Service — #writephoto The Tunnel

Wounded King Herman was on his deathbed. His sons were killed fighting the warlord Zutom who was overthrowing the independent city-states. His wife died with the birth of Charlotte who was by his side. General Kim was also there. The plan was set and ready. King Herman asked his daughter if she would lead in his place and finish what they started–now. She said, “Yes.” Minutes later, and without ceremony, nineteen-year-old Charlotte became Queen of a debilitated city-state under siege by Zutom whose walls would fall within the month.

Word quietly spread of the King’s death because Zutom’s men were listening for sound and reported the increasing smell of decaying flesh. Inside General Kim gathered the inhabitants around the ruins of the chapel each knowing their accepted tasks. Queen Charlotte stepped up to the platform and placed her hand on the remains of the altar and whispered: “This ends today!” She approached General Kim who bowed, “It is our honor to serve you, our Queen. We will not fail you.” Queen Charlotte whispered in reply, “And I will not fail any of you.”

Queen Charlotte took her lead in the tunnels, the ancient, forgotten tunnels, unknown to Zutom’s spies, built a century ago for defense and escape and recently reopened. General Kim arranged the surrender of the city-state to Zutom. Twenty among the many volunteers of men, women and youth were previously selected by King Herman to accompany General Kim unarmed onto the field of surrender. Zutom didn’t think so many were still alive. To celebrate his victory he would show the world his power in case anyone were foolish enough in the future to rebel against him. On Zutom’s command, General Kim was bound while the others were executed.

“Take me to your King’s stinking body and then you will be permitted to join him.” General Kim led Zutom and his close defenders through the open gate of the city to the chamber where King Herman’s body lay. As Zutom prepared to decapitate the body, General Kim thought, “It worked!” They got Zutom inside the city on their terms. He had one final task. He pushed his foot on the floor panel setting off the explosion destroying the chamber. This triggered the gate of the city to shut. Archers emerged from hidden recesses. When they removed the threat of Zutom’s men trapped inside, they brought Zutom’s body above the city wall directly over the gate hanging it in the presence of Zutom’s forces. As Zutom’s body swayed, hundreds of archers in unison rose with their attention held on the field. They waited.

General Kim, with those inside the city, did not fail their Queen.

At the sight of Zutom’s body hanging above the center of the gate, his conscripted forces fled. Queen Charlotte signalled for the firing of the explosions in the tunnels concentrated under Zutom’s core forces, the only ones they did not want to escape and regroup. Fires blocked their retreat. Guerrilla attacks and confusion pushed them onto the field within range of the archers.

Years after the coming Unification, and then the Federation, and through the Renaissance and up to the present time, children grew healthy, strong, proudly recalling to their children how Queen Charlotte did not fail them either.


Linked to Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt — The Tunnel — #writephoto
Photo provided by Sue Vincent for this prompt.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or people is unintended.

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Shanti, the Dragon — #writephoto Twilight

The dragon watched the evening twilight darken the valley into deeper blues. He was well-known, but the only one who ever saw him was a monk who thought his cave would make an ideal retreat from the banalities of civilization–until he saw the dragon. Cautiously, the monk backed away mumbling, “Shanti, shanti, shanti.” The dragon thought that was his name and for the purposes of describing his encounter with the damsel that is what I will call him.

The villagers in the valley knew all about Shanti’s treasure. It was worth more than any wealth on earth because it also contained, besides the piles of gold, the Master Gem. This gem gave anyone who saw it twinkle in the cave’s dim light eternal youth–and all that dragon did was sit on it.

However, to get one’s hands on these treasures, one needed, according to legend, a pure damsel whom the hideous beast had to capture. One also needed a brave knight who, under cover of darkness, would lure the fiendish dragon out of his cave and save the damsel. These two, damsel and knight, would be legally entitled to take as much of the hoard as they could carry away before the cave closed forever.

The part about the damsel raised concerns. Youthful females, whose purity was not in doubt, did not want to have such a dangerous part to play in getting the gold. Furthermore many a brave knight wondered, “Why not kill the stupid dragon and keep the gold for myself?” Every now and then some fool would remind everyone else that no one had ever seen this dragon. No one had ever seen his gold, nor this magical “Master Gem”, except for a mythical monk who probably made up this tall tale of how to get the treasure. Most of the townsfolk felt such people could be ignored.

Given these stories, you would think many brave knights and pure damsels would have visited Shanti, but until this evening he had not seen any. That’s why he found it odd when she poked her head into the dimness of the cave and asked, “Hey! Are you the dragon?”

“I’m a dragon,” said Shanti.

“Do you mind if I stay?”

“There’s room for both of us.”

The damsel waited for Shanti to do something distressful to her, but when nothing happened, she asked. “Are you a real dragon or not? Can you even breathe fire?”

“You mean like this?” Shanti took a deep breath and exhaled a flame that lit up the cave. As he did so the damsel screamed and Shanti jumped.

“Help! Help! I’m being held by a fire-breathing dragon!”

At the entrance of the cave, Shanti saw seven knights with drawn swords. “Prepare to die, dragon!” said one, who, unlike the others, couldn’t see very well what was in the shadows. When Shanti stood up, he was over ten times their height and his scales looked harder than their swords.

