Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.
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The Lake of Shades, Part Four
They sat by the fire into the night until Borugon and Rothfort were nearly falling over for lack of sleep. They assessed their enemy. Not only were they up against the Dark Council, but they would eventually contend with their fighting men. The Council did not use the men of the realm in their army, but employed mercenaries from near and far, hired soldiers who had two primary interests, neither of which favored their employers. The first was to stay alive. The second was to get paid. Therefore they would fight hard enough not to die and to arrive safely at the next payday.
Rothfort and his companions would raise their army from among the craftsmen in the city and the peasant farmers who lived in the cottages and shacks of three towns and thirteen villages. They would craft weapons from farm tools. The men would fight with a passion that would hopefully make up for their lack of skill as soldiers.
He woke to the morning twilight sky the color of blood as the lesser light moved on and the greater light began its rule of the day. No man had ever seen the lights of the sky. The mists were a veil, a canopy between them and whatever lay beyond. The thick vapors absorbed the light and appeared as blood red in the early morning, orange in the daytime, amber in the evening and the color of glowing embers at night. As beautiful as the misty skies were, every Andaran longed to see beyond.
Rothfort stood in his garden looking up when Brin, his eagle spirit guide, appeared. They gazed upward together for a moment.
“It was not always so,” said Brin.
“I don’t understand.”
“There was a time when the mists did not cover the sky perpetually.”
“When did the mists come? What caused them?
“I believe the misty skies are of the same curse as the barren land that surrounds us.”
“The curse of the Dark Council did this? But why?”
“Possibly to dampen the spirit and courage of your people. As far as I know, I am the only living being who has seen beyond?”
“You have seen it?
“One day I was soaring just below the cloud level. I hardly remember making a choice, but I began to climb into the vapor, higher and higher, not knowing where or if it would end. My feathers absorbed the water and became so heavy, it was difficult to continue upward. I nearly gave up, but then I burst through into light so bright I could not see for some time. The air was thin so I had to work even harder to stay aloft. It was also difficult to breathe. Finally, my vision cleared and I saw the orange sky, not clouds, but open sky. And I saw the great light, a giant red disc. I found up there a strong wind on which I could soar, so I remained until the great light had traversed the sky and set below the horizon of Andar. Then the nighttime lights appeared, small and distant followed by the rising of another disc. It was the color of honey.
Golden Eagle Soars
One moment the man and his spirit guide were standing in the oasis, the next, both were suspended in the clear sky. Rothfort witnessed all Brin had seen in a fantastical display that lasted mere seconds.
The vision abruptly ended, and they were back in the garden.
“Is it possible that the mists will disappear?”
“If I am correct that the mists are part of the curse, they will vanish.”
It was time to leave the small oasis in the devastated wilderness. They had thirty Andaran nights to journey before they reached the outskirts of the Queen's realm at which time they would begin to carry out their plan.
Rothfort was anxious for this journey to be over. He would return to his home a changed man in every way. It seemed to be an impossible thing, but he had grown since the day he and Brin united. He had been average in height and build before, but now was nearly as tall as Borugon. His clothes no longer fit his frame. He would need to replace them soon.
They journeyed on. Borugon and Rothfort walked together. Brin was high above, circling, keeping pace. Rothfort wore a longsword at his side. Before his recent growth, the sword would have dragged across the ground as he walked. He also would have had a difficult time wielding the weapon due to its considerable weight. The spirit-king instructed him after they stopped each evening. They practiced the stance as well as the four guard positions called the Bull, the Plowshare, the Jester, and Gambrel. The spirit-king seemed pleased with Rothfort’s progress.
They arrived at the border of the Queen's realm. It was plain to see, for this was where the barren wilderness abruptly ended, and the lush grasses and forest began. How, for one hundred generations, had they taken for granted such an unnatural division? It was commonly known as the borderland.
The spirits concealed themselves using the handy trick of reverting to their spirit form. Borugon and Rothfort began the task of raising an army while Brin stayed aloft. Rothfort asked Borugon about his animal spirit guide, and he claimed it had been with them since the Lake of Shades.
They entered cottage after cottage, first assessing the attitude of the peasants toward the queen and life under her rule. Without fail, They found kindred spirits whom they invited to join the revolution.
On the appointed day, the men of the realm passed through the forest, skirted swamps, and crossed the many creeks until they had gathered in a large cavern far from the city and the palace. Borugon spoke first. He was a master storyteller and related their adventure, beginning with Rothfort's quest for the stones in the Lake of Shades. When at last he came to the present, he introduced the soon to be Magus King.
But the men of the realm demanded credentials regarding Rothfot's claim to the throne. Without introduction, the Spirit-King, accompanied by the ancient royal guard and the royal family, entered the cavern and circled above the heads of the men. The display of the supernatural caused near panic and desertion until the spirit, who wore a crown, stood together with Borugon and Rothfort before them.
Eadric removed his crown and placed it upon Rothfort's head, then bowed before him. Brin was at Rothfort’s side. Borugon was the next to take his knee, then the whole band of spirits. One by one the men of the realm likewise paid homage to their new king.
Rothfort wanted to shout that he was a fraud, a bounty hunter, a peasant, that he was not their king. But the fact had been proven. What would he say to them? How could he pull this rude assemblage together into anything like a disciplined army? They would be wiped out in a day. His hand brushed the hilt of the spirit-kings sword that hung at his side. Without thought, He unsheathed the blade and thrust it toward the stalactites which seemed to answer from the caverns dome. The voice which emanated from Rothfort’s mouth was that of a leader, a warrior, a king. “By the blade of the ancient Eadric and by the bravery of every man who will stand with me, we will take back our kingdom!”
The roar of the peasant farmers was deafening as it echoed off the stone walls, out through the arched entrance, and across the realm of Dinas Gwyn.
One morning, Rothfort walked through his hometown of Tillerton which sprawled out beyond the green in front of the great city.
What have I done? Wherever I go, my people fall on their faces until I pass. If not for Borugon, Brin, and Eadric, I would drop my sword and run far away. I hear the pounding of iron against iron from shacks with black smoke pouring out of stone chimneys as blacksmiths forge farm tools into the weapons of war. Young boys duel with stick swords in the streets. The most frightening thing to me, though, is that on the face of every man, woman, and child, I see hope.