Defying the Prophecy – Thursday Threads

Angerona’s lifeless hand slipped from Sirona’s grasp. It rested peacefully over her heart as she conjured a smile.

“I am sorry, my child. I tried to prepare you.  Know that his fate is tangled with your own.”

Sirona bent closer, straining to catch every word.

“Follow the Vovk Codex,” she exhaled, and the last ember faded in her coal-black eyes.

Numb, Sirona couldn’t breathe, couldn’t cry, couldn’t believe she was gone. Not now. Not when she needed her guidance to fix this. Angerona had shrouded truth in her fanciful stories of myths and legends far removed from reality. It was a childish game of Hide and Seek and pretty rewards. Until three days ago, when the threats became real.

“It’s not your fault. You did everything possible.”

The words, filtered by dark despair and red-hot anguish, seeped into her mind.  Ralph stood beside her. His presence didn’t comfort her, it only fueled her rage.

“She was lucky to live so long.”

“You imbecile. With her death, there is nothing I can do to prevent the prophecy,” Sirona rose from her spot next to Angerona to confront Ralph.

“Without her, you will die.”

“You can’t know that.”

“Were you not listening? Ralph, magic is against you and your supporters. They killed Angerona. Do you realize what they’ll do to you?”

“I don’t plan on dying.” Ralph’s face turned red and the veins in his neck throbbed.

“You haven’t got a chance.”

“The prophecy didn’t state names. There is always a chance.”

__________________________________________

Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer

https://ko-fi.com/johawkthewriter#

Courtyard Conflict — Ralph and the Prince Part IV

If you missed anything you can read
Part I,  Here.
Part II, Here.
Part III, Here.

“Uzair… Uzair, come quickly. I need you,” D’ArtAnna called, sprinting under the pergola. It was encased with gnarled, twining wisteria vines.

Ralph ran behind her. The dense stems, thicker than his thigh, created an impenetrable wall forcing them to follow the flagstones laid in intricate patterns on the path’s floor. A hundred yards further, the tunnel ended in a circular courtyard bathed in sunlight. Ralph slowed, blinking, surprised by the size and the light, the fortress was larger than he had expected. Overhead a cheerful, cloudless blue sky greeted them. Along the perimeter were stone structures that towered four stories up the side of the constricting mountain. They gave the appearance of being carved from the black granite cliff by a brilliant stonemason.

D’ArtAnna’s pace had not slowed. She led them left, crossing the yard toward a shorter structure that seemed separated from the rest of the buildings.

“Uzair, help me,” she called.

To Ralph’s right, a door opened, and a massive, bulking figure ducked under a low lintel.

“I’m coming. What’s the…” his voice trailed off as he straightened, taking in the scene unfolding in front of him. Without thinking, he pivoted and charged at Ralph.

Standing tall, Uzair reached his full height. He was a giant. Ralph froze in his tracks to face him head-on. Uzair’s eyes burned with rage, his long, coal-black hair fanning out behind him as he ran. He stretched his arms wide revealing a broad well-muscled chest with strange tattoos. Ralph guessed this guy could squash his skull with a single massive hand.

“Great, this monster means to kill me,” Ralph muttered. The space between them was closing fast. Ralph held his ground, quelling his instinct to run, he knew he faced certain death. The earth shook with Uzair approach, his intention to protect D’ArtAnna was clear. Ralph’s calculations told him he had only one advantage.

A moment before they collided, Ralph danced sideways, ducking under the giant’s outstretched arms, he extended his foot to catch the man’s ankle in mid-stride. The palms of Ralph’s hands kissed the stones, and he tumbled past Uzair. Off-balance, grasping at thin air, Uzair stumbled, landing hard on his face, he howled. The noise echoed through the complex.

Ralph jumped to his feet, his gaze never leaving Uzair, he peddled backward, inching closer to the prince.

“Hey. Wanna call off your dog?” Ralph yelled as the big man began to rise from the pavement.

D’ArtAnna had reached the entrance and unbolted the door. She swung to look at them, groaning when she realized what had happened.

“Damm it, Uzair. Leave him alone, he won’t hurt anyone. I require your help to get him inside. Now Uzair,” she commanded, and she returned to access the prince’s condition.

Confused, Uzair stood motionless, his eyes darting from his mistress to Ralph.

