The Chosen Pigherder – Part 4 (the end)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
In the end Ricky was overruled and Liandra went in for her second gig. The plan was she was going to open a small gate conveniently left in the back wall. Ricky wondered what the hell the castle designers were thinking. When he penned pigs he sure as hell didn’t leave extra gates around to be left open. It was just common sense, any farmer could see that.

Of course Liandra didn’t show up as expected, leaving them with a locked gate instead of a conveniently open one. Ricky came up with an alternate plan on the spot. He walked back to the Inn and used a bunch of Galifaxis’ coins to buy up most of the meat in the kitchen. He then returned to the palace with a pile of meat in a cart. He knocked on the delivery gate and said, “Pork order for the palace.”

A guard came to the door, looked at him for a moment without a hint of suspicion and said, “Alright, kitchen is down that way.”

Galifaxis and Talen followed behind, carrying heavy sacks. Ricky kept going until he reached the kitchen. Talend said, “What are you doing? We aren’t really meat merchants.”

“I know mate, but look, if they find a great bloody heap o’ meat in the halls they might notice aught ain’t alright. If I take the meat to where it belongs, well, nobody is going to notice a damned thing. How in the nine hells did you folks manage adventuring without me?”

They dropped off the meat, and then headed towards the throne room. There were two guards at the door. Talen mutterd something and gestured and both guards fell asleep. The trio entered the throne room, only to be confronted by Kent, an older man with wispy thinning hair and a nervous palour, holding a knife to Liandra’s throat. “Okay, who the fuck are you three and why are you trying to kill me?”

“This is Richard Coursmiere,” Talen proclaimed with a flourish.

“Fuck. Alright, well in a way it’s a relief. I mean, here I’ve been scouring the kingdom for him for a decade and a half. So, you’re him,” Kent said, staring at Galifaxis.

“No, sorry, not him, the other one.”

“The fat one?”

“Yeah, believe it or not.”

“Well no wonder we missed him. You don’t look much like a warrior mage boy.”

“I’m not. I’m not Richard either. I mean yeah, it’s my name, but just Ricky will do fine. I’m no great hero, and I don’t want to rule. I have a question though, how much money were you spending on the search for me?”

“I don’t know exactly, it’s been ramping up lately. Something close to a third of tax revenues.”

“So, huh… and killing all those people?”

“Mostly searching for you.”

“What if we don’t fight?”

“What?”

“What if I go back to my farm, raise my pigs, and you do your best to be a decent ruler and dedicate all that tax money to the running of the kingdom? I mean, I’m sixteen. I don’t know shit about running a kingdom. Hell, I raise pigs and I don’t even know shit about pork markets.”

“Well, you know, if I wasn’t worried about the chosen one all the time I feel like I might be able to do a better job managing the kingdom. I only took over because your father was, well, unsuited to the task.”

“I’ve heard, and look, I’m not happy you killed him. Not happy at all, but I grew up with a dad who loved me. I see no reason we should fight, provided you do a decent job running things and stop killing so many people.”

“Yeah, I think that’s a decent idea. Sorry love, I think I nicked your throat,” Kent said this last to Liandra.

“Ricky, you need to slay this man and take your rightful place as king. We can rule side by side, protecting our people.”

“Liandra, you are really saying you think I’d be a good king?”

“Well, of course, I mean you are the chosen one.”

“I didn’t pick up fighting or wizardry at all. I’m a good pig farmer, but that’s it.”

Liandra stormed out, muttering under her breath. At the door, she turned and looked at Kent and said, “Hey, maybe you and I can talk later,” then she kept walking.

Talen looked on in incredulity. “What the hell Ricky? This man killed your father, slaughtered innocents, you mean to tell me you aren’t going to fight him?”

“From where I stand I’m not a better fit for ruling, and it seems like a lot of the bad he did was because of the prophecy. Man was scared for his life. I can’t blame the man for that. If there was a prophecy I was going to get murdered I might be a bit anxious in general as well. This way he can focus on his strengths, and I can get back to me pigs. They miss me, at least until I turn them into bacon.”

Galifaxis said, “I support this. Talen, you know your magic stuff, but you don’t really know crap about killing. Killing is ugly, no matter what. Better to reach an agreement now than to keep going on like this.”

The group of them sat down and hashed out some details for Ricky’s exile from the capital over tea and Ricky went back to the farm. Galifaxis joined him some time later, hanging up his sword and learning the ways of the field. Talen vanished that night and was never seen in the kingdom again.

Many years passed and Ricky married a farm girl named Sarah. She was plain, plump, and was as dedicated to the farm as Ricky was. After John died Ricky inherited the farm. They paid their taxes on time, and the tax burden was reasonable. The change in the kingdom since the usurper stopped worry about the chosen was marked. Armed patrols had almost vanished, taxes were fair, and overall the populace thrived.

