Work in Progress

From time to time I look back over my old posts on TheProse.com and am often delighted, sometimes dismayed, and always intrigued when I don’t remember writing something! Recently, I was reacquianted with my old friend Alderch. He’s a side-note to my main work-in-progress novel, and he goes on many adventures of his own. Ultimately, I’m not sure if he will ever meet my other main characters, but they are very much intrenched in the same world and political agenda. Here are three pieces of flash-fiction about Alderch’s journey:

The Tale of Alderch of Treath Part I & II

PART I

A cacophony of clatters and thuds resonated off of the castle walls and made its way to Alderch’s ears as he sat silently at the top of the grand staircase.  Downstairs beneath the twelve spoke candle chandeliers in the throne room Henrig, his father and supreme commander of the Treath Empire, raged on with the sole audience of his wife and co-ruler Ulla.  As usual, his discontent manifested in the form of grabbing decorative pieces of priceless glass and ceramic wares of their display pedestals, and breaking them on the unforgiving stone floor.

In his calloused hand was the source of his discontent.  A letter had just arrived from abroad and anger flooded Henrig’s veins; the alliance with the Magra Empire through marriage was off the table.  Henrig stomped over to the side of the room and threw the piece of parchment into the raging fire.

For a moment he was silent as he leaned on his balled fists upon the stone mantle.  A quick pound, just hard enough not to break his own hand, and then he exclaimed, “How dare she deny me this?”  His voice thundered throughout the castle. “When I’ve been so generous as to negotiate and hold off a siege until now? Try diplomacy,” he said with a huff.  “Never again!” From the long central table that had yet to be cleaned since the evening feast, he picked up a half empty wine glass and threw it against the rough stone wall, adding to the mess the servants would be cleaning up after their rulers drank themselves to sleep.

“I sensed she was disingenuous,” Alderch’s mother inserted calmly from her high throne at the top of the room, as she took a delicate sip out of her own wine glass.  The sounds of destruction ceased after Ulla began speaking, though Henrig ignored her and continued pacing.  “You told me of her proposal at the last summit and I never believed one word.” Ulla shook her head with a faint smirk and looked down the room at her husband.

A few minutes passed in strained silence, then he walked back, threw himself down on his throne next to Ulla, and pounded his fists once more on the mahogany armrests.  He continued his rant, “One chance and she turns her back on Treath!”

“Is it such a problem, my love?” Ulla said sweetly, placing her gloved hand on his tensed arm, trying to ease him out of his negativity. “Now we get to go to war, with Magra no less.  It is our chance to claim the land and it is what you do best.”

“But what of Alderch? What advantageous match can we make for him now?”

Alderch stiffened at the top of the stairs.  It wasn’t that his destiny being out of his hands was a new concept; it was just the anxiety of wanting to know.  He was ready.  Ready to get married and start a family.  Ready to start anew and move out of Treath to raise children with fresh ideals, morals and priorities.  Ready for a piece of quiet while awaiting his parents’ eventual death, and the time he could wash clean the blackened, brutish Treathian Empire and bring forth an age of light.

“It shall come, my dear,” Ulla said tranquilly, still attempting to lighten the burden on her hot-tempered husband’s mind.  “I have faith in it.  We will find a bold woman of Treathian blood and muscle to bolster this house.”

“By his age I had won the heart of dozens,” Henrig boasted, straightening up in his chair. There was a brief silence as he reached for an unbroken glass from the table between the thrones and took a swig of wine. “Nearly twenty-three and the only thing he’s had his nose in is a book!”

Alderch flinched at the words and fought back the urge to storm down the stairs and speak his mind. Alas, that would only prove painful and bloody on his part.  At the thought he reflexively touched his fingertips to an old scar on his temple.  Henrig always claimed to not enjoy beating his son, but that didn’t stop him from doing so.