Ralph raised his arms, both palms facing Uzair, he continued moving in the prince’s direction.

“Uzair, if Prince Kennward dies, it will be your fault,” she said over her shoulder.

“Prince Kennward?”

The name prodded Uzair to action, he sprinted to D’ArtAnna, pushing her out of his way. He grabbed the prince and in a fluid movement, rolled him off the horse. He cradled the limp prince against his chest like a small child.

“Where?”

“The cot in the middle of the infirmary,” she said, pointing at the opening. Uzair strode past her, stooped down and twisted his body sideways, making sure he didn’t bang the prince’s head against the doorjamb, he disappeared inside. D’ArtAnna followed. Pausing in the doorway, she glanced back at Ralph.

“Sire, I will need your services too,” she said then vanished. The scent of gardenias remained.

Looking around the empty courtyard, Ralph heard birds singing, the stallion moved, shifting his weight. He patted the animal’s neck.

“I’m not sure who she thinks she’s talking to, but I’ll see to you soon, boy. Thanks for getting us to safety. Pray he lives. Okay?”

The stallion bobbed his head as Ralph stepped through another doorway.

__________________________________________

Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer

https://ko-fi.com/johawkthewriter#

Your Majesty — Ralph and the Prince Part III

If you missed anything you can read
Part I,  Here.
Part II, Here.

The Lucciola moved arrow-swift along the gloomy forest trail as the exhausted stallion struggled to follow. Ralph’s skin tingled, and he glanced behind him. He saw nothing except the dust kicked up from flying hooves, but his gut told him they were being followed. The dawn’s growing brightness provided no comfort for him and he worried about seeing the Lucciola in the daylight. The panting and lathered horse began to slow.

“We’re killing him,” Ralph thought then he noticed amber orb had slowed as well.

The glow veered to the left of the trail and stopped. In the stillness, Ralph heard a faint hum emanating from their guiding light.

“Are we lost?”

They bounced in the air, synchronized with the beat of his voice, then they moved further into the woods. The stallion leaped backward, turning his head right, he stepped toward the road. Ralph slid from the animal’s back and coaxed him in the opposite direction. His nervousness wasn’t calming the horse. There was no trail here, no signs anyone had ever passed this way. The Lucciola beckoned, inching deeper into the forest.

“Come on, boy.”

Ralph’s voice shook and his shoulders drooped as he pulled the stallion’s reins. He responded by tossing his mane, neighing his defiance his eyes rolled, and he backpedaled. Ralph grabbed the bridle.

“Ah, please,” he said trying to soothe himself as much as the horse. Ralph wondered if the sound pounding in his ears belonged to his beating heart or their unseen pursuers.

In the forest’s stillness, tree limbs swayed, the grasses whispered, and a brisk wind swept across the road pushing them towards their fate. Committed, they picked their way over uneven ground, around brambles, and under branches, trusting Sirona’s enchantments. The broken terrain transformed, becoming a thin line, an almost discernible footpath.

The prince moaned dragging Ralph’s attention away from the light they followed. A heavy gray mist, shrouded the small party, cutting them off from any return.

“Forward then,” Ralph said as if he had another choice.

Their journey twisted, winding back and forth, as they navigated a decent. Ralph swore he heard rushing water. They spiraled upward, the path curling through an ancient stand of gnarled pines. The ground turned to stone, and they climbed into the silent haze.

The stallion’s hooves clicked on granite steps as he bounded higher and the prince groaned with each jarring movement. They continued the winding ascent up the hillside.

“How much further?” Ralph asked, surveying the damp rock walls. Moisture dripped from the vegetation clinging in the cracks, but the Lucciola had disappeared.

“You’ve got to be kidding. We’re in the middle of nowhere. We can’t even turn to go back. You’re supposed to help me save him,” Ralph shouted. The dank air downed his words and he leaned against the wall.

“Damn it.” Ralph beat his fists against the rough surface.

The horse nudged him, pushing him off balance, he stumbled up the next step.

“All right,” Ralph yanked the reins, pulling the horse’s head as he regained his footing. They stared, each eyeing the other for a moment.

“Yes. You’re correct,” he said stroking its muzzle, “It’s not like we have options.”

A few yards ahead the stairs ended in a flat circular space. A solid wooden door, which appeared to be part of the stone, greeted them. Ralph dropped the reins and walked to it. Grabbing the wrought-iron handle, he pulled, then he pushed, jamming his shoulder against it with all his weight. It didn’t budge. Shaking his head, he tapped three times.