The smartest of the knights countered, “We mean you no harm, dragon. Move outside the cave so we may tend to the damsel and we will depart in peace.” Shanti felt this was reasonable. Maybe they could convince the damsel to leave? He moved to the cave’s opening.

“Watch where you sling that thing!” The damsel scolded seeing Shanti’s tail slide a bit too close to her.

Shanti saw them pick through his treasure. One knight found a rusted bar of iron and discarded it, but the others found nothing more exciting than broken pottery. The hoard looked like garbage left by long forgotten peasants. The damsel noticed something sparkle, but raised it to her eyes in disappointment. She tossed it. As they left she observed, “Your treasure is a pile of junk. Loser.”

Shanti went into the cave and sat upon what he now knew was junk. He looked around for Sparkie, that stone the damsel discarded, and found him on the ground. Shanti held him to his face and smiled. The thought never occurred to him that someone might want to take Sparkie away. Why would anyone want to do that?

Sparkie scattered the increasingly faint twilight through the cave with soft playfulness. Those watching this scene, if any damsel, knight or dragon-fearing peasant ever had the opportunity of doing so, would have seen the twinkle in the dragon’s eye.


Linked to Sue Vincent’s Twilight #writephoto.
Photo provided by Sue Vincent for this prompt.

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Nymphs at Play #writephoto

The dead end trail led to Edgar’s Pond, a body of water where someone, known only as Edgar, long ago built a cabin to search for something only he could see. The cabin returned to the forest, but a squared stone altar, as the stories describe it, remained, serving as a bench for those odd hikers who chose to detour this way.

Robert wouldn’t be in this oak forest at all but his friends told him a student reported a sighting of Bigfoot. They wanted him to join their mock search party. “It’ll be fun and get your mind off Anne.” Anne, his ex-girlfriend, was God-knows-where and Robert was struggling to turn back into someone who didn’t care.

In the late afternoon, unable to get Anne off his mind, Robert’s friends suggested he explore the pond alone. When he reached the pond, after arguing his case aggressively with the vegetation along the way, he realized he had enough: “She can go!” Then he noticed something hairy wading in the water. “No! Bigfoot?” He moved closer, hiding behind the stone altar. That something turned into a beautiful woman with long hair. A bow and quiver of arrows lay nearby with a white robe.

The woman looked up to meet his gaze. Robert turned his back to her to give her privacy and called out, “I’m sorry for sneaking up on you. I thought you were Bigfoot.” She walked out of the pond and put on the robe.

“Do I look like Bigfoot? You do know what the Goddess Diana does to a man who watches her bathe, don’t you?”

“Not really.”

“She turns him into a stag and his dogs kill him.”

“It’s a good thing I don’t have any dogs. I’m sorry. I’m Robert S–. I teach at the university in town. I don’t know why but from the trail you looked to me like Bigfoot. May I ask who you are?”

“Diana.”

“Diana who?”

“Goddess Diana.”

Robert tried to stifle his laughter which did not amuse Diana. “If you’re Goddess Diana, where are your nymphs? There’s no one here but us.”

“They’re here, but you can’t see them.”

“Then how do I know they’re here?”

“You want to see them naked? It’s too bad you can’t hear them giggling now either. They tell me you let Anne go.”

“How do you know about Anne?”

“We all heard you on the trail. My nymphs love to tease our troubled guests and then argue with them.

“They were in my mind?”

“They were messing with you. That’s for sure, but I heard it, too: You let her go.” It surprised Robert to realize that at this moment he no longer had any interest in Anne. He really did let her go. Whatever personality dysfunctions Diana had, it didn’t matter to him what nymphs, fairies or imaginary friends she could attract into her service.

When Diana said, “The water is lovely,” he sat with her on the altar to observe it. Robert wasn’t attracted to oak forests nor to murky ponds with insects buzzing around, but from this particular point of view the pond was enchanting. Perhaps Edgar built this as a bench so he could look at his chosen paradise? He imagined he saw Edgar’s cabin, garden and orchard. He saw two people, a man and a woman, happy in their isolation. He then became convinced, without understanding why, that he and Diana were not sitting on an altar. Nor was this a bench. It was Edgar’s grave. But who positioned and worked this stone and what happened to the woman?

The Sun sparkled on Edgar’s Pond as they sat in silence. The insects busied themselves and the trees overwhelmed them with calmness until Robert received a text from his friends asking him to return. It was late.

“Could I walk you back to your car?” Robert offered Diana.

“Your friends are worried about you.”

“I don’t want to leave you alone. It will be dark soon.”

Standing, Diana gripped Robert’s arms. She turned him so he faced away from the pond and her. “I’m glad you stopped by, Robert. You humored me about my nymphs. Others have not been so kind. They were a delight to torment. Go back to your friends.”

When Diana released his arms, Robert turned around. All he could see was the surface of Edgar’s Pond sparkling in the late afternoon Sun as a rush of crows moved through the trees.


Linked to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.
Photo provided by Sue Vincent for this prompt.