Welcome to Sunday Scribbles!
Today, part one of a two part story series, although both parts stand alone. It’s loosely based on my WIP, Second Chance at Destiny, (my POV character is Merlin), and it’s the creative piece I submitted for my recent university assignment so I had to meet certain requirements!
On the Horizon:
Trapped in a whirlwind of thoughts, I mistimed the swing of my axe again. It thudded into the tree stump, beside the precariously balanced log I’d aimed to split in two, and I winced as the movement jolted my shoulders. The splintered handle slipped in my sweaty hands, and the shrill laughter of the women peeling vegetables in a tight knit circle at the centre of the village tore at my heart. I dug my nails into my palms, leaving painful impressions the shape of the crescent moon, and checked the sundial beside our rickety wooden shack. Late afternoon. A neatly stacked pile of logs lay on the grass beside my stepbrother, George. I’d never be that efficient. Father should be home by now, berating me over my barely chopped pile.
My heart raced, pounding behind my ribs, and terror clouded my mind. I’d lost my father, become an orphan. No. I couldn’t think like that. The trade routes were safe, protected by the lord’s son and his knights… But he was late. So late. What if- I shook my head, adjusted my grip on my axe, and cut through my panic in a graceless arc.
‘Hey, watch it!’
I winced; axe buried in the dirt inches from George’s foot. ‘Sorry.’
His eyes burned with intensity. I released the axe and rubbed my fingers together, revelling in the familiar pull of magic. A flame flickered to life on the tips of my fingers. I snuffed it out and summoned it again. There, gone, there, gone, and strained my ears for the clack, clack, clack of hooves on the dirt track into the village. The women whispered critically; vegetables forgotten. George scoffed. Wood clattered. Villagers of all ages banged pots and chattered excitedly as dusk fell. But no hooves. No cart. No father.
The thud, thud, thud of George’s axe resonated in my skull. My knees hit the dirt beside the chopping block, fingers flickering uselessly as my nerves shattered. Murdered, dumped in a ditch by the side of the road. My stepmother would discard me like vegetable peelings on a compost heap and I’d be alone. Helpless, like the day fearful assailants surrounded my mother and drove a knife into her heart, and her warmth, her magic, faded forever as I trembled beneath the bushes. Balder knew no one escaped death, but the gods had cheated me once already, I couldn’t-
Rough hands yanked me to my feet. Sparks flew, falling listlessly into the pile of chopped logs at the side of the barn. George’s axe was wedged in the chopping block. He gestured to my pile of logs. ‘Stop daydreaming and get back to work!’
I recoiled and buried trembling fingers in my coat pocket to curl around my mother’s amulet. ‘But he’s late, aren’t you worried?’
He shrugged carelessly. ‘Probably held up at market.’
My stomach churned, and dread settled around my heart like an icy claw. ‘But what if he’s held up by bandits?’ I swallowed around the bile in my throat. ‘Dead, like my mother?’
‘Not this again! Logs. Now.’
I clenched my fists, desperate to summon sparks, but half the village scrutinised our exchange, low voices muttering words muted by the pounding of my pulse in my forehead. My shoulders shook. He was dead, trampled by the bandits’ horses as they sped off with his goods and left his bloodied, lifeless, corpse for the wolves. There was nothing I could do. Chest tight and breath stuck in my throat, I pulled my mother’s amulet from my pocket and grasped the cool, worn, metal. My heart clattered unevenly in my chest, in time with the clatter of hooves on dirt-
The amulet slipped through my fingers and landed beside the smouldering pile of logs. Dazed, I dashed towards my father’s cart. He dismounted, eyes weary in the dim light of the flickering torches bolted to the village wall, but alive. He raised his arms reluctantly, as if to embrace me. My smile fled, and I swayed uneasily as frustration overcame relief like a wave crashing against the shore. ‘You’re late!’
He lowered his arms and gestured to George. ‘Cart threw a spoke s’all.’
George rolled his eyes and hefted boxes from the cart to the barn. Power blazed through me, and I wrapped my arms around myself. I wasn’t strange! My father’s shoulders rose and fell with a deep breath, and he shook his head. ‘You shouldn’t worry. These trips, they’re perfectly safe.’ He sniffed deeply. ‘Is something burnin’?’
Thick, charcoal, smoke curled from the pile of logs, and the acrid stench of burning wood filled the air. I blinked away tears. I’d lost control, escalated the blaze, but they couldn’t know. ‘It wasn’t me!’
‘Buckets. Now!’ My father yelled. He shot an icy glare my way. ‘Stay right there.’