“Yes, you have won the hearts of many with your agility and prowess on the battlefield, but we cannot hope for such a life for Alderch.”  Ulla sighed.  “You have tested him in all manners of might, but he is a quiet boy. A studious boy…”

“Soft and weak!” Henrig interrupted and again slammed his fists.  Rising from his chair, he began to pace the room once more.  “The meekest in our blood line for ten generations, unheard of!”  He downed the last of his wine, and added, “I shudder to think what will become of Treath after our death.  How will the empire hold without a strong leader behind these walls?”

Alderch was used to his father’s disdain for him, but that didn’t make it easier hearing the words and not hearing his mother stand up for him.  So he got up slowly from his perch on the staircase and turned to make his way down the corridor to his chambers.  He didn’t hear his mother’s next comment on the matter.

“He has the heart of a warrior, my love,” Ulla said.

She gazed off airily into an unseen distance, no doubt ‘seeing’ the future as she often did and added, “I can feel it.”

PART II

The heavy, carved walnut door shut behind him with a low thud and Alderch looked around his room, where he’d lived since infancy.  It felt empty now.  He leaned back on the door and focused on his breathing.

Overhearing his father wasn’t a fresh injury.  Being denied an alliance with Magra was.  Just as his father downstairs, Alderch’s hopes had been high for the match and for weeks he’d been wishing heartily to be whisked away to a new life in Magrapol.  Nothing was left for him at home, in this dark, dank palace full of family members that discussed his ineptitude behind his back.  An overwhelming hollowness filled his stomach.  It sank as low as his confidence and he fought back a round of tears.

Tears were not the answer.  Leaving was the answer.

In a flash, Alderch took several large steps across the room to his armoire.  A bolt of adrenaline bolstered his nerves and for the first time in a while he was serious about running away.   His shaky hands reached the armoire doors; the ornate depictions of battle and hunt scenes carved into them mocked his lack of physical prowess as always.  More emotion dropped into his stomach, but he pushed it aside, and opened the armoire. Alderch inhaled deeply, exhaled, and started pulling out tunics and trousers. After a haphazard stack of clothes was made on the end of the bed, he paused.

Packing had seemed like the right idea until he realized he’d never packed his own belongings.  Every trip he’d taken in his short seventeen years was accompanied by trunk after trunk of fine fabrics, piled in a caravan and taken care of by servants.  How was he to pack lightly, something cartable? Looking around his room, his eyes settled on a fine tapestry hanging on the wall.  He clamored up onto his bed, reached as high as he could, and pulled.  The nails stayed put so the tapestry ripped out, ruining the delicate artwork, but he didn’t care.  Alderch sat down onto the bed with a huff and started piling clothes onto the centre of the tapestry.  Not too much, just enough to provide extra warmth or something dry if he should need. Once that was done, he pulled the edges of the fabric to a point above the clothes.  With some cordage from the trim of a pillow that he ripped off violently, he tied the tapestry into a bundle. Adding to the mess of feathers covering the bed, he grabbed another pillow and removed the trim to make a handle with a low grunt. The destruction satiated his anger in the slightest way.  Still huffing in both mild exertion and major frustration, he made a large loop, big enough to go over his shoulder, and tied it off.

Now his satchel.  Alderch scrambled off the bed, went back to the armoire and opened a bottom drawer to find the small leather bag.  He flung it on his bed next to the bundle and started going through all the drawers in his desk.  Matches. Three tapered candles. Two small knives, one serrated.  Multiple maps of Treath and beyond. Coin purse.  A small well of ink. Quill pen. Notebook. Alderch took one last assessment of his belongings and concluded that was all he needed.  Sadness was mingling with his anger now, and he feared he might get cold feet.  No, he just needed a moment to collect himself.

Alderch walked to his window and pushed open the pain of stained glass.  A brisk breeze came through and he inhaled his last scents of smoking hickory, charred meat, and iron.  Trying his best to remain calm and not lose sight of why he was leaving, he contemplated his options.  He could go to a city on the edge of the Treathian Empire, like Hlad or Ralsk, but his father would find him there. Even past the border into the Nord Empire wasn’t a distance likely to inhibit his father’s search parties, even if it violated the treaty.  No, that wasn’t far enough.  Alderch decided he needed to go beyond the edges of the maps, farther than anyone in history had gone.