Liandra married Kent and they lived, if not happily ever after, at least happily enough and for quite some time, and after all, that’s all you can really ask for.

The end.

Share

The Chosen Pigherder – Part 3

Part 1Part 2
The two of them went to bed, tired and frustrated. Early the next morning Ricky found himself being shaken awake by Talen. “Ricky, get up, it’s time to work on spellcraft.”

“Sod off. It’s not even morning yet.”

“Of course it is. It’s three thirteen in the morning to be precise. The perfect time to start your first spellcraft lesson.”

“Okay, just let me grab a bite and I’ll get right to it.”

“Sorry, no. That’s not how this works. You work first, right now. Get dressed, and we’ll get to it.”

“What in the hell is wrong with you people? Okay, fine. You know that when you get up too early for the farm boy you are probably doing it wrong though right?”

After Ricky got dressed they sat down and started working on magic. Talen told Ricky to focus, to let his mind go blank, then he put an unlit candle in front of him and told him to concentrate, to see a flame on the wick, completely and totally. To see it as clearly as if it was there, Ricky did. He focused, he cleared his mind, he worked hard. No matter how hard he tried though, all he could really focus on was the idea of bacon. Delicious, salty, crispy, wonderful bacon. He missed it so very much. He could even smell it, just as if it was cooking that moment. Then he realized it was cooking, the smell was coming from the main building, breakfast being prepared. Not only that, daylight was starting to seep in from under the stable door. The candle wick remained unlit in every way. “Okay, look, I’m no good if I get hungry. No ability to concentrate what? So, let’s go grab some food and take another crack at this never.”

“Food might be what we need. Also, we do need to get on the road as soon as possible. I’ll let you off right now. Time to grab a bite, then we hit the road, we start practicing again tomorrow morning though.”

They went into the main building. Gaifanaxis was already eating and the singer from the night before was at the next table, looking tired. Shortly after Ricky and Talen sat down and got their food the soldiers came in. They were talking loudly, discussing what they would like to do to the singer. Ricky tried to ignore it, but she was clearly uncomfortable and he could see the pain in her eyes. Finally, after one particularly crude comment, Ricky couldn’t take it anymore. He walked up to the soldiers and said, “Hey, could you leave the lady alone?”

“What’s it to you fat boy?”

“Look, I just don’t think it’s decent. Lady deserves better is all.”

“You wanna make something of it?”

“Depends, you willing to put down the armour and weapons and fight like a real man?”

“What the hell? Let’s do it, fatso.”

Talen was waving his arms wildly and Galifaxis had a look of resignation on his face.

Outside Ricky put up his fists getting ready to fight. He’d watched a few fights but never been in one. They all kind of started the same way, the two fighters would circle each other, hurl insults at each other, and eventually one of them would try to punch the other one. Usually, the bigger one ended up on top on the ground and it was all over. Ricky started to circle, opening his mouth, when a fist hit him in the stomach. All his air vanished instantly. He was surprised to find that it didn’t hurt, but that he couldn’t breathe at all. He gasped for breath and went down to his knees. The soldier kneed him in the face. There was the pain that hadn’t been there when he was punched. It was instense, deep, traumatic. He collapsed, sobbing and gasping for air. At least it was over… no, wait, there was a boot hitting his head. He curled up into a ball, covering as much of his body as he could with his arms and legs. The pain was on the top of his head, a sharp, stinging sensation mixed into the dull thud, the ache. He heard a voice saying, “Alright, that’s enough. Let the body up.” but the kicks weren’t stopping. Suddenly there was a warm spray and the kicking stopped. Then the screaming started, voices raised in pain and fear. A moment later it was quiet. Ricky heard a voice say, “Alright lad, time to get up, they won’t be able to hurt you anymore.”

Ricky opened his eyes and took the hand that was extended to him. There was blood everywhere, including all over him. All four soldiers were lying on the ground, lifeless.

“Sorry lad, really didn’t want to do that,” said Galifaxis, “but it went too far. Was getting to the point where you might have been permanently harmed, and that’s against the rules right now. So, you see why I want you trained?”

Ricky couldn’t stop crying, although the vomit was trying to force him to concentrate on it instead. His nose was filled with a sharp, metallic smell. He gave into the need and vomited all over the ground. It was more than his poor stomach could take. The smell of vomit filled his nose, replacing that of blood. Of course the girl was outside, watching all of this. Her eyes were the kindest eyes he’d ever seen. He tried to pull himself together, to stop heaving, but it wasn’t working.

She came over to him, carrying a bucket of water and a cloth and without saying a word started cleaning him up. He managed to stop vomiting at her touch and found the cool water from the cloth helped.

“That was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen. Stupid of course, but brave. I’m Liandra.”

