This week I found that I didn’t win the Globe Soup 7 Day Story Writing Challenge which I wrote about here. Which is fine, reading it again I’m not sure I nailed the High Fantasy genre, tried to pack way too much plot in (and then had to cut loads out because of the maximum word count) and had a very ordinary take on the theme of Forgiveness. In my defence, I wrote and edited it in 7 days (although so did everyone else – if you want to see better examples here’s the winners page).
All of that said, I wrote it for a very specific purpose (this competition) and I don’t plan to rework it for anything else so I thought I’d post it here. Because for all its faults it’s not terrible. I hope you enjoy it. (Fun Fact: The title, The Morrew, is a Cornish word for an sea ice)
Salex pulled his cloak around him and leant into the warmth of the fire. There was a chill in his bones that he couldn’t shiver out. It was eating him from the inside. That was how this country got you. It wore you down. He was more wary of The Morrew than he was of the packs of wolves, or raiding parties he’d encountered on his journey. If only all he had to fear was the cold.
A grunt from behind him prompted Salex to raise his cup, and the warden sloshed in another ladleful of hot cider. It splashed over the side of the wooden vessel, but if it scalded his hand, he couldn’t feel it anymore. He sniffed at the bandages that he’d wrapped around it. It smelled of decay. He was too tired to worry about it. He breathed in the smell from the spit over the fire. Grease and hair and flesh and bone, roasting in front of him. His belly moaned with the lack of it. He would get to eat soon. That was something. He couldn’t remember how many days he’d gone without.
He stuck his nose in his cup, let the warm vapour defrost his sinuses, and then took a large gulp. It sat awkwardly in his guts, with nothing to soak it up. He sighed. The pain was good. It felt good to feel. He was worried about a time when he wouldn’t be able to.
‘Your health, weary traveller,’ said a voice from across the fire. Salex hadn’t realised that anyone else had joined him. He looked up and spied, through the smoke and haze, a short, stout figure, his arm aloft in a toast.
‘And yours.’ He raised his own cup, even though it was empty now. The figure shuffled forward, into the light. Salex could make out a sturdy man, with a solid, grey beard. He wore leathers that might once have been green. A dwarf, then.
The dwarf inched around the fire and motioned to the log next to Salex’s. ‘May I?’ he asked. ‘It would be good to have company after several days walking without. By the looks of it, it’s been even longer for you.’
Salex considered the small man. He needed to be careful with whom he shared his company, given who he was, especially if he was taking a drink. But the dwarf was right. He had been alone for a long time. Exhausted, he barely had the strength to think. With his bandaged left hand he motioned to the log, and the dwarf climbed, puffing, on top.
He took a swig from his own cup and smacked his lips. ‘It’s good to get warm,’ he said. Salex didn’t respond. The dwarf shrugged it off. ‘The name is Phisan, of the Western Tribes.’
‘Salex,’ replied Salex. The Western Tribes. He wondered what a dwarf from the West was doing halfway across The Morrew. He often wondered what he, himself, was doing halfway across The Morrew. That train of thought only brought pain. Loss and pain. Like every day trekking across The Morrew.
‘Questing, is it?’
Salex grunted in response. He heard the dwarf take in a sharp breath. He turned to look at his companion, who was nodding silently into his cup. He raised a wad of phlegm, which he spat, sizzling, into the fire. ‘Did I say something to offend?’
Phisan laughed without humour. ‘Better to offend than to say nothing.’
‘Forgive me,’ said Salex, ‘you are right that I am unused to company. I did not intend to imply that I did not want yours.’
‘You are forgiven.’ The dwarf grinned. He drained his cup, smacking his lips. ‘Perhaps we should wait until our bellies are full before we attempt to be friends. An empty gut’s growl can be mistaken for that of an angry man.’
‘Aye.’ Half a smile spread across Salex’s face, cracking the salt in his beard and stinging his frozen skin. He raised his cup for another refill, and the pair fell into a more comfortable silence. By the dwarf’s side, something flashed, icy in the moonlight.
‘Come away from the window, your young Highness.’
Prince Salex turned to Nanny. He did not step down from the castle window. ‘I won’t fall,’ he protested.
‘Not worried about you falling.’ The old woman sat by the fire. ‘Worried about you being pulled.’ She rearranged the burning logs with the poker, leaving it to rest in the flame for slightly too long, until it glowed. Her granddaughter leapt back from the sparks and hid beneath her skirts.
‘Pulled?’ asked the Prince. This seemed unlikely to him. ‘Out of the window? From the tower? In the castle?’
‘The Dark Lord’s minions don’t worry bout heights, or guards, or whether you’re a Prince, young man,’ scolded Nanny. ‘If they gonna get you, they gonna get you. Specially if you stand by the window at night…’
Prince Salex still didn’t think he believed her, but he climbed down from the window. ‘Tell me a story,’ he said, climbing onto the bench beside the old woman and swinging his legs, ‘about The Morrew.’ Prince Salex liked the stories about The Morrew, full of adventure and heroics and epic battles of good versus evil.
