Showcase Sunday - The Gelded One (Original Fantasy Short Story)
Today is Sunday... which means the Showcase Sunday challenge. Showcase Sunday is a chance to resurrect your best work, and perhaps get some new eyes on those posts that took hours/days to make.
The short story I want to share today was written over 2 years ago during my first six months on steem. This story takes place in a fantasy universe which is the setting for the novel I am currently working on. The Gelded One was written as an origin story for one of the characters who will feature heavily in the novel and the setting of the three kingdoms was created many moons ago while studying at university.
I have published a few other stories set in this world on steem one of which explores another of the main characters in the novel. If you enjoy this story and want more of the same 😉 check out these two stories from the three kingdoms; Forbidden Fruit & The Duties of a Court Wizard.
Now, to the main event...
The Gelded One
The iron rod glows before my good eye. The copper taste of my blood mingles with the biting aroma of my excrement. I spit in his buzzing face. He stops his pacing.
"You are a fool," I gasp from torn lips. My nerves are ice, the pain flows from me like water. I smile, tattered lip flapping against my chin as the warmth of my blood lingers on my chest. "My tribe protects me from all of this.”
"Your tribe’s holy herb does protect you from pain." He taps his lip as he speaks, slipping the iron rod back into the forge. "You are so young and have yet to develop a healthy fear of death, I don't blame you for it, an advantage - possibly - in your profession. I wonder though, have you developed a healthy fear of life?"
He turns the iron in the fire, fingers caressing the cloth-wrapped haft. He swings the glowing end out and under my chin. "It is true that I could burn you piece by piece until you fell apart and still I wouldn't hear you scream. Wouldn’t hear you mewl like a baby."
My nostrils fill with a trickle of smoke like the first hints of a hog roast borne on winter wind. He tickles my hanging lip until the trickle becomes a torrent blinding and choking me into a spasmodic cough. "I can make you cry though, can't I warrior?"
Tears stream from smoke stung eyes, washing my face in a warmth which quenches my smouldering bottom lip. The glow of the iron diminishes as its heat traces its way down my chest and over my bulging belly.
"What of this, Getling." The heat hovers just below my belly as his hands twitch. "A healthy fear of life. Do you ever want to see your first born dance beneath the trees in the lee of the waning moon? Or celebrate the coming of age by the icy pool of your ancestors? How will your wife like you when you are no longer a Getling warrior but a weak gelding, weaving with the women in their huts?"
My heart races as he moves the rod closer to my groin. I can feel it as a dull knowing with no sense of burn or pain.. I twist my head in the neck shackles trying to see if he has reduced me or if I am still whole.
"I see there are some mutilations that have merit in this situation." His head draws level with mine and the smile leaks across his face like night soil across the surface of a lake.
"Where are your people planning to attack next?"
I am stone and I will not weather. I am stone and I will not weather. I repeat in my head the words of the warrior, taught on the fields of the dead before the Shelief leaves are consumed.
He leans close, eyes never leaving mine as I feel the pressure on my crotch and hear the spitter-spatter of fire consuming flesh.
"Where are your people planning to attack next?"
I fall into blackness as my mind reels from the destruction of my parts but all I can feel is the soft pillow of unconsciousness.
I open my eye. On a table before me sits a vial. A teardrop of crystal filled with water that shines like the glimmer of sun on the meadow, light over a spring born waterfall. My hands are still bound and my crotch throbs, a dull ache heralding the fading boon of the Shelief herbs.
I look down and gasp, gritting my teeth in terror at the gore before my eyes. I try to blink the tears away but no lids are left to contain these streams of sorrow. I weep unashamedly for my life, memories of the wind in my hair while riding my first mare to battle. The grating of steel on steel, flesh riven cleanly, the purity of battle I will never know again. The horse given to me by my ‘name father’, the horse that had been given as a blessing to marry his daughter Elessanr.
The torrent becomes a river as I think of her hair shining in the moon soaked night woods, flitting from root to bur, like a nymph in the night. I had chased like a panther but she was always a tease away, eyes green like the lake of a thousand tears.
My Elessanr, how will she look at me now? I am no longer a man, but a eunuch.
She will not look at all, I won’t be a warrior anymore, no better than a slave. This is the way. Our way. A cold fire awakens in my belly, rivulets of flame are pulsing from my eyes now as the sacred herb’s effects wane once more. But that cold will not be quenched. It rises up in me like the glaciers grating progress in the northern wastes, steady, enough to grind a mountain down. I shall not be diminished, I will find a way. I will destroy this monster who has dismembered me. The cold fire rises then, a flood of rage I cannot contain and I howl. Sobs of pain as the heat and sticky blood maim, stabs from my crotch to belly. The herb’s effects are loose now, slipping like a knot, I continue to howl. Draining my last breath in that explosion, wrenching my bonds at the wrist, I hear a pop. Pain lances up my arm and I bite my tongue and taste copper.
