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Friday, December 25, 2015

12 Days of Xmas complete + TIW Challenge 140

I think the Iron Writer 12 Days of Xmas 2015 was a success for a few of us. Mine? I might create a novel from it, change/expand things, there's everything you need for one...in fact, I'm posting it all here...
AND I'm in a 1 to 1 against Richard Russell on the Iron Writer website this week, Challenge 140!
Please come and read... and vote for your favourite story!
http://theironwriter.com/the-iron-writer-challenge-140/

And here's the 3000 word story...:-)




1
The wet grey storm grew closer in the night, wind picking up and half a shutter banged continuously against the rock frame of the only window in the stone hut. Feyle knelt in front of the rudimentary shrine, hands heavy over his sword's guard, the scabbard resting on the cold floor.
"Soon the midnight hour will arrive and you must make your choice, Feyle," said his tormentor, Kristphen the Grim. The sound of a thousand blackbirds leaving their perch floated in with the last full gust of wind. "Your oath of loyalty, Feyle, that is what I seek." A wide grin was all Feyle could see from under Kristphen's hooded robes. Years fighting in these hellish lands, killing his enemies, watching his fellows die, and it came down to this, an oath. Wasn't his service evidence of loyalty? Why did he need to speak such worthless words, so empty of action, soulless, without meaning?
"Are not my actions but proof enough, Kristphen?" he asked, head down in prayer.
"Your actions are not what I require! I need your heart, your mind!" screamed Kristphen, his voice reaching over the storm.
A distant rhythmic sound of drums, the drums of war, entered the hut. Feyle could feel the other's wagging finger.
"And now there is no other choice, Feyle. It has begun, you must do your duty to all those whom you stand for," stated Kristphen. Feyle nodded. It was him and him alone who could bring this all to an end.
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2
“You have your team to lead, Feyle, hand-picked and ready to go,” grinned Kristphen. Feyle gave another nod, wondering who had picked these unfortunate souls and for exactly what skills and attributes. What was this mission really for? Kristphen walked over to the shrine and lifted the holy book. “Your oath, Feyle.” He came over, the book open, and held it in front of Feyle’s face. With a sigh, the tired soldier of many hard-fought and bloody battles lifted his right hand and placed it on the open pages. He spoke the sacred oath of a warrior of the realm and let his hand fall back to his side.  “Thank you. Now, go, Feyle. Go do your duty. For your Emperor and his people.”
Bowing while standing, Feyle sheathed his sword and placed it into its grip on his waistbelt. Kristphen stood defiant, arms crossed as Feyle left the stone hut to be hit both by the storm outside and the constant sound of drums. As his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he saw four silhouettes standing in the street facing him, the team of assassins he was to command, each man a master, each man a killer. He gestured them to follow him and they walked down the deserted streets as equals, shoulder to shoulder.
Feyle knew it was to be a mission of “trial by fire”, one that would test every man’s courage and strength, one of constant attrition and pain, one which may take them all.
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3
As the night passed and the morning began, a cool dawn wind blew as they moved by the outer hovels built by the poorest of their folk. Not one man showed signs of slowing the pace and so they made their way, over rough and high land to their quarry.
Some time later, they came upon a fence, taller than any of them, and which stretched as far as the eye could see in both directions. The first warrior stepped forwards and with his large machete, slashed a hole big enough for a man into the fence. One by one, they went through, only to be stopped by the sight of a squad of guards, twenty and four head, standing some distance away.
“You are trespassing on royal ground! Lay down your weapons and leave!” shouted one guard. Without a glance towards each other, all five men continued their march. “Halt! In the name of the Empress, I demand you to stop!” shouted the same guard, hand on his sword, at the ready. The five warriors continued their march without pause. The guards unsheathed their weapons and blocked the way. “In the name of the law, I demand you to halt!”
Feyle stepped forwards and sliced the man’s head off. The dead man’s comrades watched in horror as it fell to the ground. “We are above the law,” grimaced Feyle, and with that, his four fellow warriors tore through the crowd. Blood was spilt, limbs were lost, lives were taken.

++++++

4
When the dust settled, twenty-five men lay dead on the field. The first warrior had fallen.
"May his soul reach Nirvana," said Feyle, wiping blood from his sword. The second and third warriors stepped back from himself and the fourth, their faces contorting with hate. Feyle realised the fight was not over.
"Traitors!" shouted the third warrior, holding the point of his sword towards Feyle. Why did he think to trust Kristphen the Grim to hand-pick the team of warriors for this mission? He stood with the fourth against the two turncoats.
"I see we have a dichotomy," said Feyle, swinging his sword in one hand and grabbing its grip with both.
"You side with the Emperor!" The third spat on the ground. Feyle looked over to the fourth, who stood by his side, ready. "For the Empress!" screamed the second and the fight began, swords clashing in mid-air. They were warriors, fighters, bred to kill. Every thrust was met with a parry, every step forwards was followed with a step back. Time past without them. Finally, the fourth overcame the second, but at a cost. The third fought well, but Feyle slayed him soon after. A metallic sound hit the ground and a bag of gold coins lay in the pool of the warrior's blood.
"Gold. Of course. A man who loses his virtues for mere 'gifts' has no place in this life." Feyle sighed and gestured to the fourth warrior, now bleeding from the sword arm, to follow.