They waited. The stallion pranced in the tiny courtyard, blowing air through his nose. Ralph stood on one foot then the other.

He knocked again. Harder this time.

Ralph surveyed the enclosure. Overhead, an outcrop protected them from the elements. They could pitch a camp here, rest for a while and try to make the prince comfortable. He moved to the prince’s side, ready to slide him from his seat when he heard the sound of grating metal. He turned to face the unknown. Someone was releasing the bolt. Shuddering, the heavy door tore free from its seal, the hinges screeched, and it opened inward revealing a blinding light.

The stallion shied, moving back a pace while Ralph raised his hand, blocking the glare to see what lay inside. The sweet aroma of gardenia wafted into the courtyard. A figure obscured the brightness and stepped onto the stone floor.

Iridescent emerald-colored robes floated before him. Flashes of shocking bright blue took his breath away. Shimmering rosy opals circled an alabaster pink neck and spilled down the front of her gown. Green tinted white hair tumbled in long strands that sparkled as she moved. Captured by her coal-black eyes, he stood unable to move, incapable of speech.

“Oh,” she said, smiling in a way that made Ralph’s heart race.

“Your Majesty,” she bowed her head and dropped into a deep curtsey. Ralph turned, looking at his friend who was still unconscious, his body draped across the horse’s back. The dark cloak proudly displayed the prince’s royal crest.

“Ahem, no. He is Prince Kennward, son of King Alaric of Otsolurra,” Ralph stuttered as he tried to imitate the herald’s announcements at court.

“Ah, Sirona sent us. Well, she enchanted the Lucciola…” he stopped when the woman lifted her face and blinked. He took a deep breath and began again.

“He has been poisoned by our enemies. She administered something… an elixir? She said D’ArtAnna could save him. Can you help him?”

“I am D’ArtAnna,” she stated as she rose, and brushed past Ralph. She raised the prince’s head, and prying his eyes open she gazed into them. Slender fingers with emerald green nails pressed into his neck.

“Hmm,” she muttered then picked up the reins, “You may have gotten here just in time. Follow me. We don’t have a minute to spare.”

She sprinted toward the entryway, her robes billowing behind her, she didn’t look back. Without another word, Ralph followed. In the distance, the portal banged shut, and he heard the bolt clang, locking into place.

__________________________________________

Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer

https://ko-fi.com/johawkthewriter#

Tonight, We Will Not Die — Ralph and the Prince Part II

Back by popular demand is Part II of a story I wrote last week, “Into the Night”.
If you missed it, you can read it here.  Or read on.

Ralph had lost track of time. Every muscle in his body screamed. He struggled to maintain his precarious position on the horse’s back while keeping the Prince’s unconscious form from tumbling to the ground. The black stallion broke his pace and Ralph allowed him to have his head. They both needed the break.

The punishing ride slowed to a steady stride, and he shrugged his shoulders, allowing himself to relax. Stretching, he felt blood seep into hands numb from holding the reins in a death grip. The horse blew air through his nostrils and Ralph copied the animal’s actions. As his mind cleared, he counted. Three times they had completed a circuit. Moving at the fastest pace he dared, he alternated from a canter to a trot and a walk, conserving their strength.

Deciding he could use the exercise; he slid his right leg around and jumped to the ground. He landed hard on stiff legs, and stumbled, clinging to the saddle and the prince so he wouldn’t fall. He cursed, forcing his limbs to move.

“Where are we?” The Prince’s voice was groggy, muffled in the horse’s mane.

“We should be getting close,” Ralph lied.

The Prince lifted his head, turning it towards Ralph, but the movement made him heave the contents of his stomach. Ralph jumped to the side to avoid the worst of it. He dug into his pocket, retrieved a handkerchief and wiped the prince’s mouth.

“What happened to you?” Ralph asked.

The Prince shifted his position again, rising a little higher in the saddle.

“Sirona said they poisoned me…”

“Sirona was with you?”

“Yes, she gave me something,” he said fumbling at the pouch strapped to his side. It was clear the effort was too much from him and Ralph stepped closer.

“May, I?”

The Prince dropped his hand and nodded.

“The note,” he whispered. He slumped over the horse’s neck again and his eyes closed.