“R R Ricky,” Ricky managed to gasp out.

“Thank you. It was so very sweet of you. I have to say though, maybe next time don’t challenge the trained soldiers to a fight over my honour.”

She finished cleaning him up and then joined them on their journey. It didn’t strike Ricky as strange for several hours and by then it was too awkward to bring up. The two of them talked a lot as they rode, more than Ricky had ever talked with any woman. She seemed fascinated by everything about his life, asking questions about the pigs, laughing at his jokes. He knew he was falling for her. He had rare moments where he wondered why she seemed to also be falling for him.

The journey to the capital took two weeks. Every night Ricky tried to learn the sword, every morning he tried to learn magic, every day he flirted with Liandra. It felt like more than a routine, it felt like a ritual. The one thing that was out of place was that he didn’t get even a tiny bit better at either magic or swordplay.

Finally, the capital gates were in front of them. Galifaxis went first, riding up to the gate boldly. “Halt, what’s your business here?”

“I’m a sell sword, looking for work. The old man is a magician and the girl is a minstrel. The boy is my apprentice, trying to learn the ways of the sword.”

“Whatever. One copper piece each for passage.”

When they got inside the gate Talen said, “Huh, usually that’s a lot more challenging. We have to disguise the chosen one.”

“Well, did you ever consider that when people look at me they don’t see a chosen one? They see exactly what I am, a farmer?”

“Yeah, I guess I can see that. Usually, by now the chosen one is a lean and dangerous man, somehow you haven’t lost a single pound.”

“Please, I told you, no cracks about my weight. I don’t want to have to thump you.”

“I’ve seen you fight, I’m not that worried.”

“So, what’s the plan now?”

“We find lodging in the city, survey the usurper’s palace, come up with a cunning plan to get you inside, then you face off against him. You defeat him after a great test. You and Liandra get married and you rule as a good and wise king.”

“Huh. Really? That’s it?”

“It’s how these things go. Trust me, I’ve seen it before, of course, it will take everything you have to achieve that end. You will be tested to the end of your endurance and only through great perseverance and will can you succeed.”

“So, wait, it doesn’t really matter if I can fight or not, if I can cast spells or not, so long as I face off against the tyrant and show great heart?”

“Well, I honestly don’t know. Every other chosen one has always had those skills by this points. To tell you the complete truth they typically learn very rapidly. Embarrassingly quickly actually.”

“Well, maybe I’m just a more regular sort of chosen one. Still, I can be stubborn. Maybe that’s my key, just being so stubborn the tyrant eventually gives up to my sheer force of will.”

“Maybe, I don’t know.”

Liandra said, “Richard, I love you. I can’t wait until you defeat the evil Kent and we can be married.”

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to that as well. You are definitely the main thing keeping me on task right now. I mean, have you seen you?”

She laughed, beautiful green eyes sparkling through impossibly long eyelashes.

Planning took the next little while. Sometimes soldiers would happen on the group as they were casing the castle walls. If Ricky was present the soldiers would simply ignore them, looking past them as if they weren’t even there. Liandra managed to get herself an invite to perform inside the castle, something Ricky had serious doubts about, but that night she joined them in the Inn they were using for lodging and showed them all of the entrances and exits. “That awful man, he kept looking at me as if I was a piece of meat. He shouldn’t look at me like that, I’m yours and only yours Ricky. Once you defeat him we can wed. He demanded my return in three days, said he wanted to hear more of my music.”

“Well, that’s a garbage thought. You can’t go back. You need to just stay back here at the inn, relax and take it easy.”

“I disagree,” Talen said, “If she’s performing at the palace she can help us to get inside. It’s the only sure fire way through the defences.”

“Okay, that’s just a dumb idea. There’s like a hundred other ways we could get in. Why would we risk two people with no combat training when we could risk just one? I mean, Liandra, you are gorgeous, and I’m pretty sure that if you go back in Kent’s going to take you hostage or something, and then we will have to rescue you as well as everything else we need to do.”

Liandra said, “I’m not afraid, I know you will protect me.”

“That’s kind of the point. If you don’t go in I don’t have to.”

Part 4 – the end

Share

The Chosen Pigherder – Part 2

This is part 2. Check out Part 1 before you read it
“Look, no need to get insulting. Anyway, what does it say?”

“Here’s the bit about you. ‘And the usurper shall attempt to raise the demon Kaceputurus, and if the true heir is not found in time then surely he will survive, and his reign of blood shall last a thousand years. The heir must sacrifice almost all to defeat the usurper.”

“Sacrifice almost all? I don’t really like the sound of that.”

“Peasant. Look, it’s either that or we are all ruled by a man who’s idea of discipline is to hang the entire family line of the offender by their ankles as rats gnaw on them making them bleed enough that they stay conscious. He’s not a good man, and you need to stop him.”

