From the Desk of an Editor,
Hello and salutations to yet another exciting episode of Larks Fiction Magazine! In this edition we search out the inner turmoils of life in the dream-scapes and memories of our minds.
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I Was a Village Boy
By Charles Barnard
Before the deafening horn
Was a quiet walk to school
Before the stinking sewage corners
Was a path filled with dews on grass
Before the clipper carved hair
Was a razor clean shaven head
Before the chlorine treated pools
Was mud filled streams
Yes I was a village boy
Long skirt wearing maidens fascinated me
Before the city mind corruption
Car was any car
Rice was for Sundays alone
Fruits was never bought but picked
Religion was a law
Hatred was rare
Love was free
Yes I was a village boy
Parents were gods
Children were lovely pets
Money was rare
Food was abundant
Music spoke only of love and greatness
Every lesson in school was magical
Michael Jackson thriller thrilled me
Granny's eyes was enough rebuke
Her smile was enough praise
Yes I was a village boy
The rain brought nostalgia of roasted corn and pear
Flowers blossomed without trimming
Farming was a joy and harvest was happiness
Grey hair was a crown of well lived life
Age was all you need for respect
Now all these are gone and years have passed
But I never forgot that I was a village boy
About the Poet;
For more about Charles follow him @chalzz619 and see his blog at http://greendiarynotes.wordpress.com/
By Anneka Shannon
Originally published in Rose and Thorn Journal
The music floats and pulses and it is hard to imagine that it’s coming from another room. It keeps me here, grounded, and for a brief second I remember that I will love life again today or tomorrow or years from now. I listen to the way it drifts so easily, smoothly, on currents of wispy emotion. It feeds my emotion now. At first, I believe the mellow notes can help me to escape from the present, from my guilt and his hands, but then the violin wafts lengthy and howling into my ears. It reminds me of a dream from the night before—one of my favorites, one about my lover. The dream was bitter-sweet: a temporary pleasure. I try to escape to that dream, to let the bright-dream taste in all that yellow-ish gold enfold me into safety and delusion. I close my eyes and think of the scent of his skin, of the song he sings to me, but it is not his song in romantic whistles and tethered scales that I hear. It is still the violin outside. The disgusting taste of something I can’t recognize makes my face tighten and I open my eyes.
He strides over and slaps the side of my face for the second time. The room echoes with the clap. The shock hurts. He sighs. I can’t look in his eyes so I stare at his worn solider shoes. I was only a girl when I was first introduced to his solider shoes and his lonely life. We have failed together. I want to console him and tell him that I understand but I don’t dare. My great failure, the shame of the wayward woman, will be known by everyone.
I can tell that he is thinking about slapping me again, but he does not. Instead, he slams the door to put an end to the violin’s wail and removes his clothes. I notice almost shamefully as he lifts the blankets of our bed that his body is suddenly worn and bruised in comparison to the youth that had once belonged to it. He turns his back to me as if he feels my gaze. I wait, wondering like a child what I am supposed to do. Nothing shadows whisper. I turn my back to him. I stare into darkness, into the surrounding silence, limp and heavy and hanging from the ceiling.
He says nothing still, so I turn from my husband and leave his bed, just like so many other nights. The cold floor makes my feet numb. I feel dizzy and rest against the wall before I’ve even made it to the hallway. I have to catch my breath because I am learning new things about myself all too quickly. When I die, no one will forget my sin. I know already that I am doomed to hell.
And in the end, when we are all dead and this war is over, what will I be remembered for? I’ll be remembered as a disloyal, irrational woman, a beautiful woman, but none shall know the love I’ve suffered, or worse, the remorse I know better than my own hands when I hear that I am the one who should be blamed for the lack of a child between us. Guinevere, they say, is a cause for shame, an infamy to her husband and…
I pick myself up. I must stop from thinking. On wobbly legs, I return to his bed. I cannot do anything more but lift the covers and melt away.