I stifled a sob, paralysed in place by the unspoken criticism ringing in my ears. No self-control, just like your mother. The logs cracked and split apart. Flames crackled with a blinding intensity, spreading rapidly to lick at the roof of the barn as George stalked to the well. He returned with a brimming bucket and shoved me aside to toss water over the flames. It wasn’t enough. The amethyst gemstone on my mother’s amulet glinted in the dirt, the colour of my eyes, she’d said. Blistering metal seared my skin as my fingers closed over it. I recoiled, scooped dirt onto it, gathered it up reverently, and dropped it into my pocket. ‘Let me help.’
George scowled. ‘Help? This is your fault!’
I worried my bottom lip between my teeth. ‘It’s not- I never meant-’
‘You want to help? Control your damned magic. If you can’t, go. And don’t come back.’
My world closed in. George yelled something to my father, but the panicked cries of the villagers drowned out his words. The woman and children cowering at the edge of the village would never forgive me. Neither would my father. Since the day it got my mother killed, he’d cautioned against magic, but the day she died, I lost my connection to him. I didn’t belong here. The frantic shouts, George’s disapproving glare, haunted me as I slipped over the wall, unwanted and unnoticed, and fled into the gloomy night.
I didn’t get far. Hands on my knees, shoulders heaving, I hesitated by the forest outside the village. Wolves prowled the roads at night. Leaving could wait. I huddled under a tree, tossing and turning restlessly to the cries of villagers battling flames.
The splatter of raindrops trickling down the back of my neck startled me awake. Dawn. The charred remains of the barn lay in a filthy pile. They’d rebuild, but last week’s harvest was irreplaceable. I stumbled to my feet and braced myself against the tree. I wouldn’t make it far on foot, but I didn’t want to spend another night in the rain. On the horizon, the Isle of Avalon rose above sprawling barren fields. Few dared ask the lord’s permission to ascend to the stone shelter at the top, and I’d make it by nightfall. Perfect. With a final glance at the ruined barn, I shook off the water droplets clinging to my hair and took my first steps towards the Isle.
By the time I reached the lord’s empty orchard at the base of the hill, speckled mid-afternoon sunlight peeked through the clouds. I scooped an apple from the floor and crunched into it. Juice dribbled down my chin. I wiped it away and caught my shimmering reflection in the sparkling pond at the heart of the grove. Rippling trout distorted my image. Trout. They wouldn’t miss a few apples. Pockets full, I left the lord’s neatly tended grounds onto an overgrown path.
Nettles scratched my hands as I shoved them aside. I stuck a stinging finger in my mouth, and the bushes rustled. I froze, heartbeat loud in the earthly silence of the forest. Nothing stirred. My thin boots crunched on fallen leaves as I darted, quick as a snake, under low tree branches and through a trickling stream. Thorns caught in my tatty coat, water seeped into my boots, but the hill emerged between the trees ahead. I smiled, adjusted my trajectory, and tripped on a tree root. Freefall, to the damp grass at the edge of the trees. A twig snapped. I summoned a fireball and tossed it into the rustling shrubs. A rabbit leapt from the flaming bush, and my stomach dropped. I huffed a shaky breath, wiped trembling, muddy, hands on my coat, and, boots squelching, began my ascent.
Clouds spun above the shelter atop the hill. A familiar frisson of power shivered through me as I brushed against the stone archway. Magic. My mother, when I was barely taller than the sheep roaming the Isle, whispered enchanting tales as we perched on the stone bench inside the shelter. The centre of magic, she’d called it. The dual arches either side offered little protection from the bitter chill, but I couldn’t risk alerting wild animals with a fire. I huddled in the corner on the rough cobblestone floor, coat draped over me.
As I wriggled damp toes in my soaked boots, the light faded and a far-off howl split the air. Smoke rose from cosy fires at the distant estate, crystal ponds and exquisite orchard hidden in the eerie twilight. The wolves would prey on the lord’s abundant livestock. No reason to roam here. But if they did… I took a shuddering breath and clutched my amulet to my chest, longing for the warmth and safety of the village, even if no one understood me since my mother- A fresh wave of grief drowned me, and the dam broke. Wretched sobs shook my shoulders and I curled in on myself. I longed for her protective embrace, but she wasn’t coming back.
Thanks for Reading!
Deciding where to cut the story in two was a nightmare. I wrote this in three parts, but part two was really short because word limits suck. In the end, I used the first two parts in this post and saved the final part for next week! Last week’s post on using life experiences to improve fantasy writing goes into a bit of detail on the creation of this piece 🙂
Take care everyone, it’s crazy out there!
This week’s Sunday Scribbles Prompt is Horizon:
Share lines with #sunscribbles every week on Twitter, or write a short story based around the prompt and share a blog link.