Good Morning, Art of Writing fans!
I loved the reaction that I got to my début post last week. I was planning to post a short thought-piece this week about the depiction of violence in fantasy, but then the British summer snuck up on me I came down with allergic conjunctivitis.
I can’t say I recommend it.
I’ve now recovered enough to write you this short story, as part of a larger project I’m working on. I hope you enjoy!
Gastor struggled down the perilous shale path towards the Lime Keep, carrying a slaughtered hog over one shoulder and grumbling to himself about the way of things. In other countries – decent countries, Gastor thought – a village like his would have lords and barons to turn to when there was trouble. The villagers could go to the nearest castle – a respectable castle with a moat and drawbridge and all the other things that castles should have – and beseech their lord and master to alieve their woes. If their lord and master wasn’t too busy with the important lordly affairs that took up most of his day, he might be persuaded to help. And in gratitude, the villagers would work in his fields for the rest of the year, and give him food for feasts. That was the proper way of things. Gastor paused in the road to pout, suck in his paunch, and nod to himself, satisfied by the thought. Then he hitched the hog forward on his broad shoulder and trudged onwards, careful not to slip on the loose shingle. He tried not to be perturbed by the growing smell of eggs.
To Gastor’s embarrassment, his village never did things in the proper way. His country was not well-furnished with lords or barons. It had a prince of sorts named Francis the Meek, but no self-respecting figure in the village community could be expected to take their problems to someone called Francis the Meek. So whenever Gastor’s village had problems, there was only one thing Gastor could do. Though it wounded his pride to do so, he had to slaughter a hog, carry it down to the Lime Keep, and demand an audience with the keep’s only tenant.
Gastor was cloaked in a muggy sweat by the time he reached the keep. The path dropped into a stone valley with high overhangs on both sides, which was the worst possible place that anybody could have thought to build a castle. Yet somebody had, and there it stood.
Or, rather, slouched.
The Lime Keep couldn’t be mistaken for anything but a ruin. The only part that was still fully standing was a single tower with only half a roof, on what might once have been the eastern wall. Gastor made an uncertain descent into the valley, losing his footing once and sliding the rest of the way in a small landslide of shingle and loose rock. He picked himself up, dusted any obvious dirt off the slaughtered hog, and then strode across the valley towards the tower, trying very hard to look less timid than he felt.
The tower had only a small wooden door, with a ring hanging next to it on a chain. Once he’d reached the door, Gastor took a moment to muster up his courage, and then pulled on the ring. An infernal device made a gong sound deep inside the keep. Gastor tried to cross his arms and place his outstretched fingers on his shoulders, apologising to the Gods for his use of a such a machine, but the slaughtered hog got in the way. He glanced up at the heavens, fearing retribution for his blasphemy. Then there were noises from the top of the Lime Keep, and any fear of divine wrath was superseded by a fear that was far more immediate.
There were thumps of movement high above. Glass objects clanging together. Soft things being hastily relocated. A rustle, as if someone had unfurled a sail. And then, to Gastor’s surprise, something popped out of one of the tower’s windows. It was a wooden arm, like the jib of a crane. There were faint squeaking noises, and a large basket appeared out of the window, without any sign a hand pushing it out. Another infernal device. The basket was lowered from the crane by a rope, inch by inch, until it hung at about the height of Gastor’s head. There it hung, swinging slightly. Waiting for him to deposit his gift.
But Gastor had not come to the Lime Keep to leave a gift and walk away again. He had come for an audience, and he would have one. In an indignant rage, his fear left him. He scowled at the basket, and then raised his free hand to shout up at the tower.
“Pharnazbius!” he bellowed, “You disrespect me! I haven’t come to leave you your dinner like a tavern potboy!”
His own voice roared ‘potboy’ back at him several times, echoing off the walls of the valley, and suddenly Gastor remembered himself. His heart dropped into his boots, and he narrowed his eyes fearfully at the top of the tower, hoping perhaps that Pharnazbius hadn’t heard.
But one of the many interesting things about dragons is that they have very good hearing.
Four black talons appeared in the window, grasping the stone and nearly cracking it. Then Pharnazbius’ head snaked out, extending on its long neck. Looking straight up, Gastor saw a huge pair of green nostrils, with a minute pair of reading glasses balanced on top of them. Above those were a pair of wild golden eyes, pinning him to the spot with a glare of intense disapproval. And finally, above the dragon’s eyes, was a purple smoking cap with a yellow tassel, balanced between two twisted horns.
“Ahh,” said Gastor, forcing himself to grin through his renewed terror. “Hello, Pharnazbius! How, er…how goes your day?”
“It was going quite well,” Pharnazbius replied, in his low voice, so low that Gastor always felt the pressure change in his ears when the dragon spoke. “Until very recently…”