5

Days past as they trudged through the wasteland ahead, with nothing but a few small plants and the wind for company. The fourth warrior grew weaker every day, losing blood not from his arm but an unseen injury in his side. He finally could walk no longer and fell to his knees.
"Captain, I am done. If only I had died in combat, and not here, in this barren land like a dog," the fourth said. "Sir, it has been an honour to fight for the Emperor, and to fight by your side, if only for a moment." The warrior dropped to the ground and lay silent, his chest faintly rising.
Feyle walked over to the fallen warrior and bowed his head. "I will say a blessing for you." When he opened his eyes once more, the warrior's life had passed on. Placing him in a stone grave, away from the ruining of worms, Feyle contemplated why he had surivived. Ever since he was young, he'd tried to stay humble and not lose his head. Earlier, there were times he'd boasted of his skills, but he'd paid in blood for his blatant egotism. Being humble brought a higher self-control, something every warrior needed to survive their next battle. His life was mostly mundane and uneventful, but in those times of great need, it was the ability to keep calm which set him apart from the others. He was a cold, lethal, killing machine. And now was his chance to shine.

6

But shine, he could not. As he travelled on, days, weeks went by and there were no signs of sustenance, neither water, plant nor animal. He grew weak, continuing on with less until finally he could no longer hold his sword, dropping it to the ground. Failing to retrieve it from where it fell, he continued on, step by step until he came to a large city. Once inside the gates, he sat by the thick, cold walls, resting his aching bones and nurturing an empty stomach. His uniform was mere rags.
"You're not from around here, are you?" said a small voice. Feyle looked up at a child, calm, innocent. From his clothes, he was from a rich family, perhaps of noble birth. A bodyguard stood nearby, hand on knife. Feyle shook his head, too weak to talk. "Here." The boy handed him some coins. "A little 'foreign aid' for the man from afar."
He watched as the boy walked away, before the hordes who appeared from the shadows mobbed Feyle, leaving him for dead in the street, each breath filled with pain. It seemed that he was more apt at saving his life by the sword than surviving the streets of an unknown city while weak and ill. Looking up to the sky above the tall buildings around him, he prayed for his own death, and there on the dirty, crowded streets, alone, weak and helpless, he had what he could only describe later as a spiritual experience.

7

At first, he felt all life escape him and was pulled for what seemed an eternity, but finally, he awoke abruptly, the image of pure lava flame burning in the crushing sea, his will, the energy of his psyche mixing with the whirlwind of his mind, the air of creativity and wisdom, both being quenched by the emotional waters of his heart. All worked as one, fire, air and water to create earth, his body, the vessel for his spirit... which was empty. He searched himself and found hatred and death, mistrust and murder. His years as an assassin and warrior had worn his soul down to nothing. It all had been for nothing!
A light appeared and he followed until images came into focus, his life, for what it had been, shown in front of him, a life of blood. At that moment, he chose to change, to no longer take life from others, but give a piece of himself, give whatever he could to others.
He opened his eyes to a brand new day, and his hand grabbed a small discarded lump of coal. He stood up and on the wall he drew, emptying his heart of all emotions, feelings. Soon, people would stop to see his unique work, some giving him parchment to make his mark there. He accepted no payment, giving something for nothing except a smile. Word passed on and soon his extraordinary talent was known throughout the city as an artist, bettered by none.
8
Feyle's work finally made it to the royal court, and the Empress herself was impressed.
"Councillor," she commanded.
"Yes, your Majesty?" asked the Councillor of Arts.
"Find this man whose splendid works these are. Assess him for acceptance to court."
Much to his dislike, the Councillor searched for this talented vagabond and found him in a square on the edge of the city. A crowd had gathered to watch Feyle at work... it took only a moment for the nobleman to see that all was true about this beggar. His art was fantastic, something he had never seen before. It made all the artists in court look inadequate by comparison. He marveled at the drawings, paintings, joining the people amassed in quiet banter about how superb it all was.
But it was not to be. Accepting a man from the street into the royal court was unheard of. Throughout history, artists of all forms were found among the noble families or friends of such. And so, in his stubbornness, the Councillor for Arts rejected Feyle and his work. To make sure his decision could not be overturned, he sent an assassin to kill him.
Feyle, however, had not lost any of his old abilities. Though now armed with rudimentary drawing utensils, no man was his match. As soon as he heard the killer jump over the wall which separated Feyle's broken shack from the street behind, his fighting skills awoke once again and the assassin lay dead at Feyle's feet.
9