He would hire a vessel and sail beyond the Sea of Reckoning, trudge across the southern Ice Lands and find the mythical Arquoai people, if they existed.  Uncertainty filled his mind.  The research he’d been doing in the palace library, instead of performing physical feats like his father urged, pointed to their definite existence.  He had faith and there was only one way to know for certain; he must travel to the Ice Lands.  There, he could learn the secrets of crossing from the ancient clans.  There, was his only chance of finding the Passage to the other side of the world, a place no one would be able to follow.  If they didn’t exist, he’d just have to find his way through other means.  Maybe that would be more impressive after all.

Alderch stood at the window imagining what lay ahead, his hands and face stinging from the cold relentless night breeze. He ignored the chill, bolstered by the thought that maybe he’d even be lucky enough to stumble upon a dragon.  Ever since he’d been small, he could remember his father boasting of Treathian might and potential, and dragons.  This was the only concession he would make on account of his military’s capabilities; he would say, ‘If only a Treathian could capture one of those ancient beasts and lay waste to the world. No one could stop us then.’ Well that was his ticket home in any case. Maybe the day would come when Alderch could be the Treathian hero to harnesses the power of fire and sky.  That would be the ultimate and only way to win his father’s approval, surely.

Enough.  He took a last look up at familiar constellations and closed the window silently. Nervous but resolute fingers picked up the makeshift bag and satchel, looping them over his shoulder.  With a final glance around his room, accompanied by an ache of nostalgia, Alderch stepped into the corridor, and closed the door behind him.  Quickly, he made his way toward the east wing servant stairs.  No one else lived in this part of the castle so he wasn’t worried about making nose just yet.  Not until he got reached the ground floor.

Once he’d descended the stairs, he made his way across the stone floor, cringing with each step that made more noise than he’d like.  At the back of the northeast tower was a door, a utility exit leading straight onto the outer grounds between the castle and the moat. Once there he would make his way across the small side bridge, which was only guarded by one sentry, Emert, who was likely drunk and dozing at this at this time of night.

Careful, not to alert any servants or interior guards, he edged around the corner and toward the exit.  Cold air and moonlight flooded the corridor as he nudged the door open gradually and slipped through sideways, closing it gently.  Trying not to stumble on the cobbles, he slid along the exterior wall, keeping in the shadows.  A slow fifteen feet later and he was almost at the bridge, when his ears perked at the sounds of heated groaning. Emert was up ahead, facing away from his post into a corner along the exterior castle wall, pants down around his ankles, and hips thrusting enthusiastically against someone Alderch couldn’t identify.

Alderch hesitated for a second then quickly determined now was the perfect opportunity.  Several large steps later, and he was on the small bridge.  He looked over his shoulder at the still completely occupied guard, and then hustled to the other side.  His destination was unknowable, but he felt certain his future existed at the end of this journey.

Feet firmly planted on the dewy grass, Alderch’s took his first step toward his destiny.

Dragons of the Ice

The frigid face of the glacier was difficult to hold on to but Alderch climbed steadily with help from the Arquoai axes and climbing shoes, which were adorned with sharp spikes.   Crisp air whipped his face, stinging his eyes and nose, trying to convince him to abandon his quest.  Luckily his ears were tucked under a woolen hat, and the rest of his body was tightly bundled in layers of fabric and fur.

The pain was only a small sacrifice, for the chance to find the mythical ice dragons and bring glory to his name. After what felt like hours of climbing, his nervous hand grasped the snowy top of the glacier and he pulled himself up onto a plateau of ice.

Even if he didn’t find what he was looking for, the views from this spot in the southern Ice Lands alone were worth the trek.  Most importantly, he’d be able to say he’d achieved this all on his own.

From out of nowhere, looming in the distance, he saw a faint black outline on the bright blue and softly clouded sky.  Alderch’s stomach dropped and his heart rate jumped, as he fully comprehended what was flying along the horizon.  Even at a safe distance, terror flooded his veins as fire furled out of its massive mouth, and instantly he knew his journey was just beginning.

 

J.A. Smith

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