Welcome to Sunday Scribbles!
Today marks week 16 of the 52 week writing challenge!
The prompt for 23rd April is ‘Battle’:
This week’s attempt is related to that evil plot bunny that took over a couple of weeks ago, which involved a wizard and a train: Sunday Scribbles Writing Prompts, Week 14: Trains.
It is set in 16th/17th century England during the witch hunts, when many were accused of witchcraft. Chances are I’ll do a blog post on that in the future: It was one of the more interesting topics that I studied as part of my undergraduate degree.
Scrape. Scrape. Scrape.
‘What’cha doing?’ a young girl asked. She wandered closer and dropped to sit beside an elderly man.
The man continued to drag his knife over the wood. Scrape. Scrape. Scrape.
The girl’s eyes roamed over the wood, but she held her breath and remained still.
‘Preparing,’ the man grunted when she did not move away.
‘Preparing for what?’
The older man slammed his knife into the mud. ‘What does it look like?’
The young girl flinched. She glanced down at the large, slim branch on the man’s lap.
‘Defences?’ she suggested.
The older man raised an eyebrow and glanced around the empty clearing. ‘What is there to defend?’
‘Me!’ the girl protested. She huffed a sigh and ran a hand through her hair. ‘Because I have…’ she glanced around nervously and dropped her voice to a whisper, ‘magic.’
‘An who do you need defendin’ from?’ the man asked.
‘There’s an execution today…’ the girl began to protest.
‘More like a massacre,’ the man muttered.
‘Yeah…’ the girl looked away.
‘Lizzie,’ he murmured in a low whisper, ‘With the focus on the pyres in town, you will be safe here.’
Lizzie bit her bottom lip and looked away. She wandered to the edge of the trees and glanced towards the town. ‘I hope that you are right,’ she murmured.
‘When am I not?’ the man grinned. He pulled his knife free from the dirt and turned his attention back to the tree branch on his lap. After a few more scrapes, he glanced up again towards the girl. The setting sun framed her silhouette against the trees and the town. Her golden hair glowed as if it had been set aflame.
‘You should be more careful,’ he prompted as he reached her side. Once his fingers were pressed together, a few muttered words covered her open palm in water.
The flame extinguished.
‘I’m sorry,’ she murmured. She wiped her hand on her skirt and glanced up at him. ‘I just…’
‘Can’t help it,’ he finished for her. ‘I know. I used to be like you, once.’
‘Really?’ her eyes were wide and excited as she replied.
‘A long, long time ago,’ he admitted.
‘Nothing you should concern yourself with,’ he muttered.
‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ he cut her off to insist. Worn hands reached up to clasp at the insignia around his neck.
‘What’s that?’ Lizzie wondered. She leaned closer to glance at the golden dragon in his hand.
‘A reminder of who I was,’ he replied with a wistful look towards the town.
‘If you don’t want to talk about it, why do you keep that?’ Lizzie prodded.
The man ignored her and stalked away down the beaten dirt track towards town.
‘None of my business, got it,’ Lizzie muttered. ‘I’ll make stew for when you get back!’
He did not reply, but she could see a hint of a grin as he stalked towards the town. With a spring in his step, and nary a glance backwards, the older man clutched his pike and went into battle.
By the time he reached the edge of the town, thick black smoke already rose over the walls. He flipped the pike over in his hands so that the deadly spike faced downwards, and hurried up to the gates.
‘I’m here for the execution,’ he grunted.
‘Just in time,’ the guard assured him.
‘Wait!’ a second guard ordered. He held out a hand in front of the old man. ‘Not a protester, are you?’
The old man schooled his features and lied, ‘No, my daughter was killed by one of them witches. I want to see justice done.’
‘Let him in,’ the first guard insisted. ‘I know what it’s like to be wronged by witches.’
‘How is your son?’ the second guard asked as he lifted his arm.
‘He’ll recover, but there’s no doubt he will struggle to trust a woman’s affections again so freely.’
His companion nodded and waved the old man through. He clutched his pike and shuffled past them into a throng of people. Large piles of wood were set up in the centre of the courtyard. Guards lined the outskirts of the smouldering pyres. There was no way through.