John spoke up. “Look son, like I keep saying, you have to go. You can’t stay here. You can decide to embrace your destiny, or you can decide to sleep under a bridge and starve, but you don’t have a home here until you finish this. I am not having my farm burned down by some half-wit security force because they think you are here. At least now when they inevitably follow you I can say you left and be telling the truth.”

Ricky sobbed a little as it occurred to him that he was now homeless, and an actual orphan – even these surrogate parents were abandoning him.

“Oh, now, don’t cry boy,” said Aunt June, “We’re going to send you off with all what we can spare, you’ll have warm clothing and ample food to eat.”

John walked out of the room for a moment. When he came back he was carrying a long object wrapped in cloth. “Your dad, he had a sword. I think it’s a pretty nice one, far as these things go. Probably enchanted or something.”

John pulled the cloth back, revealing a three-foot long piece of steel, heavily engraved with runes. The hilt was bound in the finest leather, inset with a single pure red ruby. The ruby and the runes started to glow as soon as Ricky put his hand on the hilt. Ricky lifted it, and it felt light as air. Talen let out a little giggle, a nervous sound, almost a titter. “What you laughing at then mate?”

“Oh, nothing… just, I have to admit you don’t really have the look I was expecting.”

“Fine then, I’ll just go and stay home then, if the way I look is such a problem.”

“No, no… I’m sure we’ll get you trim and fighting fit in no time. I have to teach you spellcraft as well. I’m sure you will take to it, the chosen one always does.”

The pair left the farmhouse, the sword now sheathed at Ricky’s waist. They had a pack full of supplies. Ricky insisted they walk past the pig pen. He said goodbye to all the pigs. He named each and every pig as they were born, and when he made bacon he always called it by that name. “Goodbye Moonchance, Goodbye Mr. Baconfeet, Goodbye Dave,” on and on it went. Talen was clearly getting irritated, which made Ricky happy so he took even longer.

After the goodbyes to the pigs, they were on the road proper. After an hour or so Ricky started to complain. “We’ve been walking too long. It’s time to stop for a snack.”

“We have to cross hundreds of miles, and time is short. We can’t stop for a break every hour.”

“Way I see it, that’s your problem. Mine is that I’m hungry and I haven’t eaten in at least an hour. I’m a growing boy, need me vittles, I do.”

“Look, do you want everyone in the entire kingdom to be under the thumb of an immortal tyrant for the rest of time?”

“Well no, but I don’t really think ten minutes is going to make that big a difference, and I’m bloody starved mate.”

“Okay, ten minutes. Sure, why not. Damnit.”

They sat and ate, soft bread with cheese and butter. As they ate a stranger walked up the road. He stopped in front of Talen and said, “So, this is him huh?”

“Yes, you would be the warrior?”

“Of course. He’s… bigger than I expected.”

“Yeah, about double what I was anticipating. Still, he’s a strong lad. Just a bit lazy.”

“I resent that. I do me work on the farm. I work harder than either of you fancy men do. Just, I don’t like long walks is all. That and I like my food, I do.”

“Okay son, I’m Galifaxis the Slayer, scourge of the seven wildernesses and the greatest swordsman of our age. My job is to teach you to use a blade. I see you have one already… do you know how to use it?”

“This? No, I just picked it up for the first time today. Give me a good axe any day, this fancy thing, it’s just not me. Also, what’s with the names? Galifaxis? You actually expect me to say that every time I talk in your direction? I won’t bloody do it. Your name is G now.”

“No, just… no. Look, what we are doing is important. Has the wizard explained the situation to you?”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I’m not cut out for this sort of thing. I like taking care of pigs, I like farming. It’s noble, honest work… this gallivanting about like some sort of band of lunatics, that’s for you fancy city folk.”

Talen stood up, “Okay, look, if you’re finished your snack maybe we can push on. There’s an inn just a bit down the road, and I would prefer sleeping indoors tonight if possible.”

“Alright. Don’t make much difference to me. I don’t mind sleeping outside, do it all the times when I’m tending the hogs.”

“Yes, well, some of us don’t have your natural padding.”

Next crack about me weight and I crack you in the head mate. I’ve put up with it because you’re a fancy wizard and all, but I don’t have to take that crap from the likes of you.”

They continued down the road, Talen and Galifaxis chatting as they went. For the most part, Ricky ignored them. They weren’t saying anything interesting anyway. Finally, they reached the inn. It was a rough place called the Halfling Hole.

