Someday I’ll write a sci-fi or something else like that in response to T.S. Bazelli’s weekly writing prompt. I thought it would be this week, if I wrote anything, but that’s not what happened. Instead, as is often the case, fantasy happened. The challenge this week was to focus on setting:
The Challenge: Write a story (1000 words or less) that is set in a place you have never been. This place can be real or imagined. The theme: “home”
I sort of cheated, though. I used a place I really had been to (the Dun Beag fort outside Dingle, Ireland) as the source of inspiration for the setting of this tale, even if the place itself is “imagined”. (Also, of course, it’s just over 1,000 words, but I do that almost every time, so that’s not new. This one’s 1,306 words long.) And so, let’s take it back to:
Where It All Began
By: Stephen A. Watkins, Jr.
Sea foam sprayed up as waves crashed against the cliffs of Dun Chuain, where Aran was born. At the very edge of the cliff, as though a stray wind might rip it from the cliffside and send it plunging into the churning waters a hundred feet below, rose the House of Dun Chuain. It was a small wooden manse – long oak planks, steeply-pitched roof, and a watchtower – growing out of a mortared stone foundation some seven feet in height. The current House was built seventy-five years ago, and the gray wood showed its age, but the House of Dun Chuain had been inhabited for several centuries. Around the cliffside manor were the remains of the old village – stone huts and walls built without mortar, stacked with exacting care, by Aran’s ancestors.
A heavy wind stirred Aran’s long brown curls and whipped the emerald grass – the only color on a morning heavy with the threat of rain. Aran paused by a lone elm, its bark dark and cracked, as he topped a hill to take in the view of the ocean and the house. A half-dozen sheep, ready for the shearing, grazed on rolling grass, overseen by a black-faced ram and a couple of young boys running around them and weaving through the stone huts . A pang of regret stabbed at Aran’s stomach, but he swallowed the wave of nausea that rose within him. He would not let his resolve waver, now. The village around the house was nearly deserted, except for the shepherd-boys, and likely a few others. A thin wisp of smoke rose from one of the stone huts. Most of the villagers had relocated to the new village of Dun Chuain that was growing up by the small harbor an hour’s walk from the house.
One of the shepherd boys stopped as he noticed Aran on the hill. He cried out, but his words were swallowed in the wind, then ran off toward the huts. Aran had kept his return to Dun Chuain secret. It would not do for it to be widely known that an Emperor had visited this backwater of a village. But though he had not stopped at the harbor of Dun Chuain, his return would soon be the talk of the village. Aran suppressed a sigh as he descended the hill toward the house.
He marched purposefully past the ancient stone wall, rising to his shoulder, the circled the old village. The wind caught his brightly dyed wool cloak – red, blue and green – and teased at lace at his throat and wrists. Aran had long debated whether it would be better to return in the full assemblage of an Emperor, or instead in the simple, functional wools he’d been raised in. He’d finally decided on this compromise. He stopped again when he reached the flagstone steps of the old house. He almost turned back. Instead, he gathered his cloak against the chill in the wind, mounted the steps, and threw open the doors. He was no shepherd boy, to be cowed by the old master of the house. Not anymore. This house was his.
“M- Master Aran!” The familiar voice of Olain, the kindly housekeeper, filled Aran’s mind with haunted memories. “You’ve returned!”
He looked at the old woman with a wistful turn to his lips before taking in the darkened hall. She had been waiting for him, despite her surprise. “Is Master Myridain here?”
Olain smoothed her gray, wool skirts, her eyes darting to the stairs then back to Aran. She sighed. “He is in the study facing the sea. He will not be disturbed.” Her head bowed, long white strands of hair falling around her face.
“He will be disturbed for me.” Aran strode toward the stairs, and made his way to the westward study. The door was closed, but he entered without knocking. The study was well-lit, compared to other rooms in the old house, with a large window overlooking the sea. Two walls were covered in books – everything from ancient, leather-bound tomes and rolls of bound papyri, to smaller, cloth-bound volumes undoubtedly the product of Othkranger’s new invention. The room smelled thick and dusty. Myridain sat at the reading table, his wizened white beard brushing his robed thighs. The old man didn’t stir to acknowledge Aran for several minutes. Aran couldn’t help but stare. The nausea rose in his belly again, bile creeping up his throat. At last, Myridain lifted a hand of welcome.
“Old man—“ Aran’s voice was angry, but he stopped at a gesture from the sage. Habits of blind obedience were hard to break. Myridain marked his place in a massive treatise and closed the red-leather covers. He looked up to gaze at Aran. The silence stretched impossibly long before Myridain spoke.
“Though you’ve come to kill me, young Aran, as master of this place it is my duty to welcome you to the House of Dun Chuain.”
Aran turned away from his old mentor, from the man who had raised him, trying to hide the anger and hurt in his eyes. “You’re already dead, old man. I watched you die.”
Myridain smiled, and nodded slowly. “Yes. Yes, you would think that.” Something in the old man’s voice was gently mocking, like a parent to a child, but it infuriated Aran. He turned on Myridain, his warm green eyes turning cold with wrath.
“You were like a father to me!” he shouted. “When you died, I… I felt lost! You dragged me out on some fool quest, and then you left me in the middle of the wilderness, alone. And for what? I thought you’d been killed by the Bog Wraith!”
The old man nodded again. “And tell me, young Aran, what if I’d stayed? What if I’d been there to drive the Bog Wraith away? What if I’d been there to unsheathe the Sword of a Thousand Shards for you? What if I’d called down fire on the armies of Vorked when they sacked Tol Aris? Would you have grown strong enough to smite the Wraith Lord? Would you have had the courage to stand against Vorked? Would you have risen in fame and glory to claim the throne of the Emperor of the Hundred Lands?”
Aran took a step into the study, his hand reaching reflexively toward the sword at his waist. He flexed his fist, and forced his hand back to his side. “All the while your pawn, playing my role in your grand scheme.”
Myridain’s ancient frame shook with a dry chuckle. “And a masterful player you have been, my boy.”
“No more, old man.” He stepped further into Myridain’s study. “I know the truth, now. I know you killed my mother. I know you manipulated Vorked into sending his armies against Tol Aris, and a hundred other helpless villages. I know it was your plan to have me unsheathe the Sword of a Thousand Shards and slay the Father of Time, granting you immortality. Your plan failed.”
Myridain’s chuckle rumbled deep in his frame. “Yes, I knew you would be the one. I knew you would not fail me.”
“You cannot hide in this village any longer, Myridain. You cannot hide behind this peaceful people. Your schemes are at an end.” Aran let his hand grasp the hilt of the sword he wore. Myridain looked in surprise.
“Will you unsheathe that, here? Will you risk the destruction of your childhood home, the death of these innocents?”
Aran blocked the fury and self-loathing that clawed at his mind. “My childhood was a lie, constructed to suit your game. I’m a pawn in your game no more.”
Myridain stood, suddenly, the chair falling back behind him. He muttered something unintelligible, and the room began to darken. Aran unsheathed the Sword. May the gods forgive what he had to do.