My dreams that night, full of hate, sweep me up and surround me and I am allowed to whimper in fever and what I imagine the smell of afterbirth to be. I dream of all his men, the king’s men, each and everyone of them, burning each other and giving birth. Ice covers their hands, but fire burns on their lips while they ask for prayers and their pagan neighbors’ deaths. I watch from afar while they suffer, but I am not the queen that can help them. In the end, all is left with the wafty moans of a lone violin, melding its noise with the field and fire-blank of gray clouds. Arthur’s court, its players, arise and take a bow.
By Eric Staggs
They stood on the ancient ramparts together, watching the refugees stream into the city. The sunset behind them, the long shadows of the delicate spires of the great Aldohthiir City looked like dark teeth, raking the very land itself.
She wore her battle regalia, finely wrought, delicate-looking breastplate of bronze covered in runes and script, and leather pants with matching bronze greaves and bracers. Her arms, tanned and sculpted from her days campaigning in the Queens service, were bare save campaign tattoos and a collection of scars.
He stood next to her, his rightful place as lord-commander of her majesty’s armies. His armor, no less finely wrought, was mangled and dented. Deep gouges and scratches marred its surface. He wore pauldrons and a chain-scale skirt of bronze as well, his helmet lost on some distant field.
She turned to face him and he saw there were tears in her eyes.
“It’s all going to burn, won’t it, Marcus?”
“Just things, Zarana. Just things. Buildings can be rebuilt.”
“But it’s our home.”
“Not anymore. Now it’s a piece of history.”
She turned back to watch the refugees.
“I-I have to go.”
“What? Where? The armies are defeated. Even the Handmaidens are passing through the Gate.”
“You should be with them. You’re their leader.”
“I know.” she turned to him again, “I just wanted to look one last time.”
He nodded his understanding. This was the view they’d both enjoyed more than thirty years past, as young adventurers, tramping across the countryside, cutting a swath of daring-do, fighting the Great Orcs, almost single-handedly winning the first war. It was Marcus Tenibrass himself who struck the killing blow against the demi-god bastard of their beloved queen, sending the Great Orc hordes fleeing into the dark north.
“So where are you going? Won’t you be escorting the Queen with your Shayleen?”
“Zarana, the Shayleen are all dead. I’m going to hold the walls as long as I can, while you all pass through the Great Gate.”
“By yourself?” She was shaking her head, her typically unemotional demeanor lost. As the First Handmaiden, she was Master of the Queen’s Assassins and Protector, a position that required a level head at nearly all times.
“No, there are about two hundred of us that will stay.”
“I’ll stay to then.”
“No, I think you won’t. The Queen will need you, and the Handmaidens will need you.”
“Orc-son! You’re trying to keep the glory for yourself,” she tried to joke with him.
“We’ll be the last through, I promise.”
She moved forward suddenly and embraced him. He held her in turn, gently, though his armor made it awkward and then drew back. He looked into her eyes, slate and storms swirled there. He acted as if he were going to say something, but closed his mouth and left her, Zarana, First Handmaiden and Protector alone on the ramparts with her memories of their wild youth.
The Gate was ancient, and few knew exactly how its magic worked. The elder sorcerers and magi had consulted the most ancient scriptures and realized that the Gate was built into the city itself, and would consume settlement wholly. None of the magi or wizards or sorcerers could offer an explanation of what would happen to the city as the magical energies that fueled the Gate surged through it.
Many were optimistic, suggesting that the ancients knew this day would come to pass, and that the entire city would be transported through the gate.
Zarana, part of the Queen’s inner circle, had heard the archmages talking in hushed tones to their ruler. Many elder magic-users believed the energies required to open the gate, to rend open reality itself, would eat up the city, burn it to ashes from the inside out, leaving the refugees and their monarch alone, on a strange world.
A world without orcs, at least.