Inside the inn, there was a fire roaring and a handful of people sitting at tables. On a raised dais in the middle was a beautiful woman. She was strumming a travel harp, wearing a long cloak. Her long auburn hair flowed over milky white shoulders. She looked up as Ricky walked in. Her eyes met his, eyes of the purest green, like drowning in spring sunshine through dappled leaves. Ricky found his breath wouldn’t come, he knew in that moment that he was in love, that he would do anything for this woman. Her lips formed a perfect bow, the colour of strawberries at peak ripeness. She looked down, then looked back up at him through long lashes, eyes half lidded, lips half-parted. He felt his knees get weak. How could a woman this beautiful exist? Even more, how could she be looking at him that way, as if he was someone she desired?

He walked to a table near the stage, completely ignoring the group of four armoured men he passed on the way. The four of them had matching cloaks and livery, clearly soldiers of some sort, but Ricky didn’t care. He wanted to be near the goddess on the stage more than anything in the world.

Talen sat down next to him and said, “What the hell boy? Did you not see the soldiers? Those are the tyrant’s men. If they figure out who you are they will slay you on the spot.”

“Well, if Galifaxis is the greatest swordsman on earth and you are mighty wizard shouldn’t you be able to deal? I mean, there’s only four of them.”

“That’s not the point. This time it’s probably alright, but come on, this is dangerous. We need to keep you alive so we can train you to the point where you can defeat the tyrant or everything is lost. You are literally the only person on earth capable of beating him.”

“Look, I’m sixteen. That’s a lot of bloody responsibility don’t you think? I mean, for the sake of the gods, who would entrust a sixteen-year-old with the fate of the world?”

“The gods of course. It’s kind of what they do. This is what I do… you are my fifth chosen one. The other four all worked out alright, they all did what was needed, the world was saved, you got to keep herding pigs for a while longer. Imagine if they’d had your attitude? All of us would be in it then.”

“How about the other one, G?”

“How about me?”

“Well, what’s your story? I mean, greatest swordsman in the world. Isn’t that a bit arrogant?”

“No, there was a competition, I won. Really. I mean, it’s possible that somewhere there’s some guy practicing esoteric fighting styles I’ve not heard of who could beat me, but I believe that if someone doesn’t test their skill odds are good they aren’t as good as they think. In that case, I’m the greatest swordsman and they aren’t.”

“Yeah, I guess that makes some sense. Still, it’s gotta be a bit hard to know you have to live up to the hype. I mean, look at me… all I have to live up to is being good with pigs. Well, I guess until now. I think I liked living up to that better.”

“Yeah, I can see why. Look, can we can the chatter? We’ll run some sword work after our meal.”

“So, all that crap about being careful, avoiding notice, and then you want me to whirl around with a great bloody piece of steel? I know, maybe we could get me a shirt that says ‘The Chosen One’ in great big letters. I’m sure that would help avoid suspicion.”

The three of them sat in silence, glaring at each other until the soldiers got up from their table and left. Ricky said, “Right then, I’m off to bed.”

“You sleep in the stable.”

“Why? I’m not wealthy, but I have a few coins, I could pay for a room for the night.”

“Tradition. The chosen one always sleeps in the stable.”

“Alright, whatever. Ain’t the first time I’ve slept with animals. I don’t mind. I think it’ll improve the company. I suppose you fancy types’ll be sleeping in nice soft beds. If it gets me the bloody hell away from you I’ll sleep in the horse stall.”

Galifaxis followed Ricky outside. As they walked out into the cool evening air the warrior said, “Okay, let’s get started. Draw your sword and we’ll work on stance.”

“Kay,” Ricky drew the ornate blade. It gleamed in the night air, immediately giving an aura of menace, of danger.

“First, I’m pretty sure that’s the blade of Davonish, the greatest blade forged in this kingdom, heavily enchanted. It’s supposed to be unbreakable, lighter than any blade forged, but able to bite like a blade far, far heavier. It’s an amazing piece. Also, if I’m right, it should start to glow if we are around a dragon.”

“Okay, not testing that out. Dragons are scary mate.”

Galifaxis showed Ricky a proper sword fighting stance, one foot pointed to the enemy, the other at a forty-five-degree angle, knees bent, body side on to present as small a target as possible. Ricky didn’t even come close to matching it, and even when he stood side on, it didn’t reduce his profile. His large stomach protruded out, leaving a very wide target. “No, no, don’t hold the sword like that. This is a fine weapon, you are holding it like you plan to chop some wood.”

“Why not? Chopping wood is good honest innit? This fancy jumping about, well, it’s just not what a man should be doing. You think this is saving the world, but what happens if farmers stop working? You lot stop eating.”

“Look, I didn’t make your destiny, it’s who you are. Don’t take it out on me. I’m just here to make it as easy as possible for you to do what you need to do.”

“Sure, but look, I’m a good farmer. I’m not smart, that’s obvious. I’m not the kind of guy who’s good with swords and all that. Not agile and nimble. Not all fancy. Give me an axe, I can split wood all day, chop off a hogs head, that sort of thing. I’m a right wizard with the farming. This shite though, it’s just not me.”