Ralph steadied him, then undid the pouch’s buckled closure and fished out the folded parchment. He could feel the seal as he turned it in his hand. He glanced at the prince who was once again unconscious and wondered if he should try to wake him. Sighing, Ralph figured given their circumstances he could beg for forgiveness later. If the prince lived.

His decision made, he squinted at the letter and almost dropped it. Glowing above the Prince’s wax seal was his name.

“Well, all right, then.”

He cracked it open and unfolded his message. As he pressed back the folds, glittering sparks escaped. They coalesced into a ball, hovering over the sheet of paper. Their amber glow provided enough illumination for him to read the delicate handwriting.

 

Ralph,

With luck, you have found the Prince. If he still lives, then the elixir I administered is slowing the poison, but his life hangs in the balance.  You must reach D’ArtAnna as quickly as possible. I have enchanted the Lucciola to guide you to her. I estimate he only has a few hours.  

Our enemies are strong, and they are everywhere. Sir Felton and Jean-Christophe were dead when I found the Prince. Trust no one, dearest Ralph.

Keep yourself alive and Save our beloved Prince,

Sirona

 

He refolded the message, and the Lucciola rose, floating forward to hover above the stallion’s head. With a trembling hand, he jammed the paper into his pocket and mounted.

Sir Felton and Jean-Christophe were the bravest fighters in the Kingdom and Ralph wasn’t a match for either man, even on his best day.

“Dead,” the Lucciola bounced in the air at the sound of his voice.

“Ok, you. Lead the way,” he said. Resuming his place behind the prince, he placed his hand on the royal black cloak.

“I promise you. Tonight, we will not die.”

The stallion shook, and with a prancing step, he followed the Lucciola. They proceed along the forest trail as dawn’s first tendrils filtered through the branches. Ralph urged the horse to move faster.

“Tonight, we should be fine. It’s tomorrow I’m not so sure about.”

__________________________________________

Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer

 

Into the Night – Flash Fiction

Ralph’s legs burned. He clutched his ribcage and rubbed the twitching muscle which begged him to stop. The intercept lay two hundred yards ahead. Holding the flaming torch higher he inhaled, hardened his resolve and pushed himself forward.

His blood beat in his ears and he struggled to quiet his breathing. He slowed, as he approached the archway. Moving with caution, he allowed the flames to illuminate his surroundings and he checked the shadows. No one lurked, no sign of ambush. Beyond the opening was a solid wall, his choice was to turn north or south. His torch showed nothing but an empty corridor running in both directions.

“Am I too late?” he wondered.

Somewhere water dripped, creating a steady cadence that echoed in the dark tunnel. Ralph leaned forward. He twisted his head to the right, extended his left arm to push the sputtering light as far from his ears as he could manage. He strained to decipher the second sound hidden in the reverberations. It was almost imperceptible, but there was the sound of a slow plodding horse.

“We’re in a race against time. Why would he move so slowly? Was it someone else? A trap?”

The flame crackled and sputtered. It had served its purpose, and he extinguished it. His eyes adjusted to the darkness, and he listened again. It was difficult to figure the direction of travel, but the footfalls grew clearer, getting closer. If it was the prince, he would approach from the south. Ralph moved to the right side of the arch hidden from whoever approached but granting him an unobstructed view of the corridor.

He waited, as the steady trod advanced toward him.

A tall black stallion proceeded into the intersection, carrying a large dark bundle. Ralph stepped around the archway and peered into the darkness. Nothing and no one followed. He clicked softly.

“Whoa, boy,” he said. The horse snorted and stopped.

As he moved closer, he could tell it wasn’t a pack, but a man strapped to the horse’s back. Ralph made soothing sounds, reached for the bridle and led the stallion into the shadows. He patted its neck and turned his attention to the rider. The man’s black cloak bore the royal crest. He lifted his head twisting his face towards him.

“My Prince?”

His eyelids fluttered, and he struggled to focus.

“Ralph,” he said, “Ralph, we must hurry. No time to….”

He didn’t wait to hear more. He mounted, situating himself behind the slumped form, his feet found the stirrups and he grabbed the reins.

“Yah,” he called as he leaned over the prince’s body. The horse jolted forward, and they raced into the night.

__________________________________________

Keep on writing.

Jo Hawk The Writer