Killing will bring salvation, I will feel my hands crush the life from his throat before I succumb to any guard’s sword. I will hear him splutter his last from closing mouth as the crimson foam specks his whitening lips.
One hand slips through the bonds in a crescendo of pain and I look at my dislocated wrist, hanging limp and useless. I stagger forward and falter, legs giving out beneath me as I grab the edge of the table. The strips of flesh hanging from my legs flap like pennant flags on the battlefield at the end of day. I am like one of the war mangled, a dismembered soldier trying to heave himself from the carrion heap. Daggers of pain from my crotch strike fell me like a tree. As I try to pull myself up, my eyes alight on the vial. The crystal fragments of light colour my mind with memories of her eyes, I grab the stopper and dash it back in one gulp. It’s this or death! Let what will come, come.
As if drunk, I reel through the fog. Black smoke obscuring the grey hills of ash. I hear him screaming in my mind.
You will be mine. Eventually, they all die and ash forms from blood, into the hills of my country.
Death’s voice has followed me all my life, that screeching bone-wrenching voice like fingernails down a slate. That voice follows all from my tribe in the twilight hours before the battle and in the deep sleep of the winter’s berth. Wrapped all around with sheep skin mounds, snoring in the sweet bursting stink of the huts’ flatulent air. The skins’ homely smell drowning out the families’ snorts and gurgles with that smell of the hills in summer, the daisy in the dew as the catkins drift on the lifting wind. Still he speaks, still, he shrieks.
Never had I thought to see his country so soon. A single tree sways in the distance, its silhouette visible through the gloom. We sing of this tree in the womb of the winter solstice, in that dark time we sing of the hag and her tree. One and the same they sway in the wind, branches singing as the night passes. The song is loudest in the winter nights, her creaking voice can be heard in the shift of the snow, in the murmur of the harsh crows caw.
I trudge on. Pain is breath as the dust of the hills floats all around me stinging my insides, a thousand shards of glass. The tree looms larger. Its branches are veins pulsing against the sky, lifting and stretching to the moonless heavens where all of a sudden I see his eyes and falter. Two great lidless eyes of deep pitiless grey, they stab at me from the sky, wrenching into my mind like a canker which saps hope from my faltering limbs. I feel a weakness creep over me from bone to muscle and it is all I can do to put foot in front of foot on the steepening slope.
“They all come to death in the end.” The voice shudders through me now from all parts of my failing body as I watch my hands wrinkling before my eyes. I stumble on the lip of the hill as a shadow falls across my face. I look upwards from my knees and the hag stands over me, her breath like the stench of vultures. Black swathed, arms upraised with long fingers stretching out to the sky like veins. Her voice is like the creaking of the willow in the changing of the first frost. It cuts me like daggers in my eyes and all goes black for a moment.
“Now death will ride with you always, Arcktel. He is your constant companion and you can call upon him at need. Only at direst need.”
Light smashes into me like a morning-star. I retch and smell the sharp tang of vomit in my nose. I come to the world like a newborn baby, curled on the floor in my own blood and faeces, gasping. The ache of the sun in my eyes bursts through my mind as I stare at the empty vial lying just beyond twitching hands. Sharp sunlight lances through the window as I attempt to move, causing a sea of sickness to cascade through my body. It spreads up through me changing and growing in a building wave until pulses of pressure build an orgasmic cadence in my brain. I descend, sucked down in a whirlpool, I watch myself spiralling away, still curled up as a babe in the cot.
The grass stretches out before me, endless, timeless, shimmering in the silver light. Twilight enshrouds this place like a mother’s embrace. Peace shadows my memories in the gentle murmur of the grass. It feels like I have finally scratched an itch that has been just beneath the surface my entire life. I sigh and my breath becomes the breeze, stirring the blades of gold into a dance of pure joy. Pain has gone. I weep for the cessation of suffering, the shining promise of the meadow’s endless remembrances. Rain begins to fall, soft gentle pitter-patter mingles with the voice of the swaying grass in an exquisite music. I lay back and open my mouth, sweet drops quench my thirst clearing my mind like mud from the stones in autumn rainfall. I wander in memory of Elessanr’s tickling touch on my skin as the warm waters cleanse me. Her hair flowing in the stream on our first night as man and wife, her eyes shining in the sun.
The rain fades with the memory. I feel warm breath on my face and hot tears barrel down my cheeks as I open my eyes hardly daring to believe. The large eyes of a silver mare bore into mine, willing me to rise as the tears abate. Those silver orbs encompass me as I struggle to my knees and the powerful hooves paw at the ground in impatience.
Malevernine, horse of stars,
mane waving in heavens bright,
before the yoke of death’s embrace,
take saddle and ride the night.
