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.
The Lake of Shades, Part Two
How long he had cowered there with grit in his teeth and dust filling his nose,Rothfort did not know. He rose to his knees and spat. The stranger stood over the stones with his arms crossed and his head held high.
“What is your decision?” He pulled a pipe from inside his cloak and lit it. Smoke curled upward in a white ribbon.
“If I choose to continue with my mission? What then?”
“I told you, it must be of your own free will.
“But why? Who am I but a humble servant of the queen? What does my will have to do with this?”
“That will only be revealed when I possess the stones. Otherwise, you will go on as the humble servant of the one who calls herself, Queen.”
Rothfort rose to his feet and gazed upward into the sky as if help would come from out of the mists. The raven circled downward until it perched atop the stones. In a flash of brilliant light that should have blinded Rothfort, the raven changed into a mighty golden eagle with its wings spread wide. One powerful, downward thrust lifted the bird from its perch, and it returned to circling above.
“What is the meaning of the raven and the eagle?” Rothfort asked.
“If you choose wisely, this will be a day of transformation, for the souls in the stones and you.”
Rothfort looked up one more time. The eagle was gone. He considered the queen in her magnificent palace and his people who struggled each day to survive. Could their lives be better? Their suffering had become accepted as the way life was meant to be. Had the queen kept them living at the level of mere subsistence to render them more easily controlled? Would the transformation extend to them as well?
“It will be the dawn of a new day for your people,” said the stranger as though he knew what Rothfort was thinking.
Rothfort took one step back and opened his arms in resignation. “The stones are yours. What you say has the ring of a good coin. Your words also agree with my thoughts about the queen's reign. I give the stones of my own free will. But first, to whom am I giving them? I would know your name.”
“I am Buragon, servant to you, my King.” The stranger knelt before Rothfort momentarily, then rose. He lifted the bag and spun around, slinging the stones in a wide circle. He continued to turn as he spoke in a loud voice. “By the will of the King, come forth.”
This man, Buragon, had called him king, not once, but twice. Rothfort pondered the odd words and jumped when the stones exploded like fireworks on Ancestors’ Day, except rather than showers of brightly colored sparks, ghostly figures burst into the sky where they danced and leaped, howling like the wolves of the forest. Rothfort fell to the ground, prostrate once again, afraid for his sanity and life. Buragon pulled him to his feet, and together they watched the specters in the sky form a circle which turned like the wheel of a mighty chariot.
Buragon raised his arms, and the spirits grew silent. “Your King, by expressing his will and acting accordingly, has delivered you from the curse of the Dark Council. Will you now serve him before you pass on from this world?"
One of the spirits came nearly to the ground and spoke. He wore a crown. “What would you have us do? We have suffered long. My people deserve to be at peace and rest.”
“Your people are more than these here with you now, and those whom you do not know, suffer as well. For one hundred generations the Dark Council and the evil queen have lived lives of immortality and leisure at the expense of your people who deserve to be free and to prosper.” Buragon paused, then continued. “Will you fight against her swordsmen?”
“We are spirits. What can we do against flesh and blood?”
“The wicked queen and the Dark Council are not the only ones with magic.” Buragon chanted words in an ancient tongue and cast a handful of powder onto the Spirit-King. In an instant, the King was seemingly alive again. He looked at his hands and arms, beat his chest, and turned to the spirits. “Revenge is our war-cry!” he called out to them.
“Revenge,” they shouted as one and descended to join their Spirit-King.
Buragon paced the perimeter of the circle casting the powder over the spirits, chanting as he passed by the children who, although wealthy in life, now looked like the homeless beggars on the streets of the city. Women wore the tattered remains of gowns that once were the beauty mark of royalty. The men curled their lips, gritted their teeth and clenched their fists. Buragon stood surrounded by a mixed group of the royal guard and royal family who appeared, in every way, to be alive.
Finally, the time had come to ask the question which burned in Rothfort's chest like a dagger from the eternal pits of fire. He grabbed Buragon by the shoulder and spun him around. “Why do you tell them I am their king when you know very well I am no more than a bounty hunter, despised and rejected by all?”
“I know nothing of the sort.” Buragon brushed at the shoulder where Rothfort had grabbed him. “And I tell them what I know to be true.”
“And you know the truth to be that I am a king? If that were true, would I not know it also?”
“You should know it. How else were these spirits set free from the curse if not by your words and action? But I will explain further. For years I searched the royal library genealogies at night, by candlelight to confirm a rumor passed around for centuries among the magi. I found what I sought secreted away in an obscure volume dealing with peasants’ rights regarding hunting on royal land.”
“What did you find?”
“A torn page telling of a particular branch of the royal lineage. It led me from the extermination of the royal family through generation after generation of the shadow years of the Dark Council until I found you.”
“And if you made one slight error in following that royal line, you would have found only a simple peasant with nothing to offer. And that is precisely what you have found.”
“Ah, but there is a test which will prove whether I am right or not. The lineage I followed was a rare line of royal magi.”
“Yes. and the one I sought would have all the qualities of the magi.”
“There you have it, Buragon. I have no such powers. You have picked the wrong man.”
“The powers would be dormant after many generations of disuse. But those special gifts might be resurrected and prove me right.”
“I tell you Magus Buragon; you are wrong.”
“We shall see.”