I had this great plot idea and I sat down at the computer and started to frame it. A basic outline started to come together right away. Then it happened, there in the corner of my mind was a little nugget that just had to see the light of day. So, naturally I wrote it. That done, it was back to the cool plot of high adventure. Well, at least until another great story idea stated whispering in my ear. I jotted down the idea and started back to the major work at hand. “Wait, aren’t you going to finish me?” the other idea called, a bit louder this time. So, I went back to it and fleshed it out. That seemed to make it happy.
If you see a pattern here you aren’t wrong. A few weeks ago I released a “lesser tale” from my fantasy world. It is a short story made of short stories, and they have been tweaked and adapted to make a coherent whole. But the short story is not the project I was working on. It did, however, have to be written in order for it to allow me to get back to the larger work. Sometimes writers’ block is because another tale needs to be told.
I am happy to say that once the short was done and dusted the other came together in record time, and I hope my tale of adventurous scholars will be ready soon.
The UPS driver had a lot of explaining to do. His livelihood counted on it. He had been doing his deliveries, and as was his practice turned off the engine and applied the handbreak before jumping out to leave the package in an inaccessible corner of the customers’ garden shed.
When he returned to the street, he found his van missing, and it didn’t take long to discover that it had rolled from his stopping place, down the road, and eventually off a hill. The police arrived soon after and sought his credentials and started to ask ackward questions about his parking procedure.
Little did the unfortunate driver know that he was but the latest victim of Abernathy Clarke, “The Stitch-Up Artist.” Be sure to see it all on Thursday’s episode on Channel 6.
It was a labour worthy of Hercules. Flynn had hardly slept the night before owing to his awareness of the task that was before. Now the time had come and he would have to pull together every ounce of courage as he was about to enter into the unknown. This was not just the stretching of his comfort zone, but a true unheaval of the established order.
“All you need to do is go in and get it.” The words reverberated through his very being.
He took a deep breath and proceeded into the precincts of the charity shop and approached the counter.
“Do you – do you have a red scarf with dragonflies?” he asked. “My Gran said she thought she saw one here.”
“If we do it will be along the back wall,” the middle-aged volunteer said.
Flynn took another breath before setting out past the mismatched dishes, shapeless cardigans, and the ever present mustiness of the air.
There it was the scarf of his quest. He snatched it from the rack and hurriedly returned to the till.
“That will be two pounds,” the volunteer said kindly.
Flynn whipped out his phone to pay.
“Sorry we only take cash,” the volunteer said.
Cash? Flynn though, beginning to panic. Who uses cash?
Unwilling to be defeated he said that he would be right back and made his way to the ATM.
Flustered but not defeated, he returned and made the purchase.
In so doing Flynn had overcome the most extreme test yet to be encountered by a Gen Z. Little did he know that his greatest labour was yet to come when he would have to do battle with Gran’s rotary phone.
The pair entered through glade into a clearing that was obscured by fog. At the centre there was a fire, the source of the the light that had led them that way. Seated at the fireside was a crone, tending the flames and occasionally tossing pinches of some herb into a boiling pot.
“Welcome Jan. Oh, and Oskar too,” she said with a gravelly voice.
The brothers stared at each other and then back to the mystic figure before them.
“Are you surprised that I know your names? Why, I have known who you were since you were lads. Your identity is no secret to me. In fact, I have been waiting for you. You certainly have taken your time to arrive,” she said with a low cackle.
“How . . .. Who?” Oskar stammered.
“That’s no interesting tale,” the crone responded. “Let us just say I knew your mother, and her mother as well.”
“And have we met you before? I am sorry, but I don’t recognise you,” Jan said.
“You have indeed, but you were but babes.”
“And you say you have been waiting for us?” Oskar asked.
“Why yes, for days now.” You really were rather foolish with that chest, if you you don’t mind me saying. It is a greedy guts, that one. But good to see you didn’t waste too much time on trying to get your coins back.”
“How . . .?” Jan began.
“It’s all in the pot, Lad. It’s all in the pot,” she said throwing another pinch into the bubbles. “Now, you are running late my dears, so you can’t dally. You need to go north to Ringstead, and look beneath the bridge. You will know what to do then,” she said emotionlessly.
“North?” Jan repeated with a puzzled tone. “We have just come from the north.”
“North,” the crone said again, and threw a handful of red powder into her pot. Suddenly their was a bust of steam, and then the clearing was bathed in sunlight and all that remained of the crone and her fire was a cold ring of ash.”
As soon as she stepped into the room she realized that the deception was going to be more difficult than she had anticipated. There was nothing outwardly different than in the recon visit, or in the run-throughs. It was more of a feeling that something had changed. She considered buying a quick drink at the bar and then leaving, as if that was her only reason for entering, but she know that would undo three months worth of planning.
She walked over to a table and making a conspicous gesture of placing her designer bag on the table, she smiled towards the waiter and waited for him to attend to her.
“Dom Perignon, 2003, please,” she said repeating her smile. “Oh, and two glasses please, I am waiting for somebody.”
