Well flay me alive and wear my skin like a ceremonial robe! Has it been a whole week already?
It’s actually been quite a time of it lately. I’ve been writing some new stuff, editing some old stuff and generally not letting myself get too stressed with stuff.
So here’s a quick story in response to the Story Dice Challenge #1 – and I really didn’t let myself spend too long on it. Somehow it all just came together in my mind, which is quite pleasing in and of itself.
(NB – just for clarification, the interpretations of the dice were open, so for example I took “Trojan Horse” to mean getting inside a fortification by trickery etc.)
A Wolf Has To Eat
The Rector of Darrabock was surprisingly relaxed for a man with the jaws of a dire wolf poised to tear his throat out, and not just any wolf either. This black horror was the feared beast known as Smurl, a beast of alchemical manipulation and thaumamechanic engineering.
“There is no way to breach the wards of Darrabock,” said the Rector with barely a quaver in his voice.”They are infallible.”
The horror before him snorted. “I don’t have time for exposition Rector,” said Smurl. The stud-like protrusions that dotted his skull began to glow with a baleful blue light. “Witness.”
The knowledge sprang unbidden into the Rector’s mind: yes, ever were the vices of men the weakness of any defence, for Darrabock was built to withstand siege and magical assault upon it’s walls, not to withhold against the desires of the men who manned those walls. The Rector saw saw the boat pulling up to the pier, and his men assisting the comely maiden onto the landing. With her they saw only her small pet dog held upon a leash.
An illusion of a subtle making, not crude magic but the shaping of a cloak within Smurl’s mind. The guards saw nothing but the woman and her dog as they muttered appreciation of her form; full hips and red lips. The Rector was a canny fool, they remarked, to fetch up such a prize.
So Smurl passed through the wards and defences like a blade slips between armoured plate.
“And what is it that you want?” inquired the Rector, beginning to sweat.
“I have come for but one of your magical treasures. Let us call it simple payment.”
“Aye.” Smurl chuckled. “For a lesson taught, and folly revealed. You are in my debt Rector.”
“Indeed,” replied the Rector as he pulled at the collar of his robe and wiped the sweat from his brow. “So you intend to let me live?”
Smurl nodded with an evil smile. “Unless you wish to compound your error?”
The Rector shook his head quickly.
“Good. Live and let live I say. I require one thing, and one thing only: the winged boots that you have hidden in your vault.”
“How could you know – ?”
Smurl cut him off with a snarl. “I tire of your questions.”
“Of course,” said the Rector, swallowing. “Let me take you there at once.”
“Excellent. Let us make haste Rector, for my appetite is growing by the minute.”
* * *
“How long must I be your prisoner?” ask Princess Innista of the dragon Phalagyras once more as she sat upon the cold flagstones.
The dragon turned a laconic eye upon her. “As long as the war of succession continues.”
Innista licked a paw. “Surely they must be done with their bitter murder by now?”
“Who can say?” replied the dragon with a yawn and stretched out upon his hoard. “Such are the endeavours of men, to war without end.”
Such was the ritual observed every day as Innista waited; it was all that she could do, for when she had come to the cusp of womanhood she had been cursed. During her coronation she had donned the tiara of her station, and the dark hex had been released, shrinking her body and causing her to sprout black fur. Where once there had been a princess, now there was but a lithe cat as black as midnight. In the confused panic that followed she had been whisked away by one or other of the warring factions seeking the throne, and it was they who handed her to Phalagyras for safe keeping.
The great red dragon had borne her away to the ruin of his flying keep, a great stone edifice set upon enchanted clouds where none could steal his treasure. For Innista there was nothing to do but await the day she might be allowed to return, and as a cat that burden was eased by the feline proclivity of expertly napping for long periods of time.
She dreamed of her mother, and the orchards of Heronreath.
Of her other pursuits it was only the stalking of mice and birds that brought her any great relief from the boredom of being a prisoner. So too would it provide the only luck she had ever received in the dragon’s castle, for one day years ago she had been prowling the wild corridors of the sky keep when she chanced upon a mouse garbed in a leather jerkin and leggings, booted and armed.
“Who are you?” Innista had asked, more curious than anything else.
“I am the brigand Schlondyke!” cried the mouse, “And I see that you are no ordinary cat.”
“And you no ordinary mouse. How come you to the sky keep, brigand?”
“By secret means known to mouse folk. I come seeking to plunder the dragon’s hoard!”
“Ha! You shall have to cross my path first,” Innista teased.
“So be it!” cried the mouse and they had duelled until she disarmed him with a swipe of her paw. Before he could escape she had snared him and dandled the poor fellow by his tail.
“Mercy, oh mighty mouser!” cried Schlondyke.
“And what does mercy buy me?”
“Spare me and I will grant thee whatever boon ye desire.”
“You have but to name it,” replied Schlondyke, “And I shall discharge the debt in return for mine life.”
Innista considered a moment. “How can I be sure that you will hold to our deal?”
Schlondyke doffed his hat and said, not without umbrage, “I am a mouse of honour, m’lady, and you have bested me in single combat. I so swear by the life that is now yours, ask of me what you wish.”
Innista thought for a moment, then explained what she required.
That had been three years ago…….
