Even heroes need to take a break.
Here’s a very short story about Halfa, a jaded hero who decides to take control of his own fate for a change. Writers often read their manuscripts out loud; it’s a recommended technique to reveal the rhythm and structure of your work. This story grew from that technique. I was basically talking to myself as I typed, and that too went into the story.
The clearing grew gloomy as the light faded. It was quiet now, the day creatures settling to sleep, the night animals not yet awake. Halfa dismounted from his grey charger, the creak of leather and clanking of metal loud in the silence. The horse stood nervously, eyeing the dark cave entrance that dominated the clearing. Nothing grew here, not even moss or lichen, showing the bare, cold stone of the grey rock that formed the mound into which the cave led.
Halfa tethered the horse loosely to a tree branch. He didn’t want it wandering off, but he didn’t like the thought of it being trapped here if he didn’t return. With a last reassuring pat on its neck, the young warrior strode across the rock and stopped in front of the cave. Despite the remaining daylight, not a thing could be seen, no scrap of detail. Just a deep, almost physical darkness, and the rising smell of rotting corpses and death.
Although only twenty-three, Halfa was an experienced warrior, tall and broad-shouldered, and clad in the best leather, chain, and plate armour the smiths could make. A stout helm hid his blonde locks and partially covered a handsome face, blue-eyed and with a ready smile. He drew his sword, a polished steel hand-and-a-half weapon, taken from the dead hand of a foreign invader, the self-titled Brain-Eater. The huge warrior and his band of raiders had struck terror into the hearts of thousands, killing and burning and, presumably, eating brains, as he rampaged unstopped across the land.
Until he’d met Halfa and his mounted warriors. Until he’d challenged Halfa to single combat and found out that size wasn’t everything. Halfa had emerged without a scratch, although his sword was ruined. He found a new one in his opponent’s hand, it had never let him down.
Halfa took a deep breath, enough time had been wasted. He produced one of the new oil lanterns from his pack and lit it with his tinder box. The oil would last two hours, but he had a clay jar in his pack to refill it. That gave him four hours to accomplish his quest. When he approached the cave, the orange light seemed to drawback, as if it was afraid.
Sword in one hand, lantern in the other, Halfa stepped across the threshold into…
“I’m not going in there!”
Erm, what’s, I don’t, who…
“Down here, it’s me, Halfa.”
You can’t decide what happens, I’m the writer!
“I don’t care, I’m not going in there, not a chance.”
But, that’s the story, you go in the cave and face many perils and…
“Why do I have to go into the cave and face many perils?”
Because that’s the story.
“Well change the story. Why can’t I go to a fairy glade and be ravished by beautiful but horny elf maidens for days without end?”
Well, that’s a bit boring, and it’s also a different kind of story. Nothing wrong with it, just not my kind of thing.
“Still not going in there.”
Give me one good reason why not.
Halfa cleared his throat.
“‘a deep, almost physical darkness, and the rising smell of rotting corpses and death’”
Where does it say that?
“End of the second paragraph.”
OK, but you’re a warrior, you fought Brain-Eater in single combat and emerged without a scratch!
“Maybe, but I wasn’t there at the time if you see what I mean?”
Yes, I understand what you’re saying, but it was still you, and if you can beat Brain-Eater you can beat the…
“Don’t tell me!”
“Don’t tell me what’s in the…it’s a dragon isn’t it?”
“It is, it’s a bloody dragon. Come on, is that all you can come up with? Oh, it’s a fantasy story it’s got to have a dragon.”
No, it’s not a dragon. For your information I love dragons, but they have been rather done to death in the fantasy genre, in more ways than one.
“In the fantasy jaun-ra?”
Genre, it means category.
“Ahh, get it. Sorry, carry on.”
I was just saying, it’s not a dragon.
“Umm, well, I bet it’s not a buxom she-elf either, who’s been deprived of male company for decades and is even now applying the body oil and preparing the carrots.”
“Just a little thing I enjoy. You of all people should know that.”
Yes yes. But to get back to the plot.
“I am not going into that smelly hole in the ground!”
What if I give you the she-elf afterwards?
“On your honour?”
Of course, I’m a writer.
What are you trying to say?
“I think I expressed myself adequately.”
Ok, on my honour.
“But how soon after? After you’ve killed my family, wiped out my fortune, and left me half dead in a ditch to be rescued by one of the world’s top healers, just by chance, and taught to fight again by his close friend the barbarian warrior with the funny name?”
You aren’t making this easy.
“You’re the one talking to himself.”
“And you haven’t given a second thought for this poor horse.”
The horse will be fine. Animals are always looked after in my stories.
“Oh great. The horse gets a girlie horse and a warm stable, and I get a smelly cave full of deadly things that aren’t dragons!”
“No, I’ve had enough.”
Halfa backed away from the cave and headed over to his horse. He mounted quickly and turned away, heading for the road he’d recently arrived by.
“I saw a tavern back there. I bet they’ve got a roaring fire and a roast pig on the go, and probably some buxom serving maids, knowing you lot.”
The horse, as glad to be away from the cave as its master, soon picked up speed, the sound of its hooves fading into the distance.
Meanwhile, in the deep cellar of the Forgemaster’s Arms, an ancient evil was disturbed by the approach of…
“I can still hear you.”