A staircase caught his attention to the left. The old man shoved his way through the crowd towards it. Perhaps he would be better off if he assaulted them from above. The battlements were reserved for the royal family, lords and ladies, but that didn’t matter. He could get through.
He shoved up his hood to cover his face as he reached the staircase to the upper battlements.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ a guard growled as he grabbed the man’s shoulder. The man let his fingers meet in front of him, and he muttered a few words. As soon as they began to glow, he stuffed his hands under his robes to hide the evidence of his magic.
When the guard swung him around, he was no longer a old man, but a maiden dressed in the finest garments.
‘I am to join my father on the battlements,’ the old man in disguise huffed. He winced at how high pitched his voice was, and sent his best glare towards the guard to show that he was serious.
‘Oh, my lady, I am so sorry,’ the guard released his hold and bowed.
‘You are forgiven, but I really must hurry,’ the old man insisted.
‘Of course. As you were,’ the guard replied. He bowed again and turned as drums began to beat a monotonous march.
The old man left his glamour in place and strode up the stairs. He paused halfway up to shoot a glance towards the drums. The pounding beat muffled the scuffled footsteps of the accused as they were led out. Some had their heads down, resigned. Some stared blankly ahead. One was only a boy, glued to the side of a young woman beside him. Her brown eyes were wide and full of tears as she was shoved from behind towards the pyres.
‘I didn’t do anything wrong!’ she protested, as she struggled against the ropes that bound her.
The crowd jeered and threw rotten vegetables towards her. The old man scowled as he reached the top of the battlements. Still in disguise, and short as he was, the nobles were quick to part and let him stand at the front. He attempted a smile of gratitude towards them, but all he could manage was a grimace as he watched the guard below shove the captive woman forward.
‘Keep your mouth shut, witch,’ the guard ordered.
‘Please, I have two young children, they need their mother!’ the woman protested. She began to struggle in earnest.
Her cries were drowned out by the roar of the crowd. ‘Guilty.’ ‘Burn her.’
None of the crowd showed remorse. To do anything but throw vegetables and yell insults was an admission of guilt. Fear and paranoia had spread like wildfire. With each season that passed, more people were accused of using magic, sentenced to death. He could not save them all.
There was a sharp smack as the guard’s gauntlet connected with the side of the woman’s head. A thin line of blood trickled down her cheek as she fell to the floor. The old man gripped his pike and scowled down at the scene below him.
People were ignorant to his kind. If these women were truly witches they would not have let it come to this. Everyone with real magic knew how to unlock a cell. Better to run and prove your guilt, than die by fire.
There were safe havens for people like him. After he had freed the accused, he would take them to the largest one, the Blessed at Stonehenge, with Lizzie in tow. He smiled. The young girl had so much raw magical talent, so much promise.
A roar went up throughout the crowd and startled the man. Now was not the time for such thoughts. The guards had pushed the first victim towards the pyre.
He lifted his pike in his hands and began to chant.
Worried whispers sounded in the crowd as all around them, men began to appear. Men with pikes, tinted with a magical aura, surrounded the pyres. His own army.
‘Magic… this happened at Framlingham too,’ a noble beside the old man uttered.
A smirk lit up the old man’s face. That was him too. Panicked nobles shoved their way off the battlements and through the heavy wooden doors into the castle. Cowards.
‘Find the source!’ the lord of the castle cried from behind the old man as he drew his sword. ‘Kill it, and the rest will die too.’
A scowl slipped onto his face. ‘I am not an it!’ the man retorted. He swung his pike at the lord with surprising strength.
‘Guards!’ the lord yelled. His sword dug into the pike as he launched a counter attack.
Face twisted in concentration, the old man brought his hands together around the pike and began to chant.
The pike rose into the air, lord, sword and all. A yelp and a crash as the lord lost his grip and hit the floor did not break the old man’s concentration. The pike vibrated. Duplicates began to form in the air. Guards scattered, as with a wave of the old man’s hand, pikes shot towards them.
A sharp cry drew the man’s attention behind him. The lord had flown to his feet and hurtled towards him. The man turned and leapt into the air. His hands closed around a pike, and he shot forwards with it towards the ground into the middle of the fray.
Up on the battlements, hands closed over nothing. The original pike and sword hung frozen, suspended in the air for just a second, before they clattered down to strike the lord square on his head. Down below, the guards gave an angry shout and charged.