“Certainly,” the server replied.
While the waiter was away she took out her compact and checked her makeup, angling the mirror to check out Will Casey and his bodyguard at their usual corner table.
“Your champagne,” the waiter said bringing her surveillance to a close. “Would you like for me to open it, or to wait for your guest?”
“Um, Open it please,” she said.
“Bella began to sip,” and took a quick glance at her watch. Fifteen minutes she thought to herself. Not much time to make this believable.
She poured herself a second glass and drank it. She poured yet another glass and secreted the powder into it. She looked at her watch again, making it obvious this time, and made a dramatic facial gesture of annoyance just to accentuate the ploy.
She took out her phone and dialled a non-existant number. “Where are you?” she said in an over-loud and well rehearsed tipsy lilt.
“Don’t give me that. You promised you would be here this time,” she said raising both pitch and volume. Sure she was now being watched, she signalled the waiter by waving her platinum card. When he had taken the payment. She stood seemingly, unsteadily. She then noted the entry of her two colleagues and watched them angle to the bar giving them access to Casey.
It was now time for the big show, she picked up her bag and chugged down the glass of bubbly which contained the powder. She took two steps and then swooned foaming at the mouth. Most every head turned to her as she hit the floor.
It was now the chance for her colleagues to apprehend Casey while the bodyguard was distracted.
Unfortunately, a loud voice rang out, “Don’t worry we’ve got this.”
Yes, the big sting just happened to be on a night that a medical convention was in town, and three doctors attended to her and business went back to usual.
It couldn’t really be called light. It was more of a glow of energy, but its presence was real. Oskar gestured to Jan to sweep around the chest, and the two would approach it from opposite sides at the same time.
“On three,” Oskar mouthed, a command Jan acknowledged with nod.
At the count of three, Jan jerked the chest open from behind while Oskar steadied an arrow should something untoward emerge from the chest.
Nothing – there was nothing in the chest. Its interior was dark and vacuous, yet the exterior of container continued to glow.
“What do you think?” Jan asked.
“I’m not sure,” Oskar responded. “It looks empty.”
Jan rifled through a pouch on his belt and withdrew a silver coin and tossed it into the chest. It rolled around the bottom of the chest and came to a stop and fell over. Suddenly a second silver coin appeared next to it.
“Hmm, try again,” Oskar instructed.
Jan dropped in a copper coin, and brass token. These behaved much as the silver coin and again multiplied.
“I think we are on to something,” Oskar said with excitement in his voice. “Throw in your gold.”
As Jan loosened his coin pouch from his belt, Oskar did the same.
“On three,” Jan said. “One, two, three.”
Both brothers tossed their pouches into the chest at the same time, and they landed with a heavy thud.
The chest shuddered and then the lid slammed shut. A couple of seconds later the lid opened only wide enough to expel the brass token and the empty pouches before closing again with a firm click.
Try as they might the siblings could not open the chest.
As they stood back to consider their options, Jan could swear he could hear the chest chuckling to itself.
Jan and Oskar entered the chamber and found the room empty except for a large chest in the centre of the space. It had an eerie glow to it, but there was no indication that it was enchanted as Jan’s talisman did not glow in response to the chest’s sheen.
“Is this the one we are looking for?” Oskar asked.
“There is only one way to find out,” Jan replied.
“I hate this part,” Oskar said making a disapproving face.
Oskar and Jan stood where the pathway dead-ended and opened the scroll. Jan began to translate the ancient text aloud:
If you are at this point, it must be the 12th of August. Leave the woodland and pass through the screen of tall grass and enter the field beyond. At the centre of the field you will find a standing stone. At precisely 2PM walk to the end of the stone’s shadow and dig two metres down. You will find a clay jar which contains a key. On the opposite side of the field you will find three gates. Open the lefthand gate with the key and you will find a stone chest. Open this chest and remove a further key from it. Return to the stone and at 3:30PM dig at the limit of its shadow. There you will find a chest, open it with the key and all will be revealed.
Good luck, Adventurer.”
The pair followed the instructions, and in the chest they found a note:
“Return all to the way you found it, and place your quest scroll under a table at the nearest inn. Well done brave Adventurer. You will receive your reward from the barman.”
The pair again followed the instructions, and at the inn they received a voucher for 10% off their next quest. The fantasy world isn’t what it used to be.
The well maintained stone road had given way to a gravel way a league before the border post. Once the guard house was passed it became a rutted dirt road, and now it was little more than a trace of a path. They were definitely beyond the frontier now, and the last vestiges of law and order, at least the Kingdom’s law and order would disappear over the next hill. The journey was necessary however, the fate of the Laun people rested on the courier getting the message of alliance to the clans before they took matters into their own hands. Survival was wrapped in their link to the Kingdom, and it was imperative that they understood that.
The problem was that Czar Vlad understood all to well, and agents of the Empire were already on their way to intercept the courier. A game of cat and mouse was about to begin. Was whether Captain Wellon was up to the task of getting the message through. Only time would tell.