The great thing about writing prompts that other people provide is that they can force you out of your comfort zone. I think of it as a genre-bending opportunity. We Drink Because We’re Poets Short Story Prompt #6 is one of those chances. Unlike previous efforts on these prompts, I think it’s important that you get the prompt before you read the story. So, click on that link and listen to the music that serves as the prompt. Or listen to it here …
I listened to this and all I hear is something that reminds me of Lord of the Rings. My first words on this story started sounding like I was going to write something similar to the Riders of Rohan and I hated that idea. The last thing I want to do is write fan fiction. Not that there’s anything wrong with it for people who enjoy that. It’s just not my cup o’ tea.
While I was on my bike ride, I got inspiration. Which, by the way, it’s amazing how often that happens while I’m on that two wheel conveyance. I fixed our broken air conditioner this morning while on my bicycle. (Yes, really, I did. It stopped working yesterday during our party for my son’s high school graduation. When the temperature was 108 and we had 25-30 people in our house. At one point, the thermostat in the house reached 90 degrees. I was convinced the air conditioner was dead. But, while riding this morning, I had a thought — maybe it had just overloaded the circuit and flipped the breaker. Got home, checked the breaker and that’s what happened. Whew.) I wrote a blog post in my head — one that I haven’t actually put into written form yet. And, I came up with the idea for this story. So, here it is…
ALPIN MACRAE (by the way, it needs a better title … got any ideas?)
Across the plain they stretched. Horses and their riders. Warriors encased in iron holding weapons forged by blacksmiths in villages scattered across the heartland. Handed down from father to son for generations. Weapons that had killed many men, good and bad.
The horses stomped and stamped and blew air warmed in their powerful bodies’ interiors. The steam pouring out of their nostrils and rising from their withers blended with the low lying fog that shrouded the lines.
There was silence except for the clanking of metal on metal. The whinnying and snuffling of the horses. The fog muffled everything else. The cold could not muffle the smell of sweat. Of fear and of death. It could not stop the darting of eyes of the men who waited. Of the twitching of the horses’ ears. There are horses that are bred for racing. Horses bred for farming. And horses bred for war. Just as a thoroughbred knows what is to come in a race, a warrior horse knows as well what awaits. Life and death.
As the minutes stretched, the horses quieted and stilled. The men steadied their pikes, gripped their swords harder. They held their shields closer and looked out upon the battlefield as the fog began to slowly lift. Where the bodies of men and horses killed the day before still lay. Lifeless eyes stared back at them in silent accusation. Several hundred yards distant stood the enemy, a line of horseflesh and warrior equally as proud and powerful. Equally resolute in their desire to protect their homeland, as they had been told was the purpose for this latest incursion.
To get to this place, the warriors had ridden across dying plains. Through villages still smoldering from the ruins of war, passing trails of survivors trudging in the opposite direction. Their belongings wrapped in packs strapped to their backs or piled in wheelbarrows pushed by the sons too young yet to fight.
The men rode because they were told this was the way. To fight and to die for their country. For their King. With enemies gathering, the warriors were told it was their only choice. To fight. To fight. To never stop fighting. Only their final breath could take the fight out of them. This is what they had been told.
With a thrust of his sword, the King called his men to action. “Men. It is time!! Now. Fight. Fight for your family! Fight for your land! Fight to the death!” The King whirled his horse around once. He peered at the enemy and whirled around again. He faced his men. “To me!! For our lives.”
Across the dying plain, riddled with bodies of their comrades, the last warriors gathered themselves and burst forth, sweeping past the King and towards the death that surely awaited them. “Fight on!! Fight on!!” The King shouted to them as they rode past and his vanguard circled him.
As the horses and their riders surged, one held back. Alpin Macrae quieted his horse, whispering to him, “Easy Felder. Steady.” He stood in his stirrups and then began to ride forward. Gathering speed, he cast his shield aside. Trusting faithful Felder to follow the path and keep him steady, he released the reins and gripped his sword with both hands, holding it to his side ready to swipe his foes aside.
Straight to the center of the line Alpin charged. As he approached the King’s rear guard, Felder seemed to grow in height and in girth. From a great height, Alpin began to sweep the sword from side to side. Blindly, he struck aside the King’s men, while Felder barreled on towards the King. The sword his father had handed to him from his death bed, which first killed a man many decades prior, in the hands of Alpin’s great-grandfather, cleaved a path.
Breathless, Alpin brought Felder to a stop before the King, who had turned at the chaos behind him.
“This … must … stop,” Alpin screamed.
“Who are you?” The King spit the question out.
Alpin rose up and thrust his chest out. “Alpin Macrae, my Lord. My father rode in your father’s guard for many years.”
The King’s face lightened at that. “What must stop, my son?”
“This war. The fighting. The slaughter of good men. On both sides.”
The light left the King’s face and he grimaced. “You know what you are doing?”
“Yes. Begging you to see that this little patch of land is not worth the death of so many men. Of leaving more families without their fathers, brothers, sons.”
“You are a foolish one.” The King smiled patiently. “If we lose here, it will only be a matter of time before they advance to the river and then take the river. And when they take the river, they will have the freedom to roam our lands. Pillaging and plundering and raping your mother, your sisters. Your daughters.”
“My Lord. How many battles have been fought over this field? How many men have died?” Alpin stopped and guided Felder a pace or two closer to the King. He lowered his voice. “How many times have we lost this field and they have not advanced any further?”
The King’s face darkened further. In the distance, the sounds of renewed fighting could be heard. Men screaming, horses whinnying in fright. Metal on metal, only louder and more violent then when the men were at rest before their charge.
“I would have one of my guard dispose of you now,” the King sneered. “But you are a traitor and I reserve the pleasure of disemboweling traitors to myself.”
They raised their swords in unison. The King growled. Alpin did not shrink. As they brought their legendary weapons down in an attempt to smite the other, an errant arrow from the battle whistled through the air and buried itself into the soft part of the King’s armor under the shoulder of his upraised arm.
The King fell to the ground and in the frenzy that followed was trampled by his own horse.
Alpin looked down at the King. A deep silence filled his head blocking out the sounds of the battle. Until he returned his gaze to the warriors and saw that they had stopped their mutual assault. Instead, they all, ally and enemy, had paused and turned to the fallen King.
There was no more war that day. Nor for many days afterwards. Months and years, in fact, passed before arms were taken up in anger. The patch of ground that so many men had died for was left untouched.
And, I really don’t like the final paragraph. There’s got to be a better way to end this thing.