My birthday's coming up in two days! :) Since hobbits give other people presents on their own birthday, I decided to do the same and give *you* the little gift of posting a short story I wrote, answering a prompt from The Writers' Collective back when Thinklings was doing that.
(I should warn you: I'm not a short-story writer; I don't have practice at it, and this story was only self-edited, so it might not be amazing or fantastic. I prefer the long haul, bigger ideas, larger plots and story arcs, which is why Melanie's adventures will be a trilogy, most likely.)
Well, hope you enjoy! And I wouldn't mind gentle feedback if you have any to give. :)
"Druids vs. Romans" (was the prompt)
The phalanx is cresting the next hill. The trees whisper of steel-and-leather-clad limbs marching in perfect synchronicity; the hawk keens of sunlight glinting off burnished helmets; the wind murmurs of set jaws, of resolute eyes.
Restlessly, the earth stirs. Rumble of iron-shod footsteps . . . and, underneath, an ancient power awakening.
We stand ready to meet them with nothing but our robes and staffs. Although, in the trees surrounding us, archers wait, arrows nocked and eyes ever watchful. We did not call for their aid, but the chieftain of the neighboring caer ordered them here. He is yet young; soon, he shall see.
The stones of our sacred circle have begun to glow. Sensing the swirling and rising mana, my fingertips tingle. The phalanx has foolishly—ignorantly—chosen to approach along a ley line.
Meeting eyes with Aelwyn, I give a slight nod, and we and the rest of our grove raise our staffs as one. Clouds gather and roil as we chant the Words of power. Wind whips our hair and billows our sleeves like the sails of the ships that brought this foreign blight to our island. A great shadow creeps across the land.
The even-darker wave of Roman soldiers descends into the valley between the adjacent hill and ours. In my mind’s eye, I can see their formation: shields packed tight like overlapping scales, covering the entire body of the invading wyrm. Down, down it slithers.
It won’t be long until it reaches the middle of the glen. . . .
Lightning splits the air and the ground heaves. The phalanx doesn’t hesitate, but as the tremors grow in strength and frequency, feet start to stumble. Cracks appear between the scales. The commander barks a harsh reprimand, and the soldiers rally. But gale-force winds assail them from all sides, and thunder clashes above to echo the earth’s groanings. Lightning forks again and again, closer each time.
As the foremost soldiers reach the base of our hill, my brethren and I chant faster, louder, staffs thrust toward the heavens beseeching the spirits of earth and air for victory. The ground quakes beneath us too, now, and we plant our feet firmly like the roots of great oaks.
From the tree line, the archers gape at us, their eyes darting between the approaching phalanx and our grove.
The tingle in my extremities has turned into a hum, then a pulsing throb. It radiates up and down my arms and legs, and I feel as if power is about to burst from every orifice. Our chanting reaches its frenzied peak, and we all burst into our awen state of ecstasy simultaneously.
Blinding light explodes outward from the stones, enveloping the entire hilltop. A deafening roar accompanies a tremor so violent it nearly throws us to the ground. Cascading rumbles follow, and over them I can barely hear human screams. The tumult rages for many, many frantic beats of my heart before slowly subsiding.
The earth stills; the air calms. The light from the stones fades. Dazed, my brethren and I return to our normal state of consciousness and some sink to their knees in exhaustion. Aelwyn and I clap each other on the shoulders, chests heaving as we catch our breath.
A shocked hush lies over the land. The great cloud of dust ringing the hill settles, revealing the desolation left in the cataclysm’s wake.
A massive landslide has buried each and every one of the Roman soldiers. Here and there, the broken tip of a lance or spear protrudes from between giant boulders; but there is scant evidence left behind, apart from that, that a mighty combat unit from the great empire to the south has marched upon our small woodland settlement.
Finally, whispers break the silence as the archers marvel and exclaim amongst themselves. “Never seen such power . . .” “. . . when Lord Cadfael hears . . .” “. . . lot of good we did here . . .”
“Brave warriors of Gwynedd,” I address them, stepping forward. “Let true tales of what you have seen this day spread to all the neighboring settlements. Let it be known that if any more of those cursed dogs come barking and nipping at our heels, the same fate awaits them.”
Shouts and cheers ring out in answer, and the archers take their leave, returning to report Llyr-knows-what to their lord.
Grins of triumph and relief shine on the faces of Aelwyn and most of the grove members. At long last, I let my shoulders slump and wipe sweat from my brow. “Well,” I remark casually, “at least we don’t have to dig graves for all five hundred of them.”
My men’s laughter renews the vigor of my spirit, and we all head back to our homes for a well-deserved rest.
(c) Sarah M. Awa, 2020