Zarana and her seven Handmaidens rode in a protective circle around the Queen’s carriage, Zarana at the rear, her tear-brimmed eyes ever watchful for that last threat, that final encounter that would render her decades of service inert. She’d told the courtiers that not even the Great Orcs of Northwild knew of the Gate, that their fears were unnecessary. It was a lie of course. In her years at court she’d learned to be diplomatic and outright treacherous when it was called for. She’d been warned by Marcus one day to never become the viper she guarded against so vigilantly.
She looked back, thinking of him, hoping she’d not become that viper.
The Gate loomed before the Queen’s entourage. A massive arc of stone, some hundred feet high, engraved with runes so old, so alien as to not even be recognized as ancient Aldothiir. They where strange and angular, jagged and altogether alien. Their meanings could only be surmised by even the most learned.
Zarana could hear the chanting of the mages grow louder, their strange words at once guttural and poetic. No stranger to wizards and their scuttling ilk, she reigned in her horse, a white mare with a golden bridle decorated with rubies, a gift from queen herself. She patted the beast’s flank and whispered nonsense words to it.
From the foremost gatehouse, using a spyglass, Lord Marshall Marcus Tenibrass could see his castle in the distance burning. He’d named it The Watcher’s Fortress when he ordered its construction. It was the last bastion of defense before the city, a wondrously advanced castle, complete with engineering marvels of his own design, a griffon aerie, and more. He’d personally collapsed the two-mile tunnel that led to the city, a tunnel that had taken three years and three thousand dwarves to cut through the very earth. It’s didn’t matter now he told himself, the griffons are all dead.
Much closer than his flaming home, Marcus saw the Great Orc horde, led by a vengeful albino orc, known as Ashkevar. The origins of Ashkevar were a mystery, but with him came thousands of white and grey orcs, covered in thick, short hair. They were the masters of the Northwilds, come to claim the southern lands as their own.
Comparatively few in number, the Aldothiir, with their war colleges and sorcery couldn’t stem the flow of orcish filth. It was the way of the Orcs, to breed in great numbers and overwhelm their foes, masses of them dying in the process. Marcus was shaken from his musings as a stone tipped arrow struck him square in the chest, shattering against his once-magnificent armor.
“That’s range, Balthasar.” He commented absently to his adjutant.
“Aye, Lord.” Balthasar, a young man of excellent stock, raised his arm and bellowed out the order for the last few archers to open fire with their flaming and poisoned arrows. The Great Orc drums could be heard over the din of onrushing war, and Marcus felt that rare and dangerous excitement grip his soul. He drew his sword, also a gift from the Queen, so long ago. The blade was called Marethuresa and was said to contain the spirit of a woman cavalier, a knight-errant of such virtue that she drove herself to madness pursuing the very source of evil upon the world. When she found it, Marethuresa knew there was only one way to combat it properly. She sought out an artisan and bade him craft a long sword of adamantine-silver with angelic wings and a red eye so baleful that evil would cringe and shrink from its gaze. This he did. Then Marethuresa took the blade to a powerful wizard whose name was lost in antiquity, the first of the war-casters, and offered her own soul to keep the blade alight with wrath. This he did.
Marcus breathed slowly as he held the powerful war-tool in his hand, feeling it tremble. The artillerists fired their siege engines, catapults, trebuchet and arbalests and still the orcs would not scatter. Still they came on. Marcus took Balthasar’s hand and nodded to him.
“It was a good life, Sir.”
“It was.” And Marcus leapt over the wall.
Zarana felt the air charge with energy, unnamable but palpable energy. The setting sun, normally an orange rose in the sky became green and the sky a deep purple, as the ritual encompassed the Aldothiir city. She watched the stone arch light up and radiate a keening sound. Colors took on shapes and sounds became raw sensations. Her horse stamped the ground, nearby one of her handmaidens was thrown from her mount. Great peals of thunder, consecutive and angry shook the ground, in the refugee column women and children cried out, men shook in silent terror. Zarana’s long, black hair began to stand up, to rise as energy coursed through the city, through her. She felt her heart begin to race as only it had in her youth when she foolish ran into battle alongside Marcus and her other companions, hacking her way through impossible odds. She grinned wickedly through her delicate gold-chain veil. The Magic was working.