The words come to me, a dream from a yesterday that I cannot quite reach. Then it returns in a flash, the tribes’ folk singing of Malevernine, the horse of the heavens, lifting us from death’s embrace to the halls of our ancestors. Those eyes bore into me again as my heart opens like the floods at the end of time. I push up to my feet as the mare dips and tosses her head, snorting as her mane, like a thousand shooting stars, settles on my brow. Healing washes over me, a summer rain shower cleansing me of my pain. A growing glow pulses in the grass as the wind grows and I suddenly know what she wants me to do. I grasp that mane, tangled in my fingers that tingle like mountain dew on the moss. I pull myself up and she tosses her head once again, lifting my to her back as if I were smoke bourn aloft on the shifting breeze. I hear the murmur of my ancestors singing around the fire at the end of the night.
Malevernine, horse of stars,
mane waving in heavens bright,
before the yoke of death’s embrace,
take saddle into endless night.
In your timeless realm we sing
Around the endless fire burning
Of Maleverine, whose shelter brings
escape from death returning.
I can see the fire shining in their eyes, mouths set like stone but smiling as the fire spits forth sparks of thought. They chant the song of Malevernine over and over, each line echoing a thousand memories in melody. Suddenly they all turn to look at me at once and the weight of their eyes is too much to bear.
Malevernine snorts once, twice and then with a thundering whinny bursts forwards like quicksilver. We race over the golden grass. Memories of my ancestors flow all around me like thistledown caught in the breeze as she snorts and brays in sheer joy. My mind reels in pure abandon as I bask in the realisation of ultimate freedom. We lift off into the darkening sky as star points wink out from the deepening dark. Her voice comes to me clear now in an aching lament, crisp like the starlight, clear like the face of the moon.
“Do not forget this journey Arcktel! Do not forget the cadence of my music nor the echo of my hoof fall. Remember well, for I shall always be with you, to call upon in direst need.”
I awaken to the tap-tap-tapping of iron on wood. My neck creaks as I strain to look up. The ancestor’s song resonates with the cessation of memories fading like a summer breeze, the grass and the horse smell fades.
I’m yanked to my feet and the world comes clear to me at last. His hateful eyes flash as he holds up the empty vial. “What have you done Getling?” He paces up and down, “How did you get free?” Each question snapped off, quick as the crack of a whip. Hot breath, stinking of wine and smoke. “Well?” The scream reverberates through my head, pain and a strange exultation simmer in my animal mind.
He’s angry, he’s lost control. I grin, wide and feel my teeth extruding beyond my jaw scraping exquisite pain on the remaining strips of lips.
Do not forget this journey Arcktel! Do not forget the cadence of my music.
“You have drunk enough sun-water to last a user of the craft half a lifetime Getling. What did you see? Where did you go?” He eyes me with interest now, “You will answer my questions.” The iron rod taps against the table before he slips it slowly into the fire of the forge. “Time to begin the games again. Do you even know who I am, Getling? My craft can keep you alive for an aeon, bring you to death again and again and draw you back.”
He waves one hand over the forge muttering while the other removes a small bottle from his pocket and dexterously opens the stopper. He sips at the small vial, careful and contemplative. Face goes flat, eyes blank, pupils open up to swallow the colour of his eyes and those pits of blackness turn to me.
“I am Ailentor! Do you know that name? I will have answers Getling, I am going to summon all the ghosts of yesterday’s dead thoughts to rip answers from your lips.”
My heart sinks as I recognise the name. A name of legendary fear, a name from the past, from childhood stories. The Mage of Dimursveld… my throat closes over with the final uttering of his spell. His guttural words sound like he is giving birth to a demon. They echo in my mind, simmering, flaying in the memory of dust from beneath the hag's tree.
Death will ride with you always, Arcktel. He is your constant companion and you can call upon him at need. Only at direst need… Do not forget this journey Arcktel! Do not forget the cadence…
Words trail away, fading from my mind into a silence so profound I can barely breathe. I can see Ailentor beckoning something from the flames, sleek and ephemeral like a snake made of thick black dust. Two piercing green lights for eyes, it espies me and a harsh gasp emits from my throat as it hisses in unison. I feel the blood awaken in my veins as it approaches.
Sunburst, aching memory of golden grass endless, timeless, shimmering in the silver light. It fills me up, a howl of unbridled rage bursts from my lungs forming into incomprehensible words flowing like molten steel, strong yet fluid.
Death, Do not forget the cadence. Only at direst need... Arcktel.
Malevernine the star horse lifts me up in the sheer power of the call from the realms of my ancestors. Everything that I am, expressed in a mounting song without words. I see the room spinning away from me. He is looking upwards, black eyes a susurrus in my mind as his hands weave and a voice chases me into the stars.
“I see you, and I hear your name Arcktel. I shall follow, I shall find you!”