The old woman shook her head. ‘Not so close to bedtime,’ she said. ‘It’ll scare you and then you won’t ever get to sleep. And you’ve got archery practice at daybreak. Don’t get on Lord Odmund’s wrong side. Come out of there, Folly, you’re tickling my ankles!’
It was a bad day that started on the wrong side of Lord Odmund. But Salex also wanted a story.
‘I want a story too,’ demanded Folly, scooting across the floor to sit next to Prince Salex. She took his hand in hers. He pulled it back. She took it again. This time he let her. Nanny sighed.
‘You know it’s where He finds them.’ The old woman continued, despite herself. ‘Many travellers fail to make it across The Morrew. There are way-stations dotted across the wasteland, with wardens who keep fires to warm and feed the hardy adventurer. But the weather changes in a moment. Even the bravest souls lose their way in a blizzard, or an icy fog. They freeze out there, lost to everyone who ever knew and loved them, until the Dark Lord finds them.’
‘What does He do when He finds them?’ Prince Salex squealed with glee. His arms were a forest of fine, standing hairs, his heart had leapt into his mouth, his spine a cascade of shivers.
‘He summons his army.’ Nanny continued the story. ‘He summons his dark horde and they raise a fire in the darkness. They take a spear of ice and they plunge it into the solid, frozen heart and then they toss the body on the fire. Then the fire melts the ice…’
Both of the children knew this bit, and they murmured along, wide-eyed and breathless.
‘… the ice melts the heart and dark life begins to pump through their veins. They are no longer dead, but they’re not alive…’
‘They are servants of the Dark Lord until the end of time.’ Nanny said this part quickly, far too quickly for Prince Salex’s liking, and stood up, abruptly.
‘Forgive me.’ She bowed her head and scuttled from the room with a muffled sob past Prince Salex’s mother, the Queen herself, who stood in the doorway. Prince Salex thought that her stare, on its own, was enough to freeze a hero’s heart.
Folly tossed and turned in her sleep. Since her grandmother had passed, she’d had the bed to herself, but she was rarely comfortable. Dreams haunted her nights. She dared not consider them premonitions, but…
She had the Gift. After the Queen dismissed her grandmother from the castle, she supported them both by becoming a seer, a wise woman, and she had been very skilled at it. That was the Gift that she’d passed to her tragic daughter and that she, in turn, had passed on to her own child, Folly.
These dreams were something different, though. She didn’t just see; she felt the ice, the hunger and exhaustion. It was against reason that she hoped that her beloved was somewhere warm and safe. Deep in the night the cold crept into her. She imagined a piercing in her heart. The rush of darkness consumed her.
This night was no different, and when morning came, it brought her no light. She didn’t understand why the Queen had sent him away, but she knew that Salex was from a world that she would never, truly, understand. She loved him, and whatever the distance between them they remained connected, she knew. Lying in the early morning shadows with her hand on her swollen belly, she could not hide from the fate that had befallen him.
‘I wish he had never gone.’ Her unborn child responded with a kick to the place where her hand rested. A tear rolled down her cheek. ‘He never knew about you. Forgive me. I don’t know how to bring him back and now we’ve lost him.’
Burn, break, kill…
The words ran through his head like a mantra, the voice that wasn’t his commanding him, compelling him, driving him forward. Outside, in the village, his comrades plundered and ravaged. Dwarves, elves, men and goblins, marching side by side, united in darkness.
Burn, break, kill…
He picked up the woman and pulled her apart. She made a noise, but he didn’t understand what it signified. The stench of blood and entrails and death washed through him, lifted him up. He tossed the woman’s leg, and it crashed through a wall. There was movement in the next room. He turned and strode on.
Burn, break, kill…
Like the beat of a drum, like the beat of… the word escaped him. He wasn’t built for thinking; he was built for action. The words of the Dark Lord drove him.
Burn, break, kill…
Outside, he heard the dying sounds of a man who had almost finished burning. The flickering light through the window of the hut faded. In the corner, the shadow grew. He couldn’t see what was inside the shadow. He could smell the fear, though.
Burn, break, kill…
He took another step forward. He tilted his head. What was hiding there? What couldn’t he see? Something flew at him from the darkness. He took a step backward.
Folly had only done what her grandmother had taught her. There was no other way to kill them. She had to pierce its heart, the same way the Dark Lord turned them. Only not with ice. It should be a poker, red hot from the fire, but she had neither time nor firewood to heat one. She’d had to improvise.
She thrust her arm forward with the heat of her rage and passion. Her hand pushed easily through the dead flesh and desiccated bone. Her fingers drove deep into his heart. She screamed in horror at what she was doing. Inside her, her unborn child felt the strength of their mother’s love.
The monster fell back.
As her hand withdrew from the destroyed carcass, she brought it, without thinking, to her face. She saw the decayed body, the flesh frostbitten and black, in the faint light. The hands were missing fingers and something had gouged a sizeable chunk of its shoulder to the bone. But as it fell backward into the darkness of the room, she recognised the look of shock that furrowed his brow, how the frozen hairs of his beard curled towards his narrow lip, the scar below his ear, the love that she felt for him, the void he had left when he went away.
Salex sighed, as the light newly brought back to his eyes began to fade again.