For Balthasar, who’d grown up on stories of the exploits of his Lord Marshall Marcus Tenibrass and First Handmaiden Zarana, a chance to see his commander in battle, though he had no delusions it would be the last, was thrilling. The martial culture of the Aldothiir would not allow Balthasar to not enjoy this moment, the finality of it. His orders were clear however, and he stood with a few other apprentice swordsmen and watched the phenomenon occur.
Marcus had trained from the age of ten to fight with a long sword, his natural ability was stunning, and he soon mastered the various styles of the Aldothiir. He was given a dagger for his off hand and he became twice as deadly. Balthasar’s favorite story was during the First Orc Horde, before the final confrontation, when Marcus, clinging to the back of a mighty water serpent gouged out both its eyes with that dagger before returning to the surface. Then there was the Lord Marshall’s duel with the Queen’s own son-in-law, an uppity princling looking to usurp the throne.
None of the tales however, compared to what Balthasar and the others witnessed that dusk at what became known as the battle of Aldothiir Gate.
Marcus hit the ground in front of the main gate seconds before the orcs first reached it. Coming along was a battering ram, pushed by the seven foot Great Orcs, smaller orcs in elaborate and heavy plate armor followed along. In the distance, their leader, an albino orc in white furs rode a mighty snow drake. It was in that direction Marcus was heading.
He raised Marethuresa in his hand and set to his grim task. The first and nearest orc was beheaded in a single blow, the next had his throat opened, the next howled as his entrails were spilled tripping other orcs in bile and feces and flesh. The next died as a thrust speared his eye, and drove into his brain. The next found his weapon hand cleaved entirely from his arm, blood like a fountain, spraying Marcus’ and the nearby orcs. The next was also decapitated; another fell clutching his abdomen, another his throat, one screaming crawled off without his leg below the knee.
Marcus for his part was only warming up. The orcs were no match for him, even in greater numbers; they dared not get too close. He found himself chasing them back into their own oncoming allies. He leapt upon the approaching battering ram and swatted the heads from three of its haulers, then dropping behind it, to clove the rear axle with two quick, powerful blows.
From the ramparts and gatehouse, Aldothiir archers fired their arrows madly, supporting their frenzied commander. Orcs attempting to sneak up on Marcus from behind were holed through, the Aldothiir marksmen taking careful aim to put their arrows into the soft spot in the base of the great orcs’ skulls.
Marcus continued his ferocious assault, coolly dispatching orc after orc. Sparks flew in great arcs as his blade Marethuresa chewed through the enemies armor and then on into bone. In great droves the orcs fell, this one too slow, that one not strong enough, the next in the wrong place with his parry. The sight was magnificent and horrific. In decades and centuries to come, any bard who told the tale would begin by saying the traditional lines “Though story teller I be, I have but a few of the words that do justice to the heroism of those who stayed behind. And for your sake, I dare not speak the words that accurately explain the violence unleashed by the Lord Marshall.”
Balthasar saw the battering ram collapse and drew his own blade. “Time to die with a hero!” He called, leaping from the gatehouse ramparts. A cheer went up amongst the Aldothiir elite, who leapt after him into the fray, great peals of thunders followed upon their heels.
Zarana, her handmaidens and the queen’s entourage, were among the first Aldothiir to actually pass through the gate. The sensation was sickening, painful even. As the world resolved itself once again and time took up its normal march, Zarana found herself dismounted, one of her Handmaidens was gathering the horses, another trying to awaken those who had fallen unconscious. The sky was a brilliant azure stippled with daisy-seed clouds. Beneath her was a soft earth with grasses and foliage growing up between her fingers. A dense forest spread out around them, its canopy thick and the wind smelled sweet and stick, like fresh sap. As Zarana took in her new world, more and more Aldothiir began to materialize. It looked as if their spirits were materializing first, then their bodies.
