols again morphed and became blue.  At once, the sky brightened and an azure glory filled the heavens.   Nearby, a spring began to trickle from between two stones, and an ancient channel quickly filled with cool refreshing waters.

A final change came over the runes and as they began to radiate white light, butterflies and honeybees began to appear among the newly blossomed daisies.

The ground then shook and and the pillars sank into thick grassy earth, and the amazing transformation spread throughout the Lands.  The Age of Dark Magic had ended, the Age of the Prophecy of Light had begun.  The staff -bearer, Baldrick Little, had believed when none other did.  His faith in the ancient tome, and his diligence in finding the staff would lead to him becoming known throughout the Five Lands as Baldrick the Awakener.






Keeping Watch over ruin

Unknown Title and Artist

Twenty years is a long time.  It has been twenty years, however, since the people of Lyconia abandoned their city.  The onslaught had been ferocious, and the Lyconian army had made a terrific stand on the outskirts of the city in order to allow as many of the city’s people to escape northwards as possible.

When the last of the women and children, as well as the elderly had departed, a red flag had been raised over the keep and the last of the defenders fell back to that citadel to make their stand.  The siege was not a long one.  Within a month the last gates had been breached.  The Tilforians were brutal.  Any defender taken alive was hanged from a great gallows.  They died slowly, being left to strangle, as the victors laughed and mocked them in their death throes.  King Hanny was made to watch the death of his brave men before being the last to face the humiliating death at the hands of the Tilforians.

In exile in the friendly Kingdom of Rell, young Hanny the Second, barely seventeen at his kingdom’s fall began to build anew.  With the aid of the Rell, he was able to form a coalition.  Then twenty years on, he led an army of exiled Lyconians back across the border, and with him marched the warriors of Rell and Sysnic.

Near the ford at Fair Meadows the armies met, and after eight long hours of battle the coalition prevailed.  In a series of “mopping up” engagements the last of the Tilforians fled back to their homeland.

This evening, it was with muted jubilation that the army of Hanny II entered the desolate city of Lyconia.   The king rests tonight in the old halls of his father’s keep.  He is anxious, however.   His mind is burdened by the expectations of what they will discover when they begin to explore the city in the morning.




The Wait

Early Winter by Serge Grechanyuk

The Snow Line they used to call it.  It was a border of sorts between the ice fields and glaciers above, and the timber lands below.  Henri had stood there in the same place ten years before when the Ice Hordes had struck downwards in search of food. The Woods Men had met them of course; and after nearly three days of battle the border had not moved.  Ten thousand brave men of the forest had perished, and an equal number from the heights.  And for what?  Okay, the timber lands had been preserved, and the ice dwellers retreated back to the mountain strongholds, but was holding them back really that important?

Henri remembered how Andre, his captain, had rushed forwards to intercept one of the fur-clad invaders before he could swing his large axe at the then young Henri.  “How could I have just stood there like that?”  Henri questioned as he once again began too berate himself.  He saw the mountain men swarming down pass, and he had just froze.  He didn’t raise his sword, or even take the shield off his back.  Andre saved him, and then was immediately cut down by two other members of the horde.  That was the last that Henri could remember of  it.  When he came to himself again, he was lying among the dead and wounded.  The battle had ended, and he was unscathed except for a walnut sized whelp on his head.

But now, ten years on the weather was again as it had been a decade before.  Harsh winds and early snow had ruined crops, and hindered hunting in the mountains.  Would they come again?  Would the men of the forest be able to once again resist them?  Was he up to the challenge?  All this was weighing on his mind, as he glanced back at rows of young forest men, to which he was now the captain.





Here the battle began…and here it ended. Years have passed, time and weather eating away at the memorial banners and even the metal on the blades that were once wielded in protection of these lands. Wielded by honorable men that once fought beside him. Years have passed, but in his mind, the battle goes on. How he managed to survive when so many of his brothers fell, is a bitter miracle he’s still trying to understand. He gazes into the distance, up into the snowy hills from where the enemy once crashed down upon them like a raging torrent. The landscape is quiet once again, but will it remain so? And for how long?