Surrounded, protected, by clones of himself, the old man glanced around for the victims.
His eyes met that of the terrified mother from earlier. A quick nod in her direction, and she was free of her bonds. Despite his warped features from his fading disguise, she still pushed through the men with pikes and guards to stand by his side.
‘Where are the others?’ he yelled over the clang of swords against wood.
‘Over there,’ she reached out an arm and pointed towards the pyres.
Flames flickered higher now. Obscured by the smoke, no doubt smothered, cowered four women and a small boy. A weathered hand reached out to beckon them over.
Glances were shared between the women. Hesitant, unsure. The young boy did not hesitate. He ran towards them and clutched the woman’s leg. Spurred on by the trust of a child, the others filtered over to him. A quick spell removed their bonds.
‘You saved us…’ the eldest woman muttered.
‘Not yet,’ he retorted. His pike swung in the direction of the gates, where his army continued to fight the guards. ‘Have to get out of here first.’
‘You have magic,’ a second woman murmured. ‘Real magic… None of us can use it.’
‘That much is obvious,’ the old man huffed.
He muttered a spell. Cobble paving stones rose up under the feet of the guards as they moved backwards to dodge the pikes. They tripped and hit the floor, stunned.
‘Go!’ the old man yelled.
Fear drove them towards the exit. A fireball swelled in the old man’s hand. He drew back his arm to fling it forward. Flames hit the ground in front of the guards as they struggled to get to their feet. The way was clear.
One of the women let out a cry as she reached the gates. Her body flew backwards, a limp rag doll. The old man turned to face the two guards on the gate.
‘Get out of my way,’ he yelled, voice rough and harsh. His eyes were eerie, lit by the fire in his hands.
One of the guards glanced into the courtyard, and then back at the man in front of him. Chaos. Fire. A sword clattered to the floor from his trembling hand. He turned and ran.
The second guard held his ground. ‘Can’t let you past.’
There was a groan from the floor in front of him. A hand reached out, bloodied. The guard grimaced and looked away. The distraction was all that the old man needed.
Fingers met. Hands glowed. A sword levitated. The heavy hilt crashed down upon the guard’s head. Eyes fluttered closed. He lost consciousness and clattered to the ground.
‘Grab her,’ the old man ordered.
Two younger women supported their comrade. The group breached the castle gates and lost themselves in the chaos and confusion outside. Unnoticed, they slipped from the town and made for the forest. Darkness fell and blanketed their escape.
The edge of the forest loomed ahead, but no fire flickered between the trees. Lizzie had done well to conceal the camp from sight.
A chill settled over him as he came upon their camp site. A half finished stew sat over the fire, but the fire had gone out. Lizzie was no where to be seen.
‘Wait here,’ he ordered the women and small boy.
Quick steps took him on a circle of the camp site. Nothing.
A sudden scream pierced the air. Swift steps led him deeper into the forest, to another clearing. A quick hand to his mouth muffled his gasp as Lizzie’s blood splattered the forest floor. A guard tossed her body aside, limp and lifeless, throat cut.
The old man reached out a hand, as if to go to her, but his magic held him in place. Harsh laughter penetrated the woods as the guards began to walk away. He sank to his knees and clutched at his necklace. Wrong. How could he be so wrong?
A rough movement tore his necklace from his neck. It glinted in the light of his own magic, a harsh reminder of his first failure. The reminder had not helped to prevent further failure. It was worthless. No matter how great his magic, he could never protect those that he cared about most.
He stood and let the necklace fall from his fingers. A harsh step forward with his boot crushed it into the dirt. He had failed again. He would not allow himself the chance to fail a third time. Eyes closed, fingers pressed together, he did not look back as he teleported away.
Thanks for reading! I enjoy writing about this immortal(?) old man. He now has a whole universe centred around him!
Featured image credit: Pixabay
Next Sunday’s prompt:
The prompt for Sunday 30th April is ”Sand/Desert.’
If you try next weeks prompt yourself, let me know how it goes. Post your attempt on your blog on the 30th of April, and leave a link in the comments below this post so that I can read it 🙂
If you can attempt the prompt in less than 140 characters, you can also #sunscribbles on Twitter. I am super interested to see what you all come up with 🙂