“Okay, let’s try this another way. I’m going to show you some basic sword postures, some transitions. Really, really basic stuff though. You just try to copy the positions as best you can.”

For the next hour, they did position after position. Ricky didn’t manage a single one. By the end Galifaxis was cursing every second word, his calm demeanor broken. Ricky, of course, was also cursing, but that had been the case from the start.

“Okay, it’s okay. We’ll work more. Maybe sorcery is more your thing.”

“I don’t think that’s likely. Maybe I’m just not suited to this.”

“Nonsense. You are the chosen one. You will pick it up. Everyone picks it up eventually.”

Continue to Part 3

Share

The Chosen Pigherder – Part 1

Ricky was tending his pigs. He did this every morning. Many people would find this dull work, but not Ricky. He loved his pigs and got more satisfaction from tending them than anything else he could imagine. Sure, in the long run, he would have to eat them, but he made certain they had a happy life until that day.

In many ways, Ricky resembled his pigs. He was pink skinned and had an upturned, porcine nose. Also, years of living on a pig farm with his Aunt and Uncle had left him large. Much, much larger than most boys his age, both in height and girth.

On that fine midsummer morning, a stranger was walking down the road to Happy Home Pig Farm. A mysterious old man in a long cloak and a pointed hat. Ricky looked at him and thought to himself, “Well, I’ll be. A wizard coming to our little farm. How strange.”

The stranger walked up to Ricky and said “I’m looking for Richard Coursemiere. Do you know where I could find him?”

“Yep.”

“Yep, what?”

“I know where you could find him.”

“Okay…”

Ricky kept looking at the stranger. Clearly, he was stupid. Here he was asking about Ricky by that stupid name, and he was looking right at him.

“So, where can I find him?”

“I’m him, or rather, he’s me.”

The stranger stared for a moment before saying, “Okay… not quite what I was expecting. So, you’re Richard Coursemiere then. Okay. Well, I guess it is what it is. I’m Talen the Dark. I need you to come with me.”

“Can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Pigs need tending. Can’t just expect a man to up and leave his pigs can you?”

“Well, yes actually. Look, if you come with me you will find a wonderful world full of adventure and wealth. There will be deeds of daring, and women of course.”

“Well, I’m really not interested, but you can come in and meet Aunt June and Uncle John. They’ll give you some food I’m sure. It’s almost tea time anyway.”

“Look, I’m in a hurry. I need you to”

“Nope. Not interested. Either come in for tea or get out. Up to you.”

Talen followed Ricky into the quaint little farm cottage just past the pig pens. The cottage was a small building with cob walls and a thatched roof. It was in good repair, tidy, organized, and full of good smells. Ricky said, “Aunt June, some wizards come to take me off. I suspect I’m the chosen one for something or other. Anyway, is tea ready?”

“Oh, yes, I thought his might happen,” said Aunt June, a portly, cheerful woman of middle years, “Your parents were royalty of course, like most orphan children in the kingdom. I believe you are the rightful heir to the barony of Strangeleaf. A productive area once upon a time. It’s fallen into disrepute since the usurper took over. His people are sure to be looking for you. We’ve tried to hide you as best we could, but if this gentleman can find you it’s certain that the usurper is close behind. Might be best for all involved if you got out of here now before we get raided and you have to go and get vengeance or something. You know how these things go.”

“But it’s closing in on harvest, and the pigs need me.”

“Well, yes, but this way we get to keep our heads. Well, maybe. Look, John’ll be back in a minute and we can discuss it with him. You know your uncle is a sensible man. Plus he can give you the backstory on your parents and all that.”

They sat, the three of them, in awkward silence. Ricky was thinking how unfair it all was. Why did he have to be an orphan? If he only had proper parents he could have stayed and raised pigs. Other boys longed for the city life, but for Ricky this was the only life that appealed. What use were riches and towers really? Here on the farm he had all the food he could ever eat, warmth, practical people who loved him. Sure, they weren’t demonstrative. Practical farm people, they showed their love with third helpings of dessert and warm clothing in winter, even if it was well patched.

After a few minutes of silence John walked in. John was a very, very large man. His shoulders filled the door and he had to stoop to enter. He was enormously strong due to a lifetime of farm work, and enormously fat due to a lifetime of farm eating. His hair was a dark black and his skin swarthy. His face was framed by a dark black beard, cropped short. “Right then, who’s this?”

“Says his names Talen. He’s a wizard. Came to take our Ricky off to his destiny.”

“Right then. Look lad, we’ll be sorry to see you go, no question, but we don’t want to get caught up in the crossfire. Plus, it always works out better when the chosen one embraces his heritage.”