“We’ve made it,” she whispered aloud.
Balthasar was killed when an orc crushed his knee with a heavy iron mace, and then on the return swing, stove in the young warriors face. Taken over completely by his bloodlust, the orc swung twice more, pulping the young Aldothiir’s skull.
Next to Balthasar was Tutra A’lis, another of the Lord Marshal’s students. He died when a heavy black blade landed on his shoulder and sunk deep into his body. The orc swinging the blade put his foot on Tutra’s chest and pushed off in order to free his broadsword from his victim’s corpse.
Pareth of House Narh, one of the few nobles to stay behind, was bleeding from a hundred minor cuts, nicks, and wounds when finally a combination of blows knocked his helmet free and sunk a blade into his face, across the ridge of his nose and bursting his eyes. He died a moment later as he was decapitated.
And so it went, as the elite of the Great Aldothiir nation fought desperately to buy time for their beloved queen and their friends and families. The enemy paid sorely for every foot of ground they advanced, the butcher’s bill counting well into the thousands of limbs, hundreds of heads, hundreds of thousands of buckets of blood.
Two hundred heroes fell that day, as the sky turned vile and the earth melted away around the Great Aldothiir city.
As for Lord Marshall Marcus Tenibrass, it was the last time he was seen on that world, chasing after the Orc Chieftain Askevar himself…
It took two years to build a settlement with a high enough wall to consider it safe. The Queen of the Aldothiir, who had known Zarana from a very young age, bade asked her to marry her last remaining son, Reenoran. Tired, and heartsick for the home she knew she’d never see again, for the friends she’d lost on that tragic day, Zarana quietly agreed, and retired from her life as Handmaiden and Protector of the Queen. She was became a princess, and simply existed.
It was difficult for her, watching the younger Reenoran try to rebuild the Aldothiir nation. The Queen seemed to have aged greatly since that day, since the Battle of the Gate, and she quietly withdrew from public life. The Aldothiir people, barely twenty thousand of them, could get on without her, she said.
Often she called Zarana to her to share honeyed drinks or wine. The Queen would ask stories of Zarana’s adventures in her service, and sit quietly listening to the tales. This always made Zarana sad, though she tried to hide it from the Queen. Each story included Marcus, the lost Lord Marshall. The Queen noticed this and one day spoke of it.
“I know, Zarana, that you do not love my son as you might have loved others.”
Shocked, Zarana shook her head in denial, and stammered an explanation. Had she been unsubtle? Had she been cold or callous towards the prince in some way? During some official function?
“Shh. Child. Mightiest of the Handmaidens you may be, but I am three hundred years older than you. I see, still. I know.”
“Shush. Bear him a strong son, and get you a headache. We’ve lost so much. You and I, Zarana, our lives were never our own. Yours was mine, and mine was theirs.” The Queen gestured to the growing city their balcony overlooked. Zarana turned her head and saw the chimneys of forges, signs of industry, the market was bustling and hawkers could be heard over the laughter of children in the streets. A town had grown up around their refugee camp, and commerce had begun and the young were once again being trained in the disciplines of the arts, craftsmanship, war and even magic. The Aldothiir people would live.
“My queen.” Zarana bowed her head.
The Queen stood and left, her skirts rustling as she did so. As she moved past Zarana, she touched her shoulder and squeezed it.
About the Author;
Eric Staggs is a graduate of the Creative Writing program of Columbia College Chicago. Eric received his MFA in Creative Writing from Full Sail University in 2011. Eric has been published in the Aviator Online Literary Magazine, Tales of the Talisman and Volume One. www.ericstaggs.com
Thank you for reading this issue of Larks Fiction Magazine. I hope you enjoyed our journeys into dream-scapes. Make sure to come back next week for more great indie fiction or see our emagazine edition on Smashwords.com