* * *
Smurl alighted upon the outer wall of the sky keep, and sensing danger, the nodes in his skull began to glow with baleful fervour. He could taste the dragon in his mind, smell the brimstone of its breath even upon the fresh air without. Smurl knew he must make haste and discover the dragon’s bane, the only tool that could remedy such a scaly problem lurking within the shadowed halls of the castle.
It would not be long before the dragon senses his presence in return.
So with great bounds he crossed the wild lawns and took off down passages long forgotten, through halls where small seeds borne by the wind had taken root into riotous gardens unseen by the eyes of mortal for generations, up stairs thick with dust and through forgotten chambers filled with old books, armour and moth-eaten tapestries.
Closer and closer, the air tinged with the tang of dragon’s gold and lurking hints of a feline presence: yes, the princess was close, and thus the reward…..
Smurl was getting ravenous now.
On silent pads the dire wolf now came to the old throne room, yet despite Smurl’s soundless approach, the dragon stirred.
“Come out dire wolf,” rumbled the dragon.
Smurl stepped forth into the chamber. “I am here, oh Phalagyras.”
The dragon did not reply, but unleashed a torrent of fire. When it abated there was no sign of the dire wolf upon the cracked and blackened flagstones.
“So much for the famed Smurl,” chuckled the dragon, and made as if to sleep once more.
“Are you always so careless?” called Smurl mockingly. The dragon hissed and cast about until Smurl stepped from behind a mighty pillar. “You should have a care dragon, for I am indeed the infamous Smurl.”
“You are fast, I give you that,” replied Phalagyras, “But you’re teeth are no match for my fire. Come hither and I will even give you thy cruellest bite!” and the dragon bared its scaled neck.
Smurl padded forward, his head glowing all the fiercer. “You are unwise to tempt me,” said Smurl.
The dragon chuckled. “There is but one weapon that can kill me, and you do not possess the hands to wield it.”
“Who needs hands,” grinned the wolf, “When one possesses a mind such as mine?”
Behind Phalagyras there was the tinkle of falling coin as something was dislodged, and as the dragon turned its head it beheld Scalebreaker, the only weapon that could defeat him. The mace soared, held in the grip of Smurl’s mind and smote the dragon full on the head, crushing his skull.
“Such is the arrogance of dragons,” snorted Smurl in contempt. “To hoard the very treasures that might slay them.”
“Y-y-you have killed him,” said a voice, and Smurl turned his baleful gaze upon the black form of Innista.
He grinned with wolfish delight. “So I have princess.”
“W-who are you?”
“I am the boon that you requested.”
“I requested no such horror as you,” she replied.
The wolf shrugged. “Did you not send diminutive brigand with a missive, requesting help?”
Innista nodded, still uncertain.
“It was this brigand that sailed to Nulle Isle and found me.”
“But the Nulle Isle is just a story.”
“Nay,” Smurl shook his head. “It is very real, and a place to which I was exiled until a long ship came searching for me, captained by the fabled brigand Schlondyke.”
“Aye, he told me that he had plundered a dragon’s hoard to fund his venture – “
“That sneaky rat!” cried Innista, cutting in despite her fear.
Smurl cocked his head. “Indeed. He told me that he owed his life to a princess who had been bound by a most powerful curse. By his life’s honour he had travelled the lands in search of one who was brave enough to defeat the dragon Phalagyras. He showed me this letter, written by yourself, and signed with a cat’s paw. It stated that the reward for your restoration to the throne of Heronreath was land and title.”
“And is that why you have come to rescue me, to take land and title?”
Smurl shook his head, eyes burning into her.
“Perhaps you seek the dragon’s hoard then?” asked the princess, backing away.
Smurl chuckled. “One can neither eat gold nor titles, princess.”
Innista swallowed. “Eat?”
“Aye,” Smurl smiled as he padded forward, licking his lips. “A wolf needs to eat.” The nodes on his head began to glow, and his eyes blazed with the same light. “This will hurt.”
Innista had backed away until her furred ruffed up against the wall behind her. There was no where to run to. Smurl opened his jaws wide and Innista felt a sudden force holding her still. The tiara became heavy on her head, so much so it might break her neck such was its weight. Black threads like evil smoke curled from it and rushed in a swirling vortex into the mouth of the wolf who seemed to swell in stature.
It was gone, the malignant hex that had changed her was lifted, consumed by the black horror before her. “You ate my curse?”
“Aye,” Smurl smiled, licking his lips. “I am a hex eater, and that was a savoury delight. I am of a mind to seek the one who wove it.”
Innista looked down at herself. She was once again a young woman, and now took her leave of the sky keep astride the great dire wolf, returning to claim her rightful place at the court of Heronreath.
And none dare gainsay her, for fear of the famed dire wolf Smurl who accompanied her, his eyes ever hungry and searching for the next meal.
Well dear Readers, I hope you enjoyed. I certainly had fun writing it. Sometimes the exercise of just writing something random and free from constraint is a welcome relief.
And although I went over the 1000 words by almost double, it didn’t feel like it.
Now it might not be perfect…. but I promised not to spend too long on it, and I think the best thing about these exercises is that you can add it to a pile of ideas and recycle them later when you’re doing something more involved.
Anyhew, if you did enjoy then please let me know and give it a like down below.
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