“But uncle, I don’t want to go. I like it here.”

“Yeah, fair enough, but if you don’t what are the odds that armed men come and burn our farm to the ground eh? You know that’s how it always goes, and your usurper is a nasty git.”

Talen was staring at them, lip curled under his wispy grey mustache. “What is wrong with you people? The boy is the chosen lord of Strangeleaf and his people need him. The usurper is killing people by the hundreds and you don’t care?”

“Look man, I know you can probably turn me into a toad or some such, but right now I’m talking to the boy about his future, and your input isn’t helping, so please just shut it until we get this settled.”

Talen shut it, wilting under John’s gaze. John turned back to Ricky and said, “I guess I should tell you the story. First, we ain’t really blood related. Your dad was me best mate. A good sort, but full of dreams. I lived in the city back then, trying to make my mark on the world, idiot that I was. Anyway, Benjamin, that was his name, was the rightful heir to the barony. Not quite so grand as a king or anything, which is probably why he hung out with lowlives like myself. His father’s chief adviser was a nasty little man named Kent. Kent wanted the power for himself, and also your mum. She was a fine looking lass, noble herself. They were cousins, Ben and Karen – that’s your mum. She had the nicest…”

“John, the boy doesn’t need to know that bit.”

“Right. Anyway, so Kent came up with a plan to make it look like Benjamin had betrayed the high king. The plan worked, and Kent got given the barony as a reward. Thing is, by then you were a bun in the oven. There was even a secret wedding and the like. Look, you know I’m no good at stories. Point is, the barony would have gone to you if anyone had known about you, not to Kent. Even with the supposed treason the lineage would have still prevailed through the crime, with only your father having to die. Your mum died in childbirth, probably mostly because we were hiding in a crappy sewer tunnel with Kent’s men searching for us. Was a bit of a do really. Me and June here took you in. I promised your mum on her death bed. Really, I’ve loved you like a son, and it turns out that June’s barren as the north field, so you’re all we get for a kid. On the other hand neither one of us really wants to get burned alive, something that Kent likes to do. So, would be better for everyone if you took off. We’ll send the soldiers in the wrong direction of course, but it won’t take them too long to figure out where you went I reckon.”

“Can I talk yet?” said Talen, “this is all nonsense. We need to go, and we need to go now. Kent will kill you, and he has a diabolical plan to raise a demon to ensure his immortality. We need to stop him and install you on the throne before this comes to pass. If not he will rule the earth for a thousand years while all below him are crushed under his boots. There isn’t a choice here, it’s destiny. Hell, it’s even been written about. I have the tome here,” Talen pulled a giant book out of his satchel. It was bound in the most delicate, supple leather Ricky had ever seen. “Wait. Is that human skin?”

“Yes, of course it is. What else would the book of destinies be bound in?”

“Cowhide? I don’t know. Just, really, human skin? That’s awful.”

“Sorry the Book of Destinies doesn’t live up to your morality farm boy. It’s only a five thousand year old book steeped in the grandest magics ever created, but don’t worry – I’m sure your mundane mind is completely fit to judge the ancients.”

Part 2 is now up.

Share

The Chosen Pigherder

This is a new story. A bit of a riff on the chosen farmboy/heroes journey crap that’s all over the place. Basically, what if the chosen was a complete and total fuckup who wasn’t actually good at anything but tending pigs?

Ricky was tending his pigs. He did this every morning. Many people would find this dull work, but not Ricky. He loved his pigs and got more satisfaction from tending them than anything else he could imagine. Sure, in the long run he would have to eat them, but he made certain they had a happy life until that day. Read more

Share

The Starts Look Down Part 6 (the end)

<< Part 1 < Previous Part

He hit the first right, then an immediate left. Paul was using a steering wheel, something he had only done once or twice in his life, so the vehicle felt like it was careening out of control as he picked up speed. Laura let out a little scream. The kids were grinning and whooping. Laura felt the van start to tilt as Paul dragged the wheel into a sharp left, while hitting the gas. The van kept tipping, tipping, then it fell, sliding across its side, scraping the pavement. The children tumbled, laughter turning to tears. The sound of metal scraping on pavement filled their ears. Read more

Share

The Stars Look Down Part 5

<< Part 1 < Previous Part | Next Part >

The van was waiting outside. It was a nondescript white van with no windows. Laura said, “So, the van should probably say free candy on the sides from what the Internet has told me.”

“Well, I guess that would be appropriate, after all, we are here to take children.”

“Tell me that doesn’t make you feel a bit weird?”

“Of course it does, but these kids don’t have anyone, it’s just us.”

Night was starting to fall, the sky going from a bright grey smog to a bright purple smog. Time to get the hell out of the gated community. At least they had white skin going for them.

