I’m getting ever so close to the halfway mark of my short story challenge, which is kind of exciting.
For anyone coming in for the first time, I’ve challenged myself to write a short story for 52 weeks straight. No particular formats, no other particular rules in place. If you want to check out the other 21 stories to date, click here to see everything I’ve tagged that way.
I’ve done this sort of challenge before, which led to a collection of short stories called Fifty Two, which you can buy for most popular eBook readers and formats:
And if you want something entirely different, there’s also my B-movie novel, Sharksplosion. Yeah, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d think a book with that title might be like:
And now, on with this week’s short story!
The West Gate
Chaun sat on his stool, watching the sun come up. As the fields before him slowly started to gleam to life, he reflected on his life.
It had been a good life, filled with the same work that his father and his father before him had done, stretching down through the years.
The farm was small, sitting to one side of the village, but within walking distance after a lengthy harvest festival if Chaun had imbibed too much that night at the inn.
Those were the days, he thought, back when he could down twelve or more jugs of ale and still get up to tend the fields in the morning.
These days, a half could last him the entire night, and he would still feel it a little in the morning.
It was less costly that way, though also a sign that the years of toil were exacting their price from his body.
The years had come and passed, and each year Chaun would tend to the fields, bringing in the crops in spring and waiting out the cold and snowy winter months, as all in the village but the innkeeper did.
He had learned the ways of the seeds and the watering from his father, and received his tools when he’d simply failed to wake one morning.
Chaun could still picture his stiff, cold face, and the wailing and weeping of his mother on that day.
It had fallen to Chaun to prepare the burial plot, down in the southern field where his two older brothers also lay, having failed to live beyond a year or two from birth.
The soil in that field was hard and unrelenting, but beating out a hole blow by blow had given him something to do. All his mother did was sit on the cold soil, staring at the hole as it grew deeper.
When it was finished and the hole was filled in, she had raised herself up from the ground, coughed once and then walked off the farm without saying a word.
Chaun never saw her again.
Sometimes he wondered where she had gone.
It wasn’t just into the village, as he would have no doubt seen her over the years. Still, he was immediately too busy with the farm to spend the time searching up such matters.
Nobody in the village knew what had happened, and many assumed that both parents had passed at the same time, buried side by side as was the tradition.
Chaun had kept mostly to himself after that, at least until the spring harvest the following year.
As was right and proper – he could still recall his father’s gruff voice explaining the way it was and would always be, a favourite expression of his – Chaun had headed into the village once the harvest with a sheaf of wheat and the three smooth stones in his hand to seek out a bride.
Elgeta had been a good wife to him for the time they were together; quiet at first when her father handed her over, but quickly adaptable to farm life, just as adept at helping to fix up the storage bins if rats got in as she was at preparing a meal after a long day in the field.
She had given Chaun three fine sons, Elver, Syrox and Kippu.
Elver had fallen to a sickness in his third year, and Kippu survived only minutes into the world before expiring.
That effort broke Elgeta too, and once again Chaun had to prepare the burial plot, though that time he’d been able to get some help from young Syrox.
This too, would become Syrox’s farm when he passed, Chaun figured, not that he had plans to go just yet.
Looking out over the fields, Chaun became aware of movement on the path leading west, away from both farm and village.
Chaun had been told from a very young age that the gate to the west led to nowhere good.
“The wicked west” his mother used to say, and for some reason that phrase used to make his father smile, though Chaun never knew why.
Over the years he’d diligently made sure that the western gate was maintained, just in case whatever the wickedness was came this way.
And yet… in the distance, Chaun could make out a figure approaching on a horse. He must have come through the western gate. Chaun sat on his stool and waited as the figure approached, becoming more distinct as it got closer.
The man certainly was nobody Chaun had never met before.
Definitely not the sons of one of the other farmers, or the innkeeper’s son.
Someone new, wearing some kind of strange clothing in a bright purple colour. Easy to make out in a field, Chaun figured, but he did not know of any sheep that made wool in that hue.
His horse, too, was odd. Clearly, it was a horse of some type, but it lacked the thick heavy body of one of Chaun’s white farm horses.
Instead, it was a brown colour, taller and lighter of build. Chaun couldn’t see why you would ride such an animal, as its ability to pull a plough through a field must be quite poor.
Maybe it made for good eating in the colder winter months?
“Well met, good sir! Could you direct me to the lord of the manor?”
The stranger’s words were equally unusual.
He spoke not like an ordinary man would, with a strange high pitch to his pronunciation. And what could these words mean?
“What? The what of the what now?”
“The Lord of the Manor? The one who rules over you and yonder village?”
“The… Lord? Rules over…?”
“Ah. I see we’re having a problem of communication here. I’ll try to make it simpler so you can understand. WHO. IS. IN. CHARGE. IN. THE. VILLAGE?”
A strange question, Chaun thought.
A man was in charge of what was his, or what he had been left when his parents left him, taking to the land or the inn over the years. He was no more in charge of the inn than the innkeeper was a farmer.
“What do you mean, nobody? You must have a lord, an earl or a baron?”
“No. Don’t think we’ve ever had any of whatever those things might be. Are they some kind of food?”
“Oh my. Well, then, my good man, I have some very good news for you. For today, your village… what is it called?”
“The village? It’s called… the village. What else would we call it?”
“Hmm. That will never do. Well, as I was saying, I have good news for you. From today, your village and all the lands around it are part of the glorious kingdom of King Stratto.”
“Your new King, and the finest King in all the lands. I shall head into the village and let them know, such that a feast may be prepared. For the King rides but three days behind me, and will expect lodgings and food laid out for him.”
“I don’t know anything about that kind of thing. I suppose the inn might be able to provide a drink or two, in return for wheat to brew the beer from.”
“Well, the innkeeper isn’t going to just give some unknown… what did you call him… keng? Kang? Whatever, your Kong isn’t just going to be able to go in there and get beer for nothing. Unless he can work a plough or prepare a meal.”
“You DARE suggest that mighty King Stratto lower himself to serf’s work? Watch your tongue, cur!”
“Watch my tongue? My eyes don’t work that way.”
“Do you think to mock me, peasant?”
“Mock? What’s a mock? Your words are proper strange, horse rider.”
“Right, that does it!”
“Does it? You do talk in a odd way. Makes it right hard to figure out what you mean. Oh, what’s that you’re getting out? Some kind of bread knife?
Bit long to be practical, don’t you think? Careful where you wave that around now, you’ll hurt someone with that if you’re not…”