He was ready for them, a troop of guards. He desired no more bloodshed and allowed them to chain him, the monster that he was and would always be. Dragged through the streets, those that knew him and his works of art were shocked. In court, the Councillor of Arts was there, the Royal Scribe beside him with a mass of parchment.
"Empress, your Majesty," stated the Councillor. Feyle tried to look up towards the throne but his head was held down by three noosed spears. "I have an agreement of testimonies from many witnesses to say that this man murdered another while the moon crossed the sky. It is with this documented evidence that I plead you sentence this man to death." The Councillor took the parchment from the Scribe and held it up to the Empress. She motioned for a servant to bring it to her and she nodded while reading them through.
"Citizen," she said. The noosed spears loosened and Feyle was able to lift his head and see the Empress for himself. The court filled with gasps and the Empress was taken aback. "What is this?"
An old lord and member of the court came forward. "Your Majesty, this is the man whose art has brought the city to life. How can he have killed another?"
"The proof is there!" said the Councillor.  
The old man walked over to Feyle. "Young man, did you?" he asked.
"To my shame, sire, I have killed many," he confessed.

10

The court grew silent as Feyle spoke.
"For nigh on thirty years I trained and fought under the Emperor's banner..." Noblemen tensed, the guards held their weapons at the ready. "In that time I slayed many a good man and watched more fall at the hands of others. My heart could take no more, but Kristphen the Grim blackmailed me with the lives of a thousand citizens to force me on one last mission."
"We know of this Kristphen. His 'good' reputation travels far," said the old man.
"When I found myself at your gates, I was lost, until I was shown the path to enlightenment," said Feyle, bowing his head. "And now I give all I can, mere markings on the wall." The court filled with mutterings and whispers, making the old man raise his hand for them to stop.
"Councillor, whom did he kill?" asked the old man.
"That matters not!" said the Councillor.
"Tarkan of Olyshan," read out the Empress. The old man huffed.
"An assassin! And of the worst kind!" After a scornful look towards the Councillor, he turned to Feyle. "Young man, I am not one to give a sage's advice, but I say this to you: know your place and do what must be done." With that, the old man bowed to the Empress and stepped back among the members of court. The Empress stood.
"Citizen, I give you three good choices, and it is your right to take what is best for you."
11
The Empress motioned for the guards to release Feyle, and the chains and nooses fell away, allowing him to stand.
"Citizen, I give you three choices," said the Empress. He bowed his head to receive them. "The first, to stay in this court and create art like we have never seen before. The second, to go back to the streets and fill the hearts of our people with your talent. The third... to do what you must."
Feyle looked up at the Empress. "I know now that I wish the third, but I made an oath on the holy book," he said.
"An oath under duress is no oath at all, that is no binding covenant," said the old man beside him.
"Ah, yes," said the Empress. 'I almost forgot." A servant passed her an ancient text. She opened up the scroll and read. "Councillor of Arts, as Empress of this land I hereby banish you to the furthest reaches of the empire."
"What? You cannot do this!" The guards took the Councillor away. "I will have my revenge!" he screamed as the doors closed on his last words.
"And now, an offering," said the Empress. One word to the Captain of the guard and he was gone, emerging moments later with a sword, it's scabbard embellished with rubies and emeralds, it's grip plated in gold. "Take this with my blessing and go."
Feyle bowed once again and the Empress handed him the magnificent sword, her smile filling his soul.
12
With a horse given by the Empress' guard, Feyle rode to where he'd begun, through the wasteland and past his discarded sword and armour, remnants of his former self. He needed them no longer. Breaking through the fence, he entered into his old domain.
"Halt! By order of Kristphen the Grim in the name of the Emperor, halt!" shouted a Captain commanding a legion of men. There were too many, but there was no going back. His horse plummeted into the ranks, with sword swinging through the lines. Falling to the ground, he fought for space, cutting down any soldier who dared come near. Over time, he was hit by lucky strikes while slashing through the crowd and fell. The circle around him broke to show Kristphen himself, knife in hand. Feyle tried to stand but could find nothing left. His strength spent, he watched his last moments go by.
"Feyle! You are a traitor to the Emperor and to me! Die like the dog you are!" Kristphen stabbed Feyle in the chest and all went dark. He'd lost, Kristphen had won the final victory. But he felt no more brokenness, no emptiness in his loss. He'd been true to himself, death becoming his true friend. He waited to die and heard trumpets calling nearby. Krisphen fell beside him, dead.
"The Empress! She is here! Flee! We are undone!" shouted a soldier.
A moment later, the old man laughed, giving Feyle his hand. "Young man, now is not the time."







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