They punched in their co-ordinates and the van took off at a careful pace.

Going into the gated community had been a mild shock, the chaos and decay of the urban environment giving way to carefully manicured lawns, all green, and identical houses. Going out was even more of a shock. The gates kept out the reality. There was a homeless man sitting against the gate, drinking out of a paper bag, his skin grey from dirt. It was clear that his skin had been white once upon a time, before the dirt covered it, and Laura could still see faint patches of pale. His left eye was gone, a gaping, festering hole in his face.

This drive took them through far, far worse areas than their previous one had. Tenements made up of empty towers, the glass smashed out of them. Stately homes that were gradually decaying into the ground. Laura said, “There are no people. It’s like watching a movie about the end of the world. Where are all the people?”

“They got out if they could. These areas are poison, nobody can make a go of it. Not enough money, not enough people. Notice everyone we see has dark skin?”

“I knew the states was bad, but I didn’t realize… I’ve only gone to places like Florida. I thought it was bad. How the hell did Texas end up like this?”

“The oil market dried up, globally. Most of the money here is oil money. Texas built on black gold, once they didn’t have that they didn’t have a damned thing. It took a while, there was so much money, but in the end it all caught up to them.”

“Damn, we are really, really stupid monkeys.”

They kept going, and the decay got worse. Laura realized she hadn’t seen another human being in ten minutes. The gas station was looming ahead, decayed like everything else. No wonder the kids had  been able to hide here, there was nobody to find them.

The front door was boarded up, but that was expected. Laura started looking around, trying to find the way in. She coughed, the ever present dust drying out her throat, her nose. If there was a hell, it was probably Dallas.

Paul was around back when he yelled, “Hey, they aren’t in the station, they’re on top of it!”

Laura ran around to see, there was a dumpster and above it a fire escape, Paul was most of the way up, his head sticking out. Laura followed him up, scampering as gracefully as she could. It was a hard climb, requiring muscles she rarely used.

Sure enough, there was a shack on top of the building. Pieces of corrugated aluminum bound together with bits of rope and wire, blooms of rust on it. There was also a little girl, black hair and dark tanned Hispanic skin. She was looking at them with her brown eyes wide, wider than made sense. “Please, please leave us alone. We ain’t hurting nobody. Just, just let us stay here. You can take me if you need to, but leave the others. I’ll do anything, anything you want if you just leave the others alone.”

Laura said, “It’s okay honey, we aren’t her to hurt you. We’re from outside… we want to help you, to take you to a place where you will be safe.”

“Ain’t no place like that, no in America.”

“No, not in America. Brazil. It’s another country, little kids in Brazil, they get to be kids. With the Zika virus lots of people can’t have children now, lots of parents want to adopt kids, even ones who aren’t little anymore.”

“How dumb do you think we are? Brazil’s a bad place. We see it on the new every day.”

“Not anymore. It had a rough patch, but it’s all good now. Has been for years. Come with us, we’ll find you a home, parents who will feed you and take care of you.”

“All of us?”

“How many of you are there?”

“Why should I tell you? If I tell you you’ll just take us to the cops. We can’t go to the cops.”

“Of course not. I promise. We can take up to ten, that’s the most we could manage with what we have right now. If it’s less than that, yes, all of you.”

“Okay. Can you wait outside? I have to talk to the others.”

“Of course, we can wait.”

Paul said, “She’s going to try and make a run for it. You know that right?” quietly so only Laura could hear.

“Of course. I’m going to let her. Once she realizes we aren’t chasing her maybe she’ll come back. Anyway, I would if I was her.”

“Yeah, me too.”

A moment later the door banged open and five ragged children ran across the rooftop, grabbing a pipe and dropping to the ground. Paul and Laura stood there, waiting. Once the kids were down Laura called out, “We’re going to wait here until ten thirty. Come back if you feel like it.”

Laura walked into the hut and sat down to wait. Paul followed her.

Two hours later Paul was up and pacing, at least as much as he could in the tiny shack. Two long steps from side to side, three from end to end. “They aren’t coming back. The trips a bust. Might as well pack it up and go home now.”

“It’s only nine thirty, they have time to go. Just chill.”

They were getting ready to leave when the kids came back. Two girls and three boys, all small, all under nourished. The first girl said, “You promise I get to live with a family?”

“Yes honey, of course. I’m Laura, what’s your name?”

“I’m Jude. These guys are my family right now… but I’m not a very good mom. I don’t know how to cook or anything.”

“That’s okay Jude. You shouldn’t be a mum yet, you should still be a kid. There’s lots of time to learn that grown up stuff.”

“Alright. We’ll trust you, for now at least. If you try to fuck us we’ll cut you.”

The switch from little kid to hardened street kid threw Laura for a second. Her eyes started to mist, but she drove it down, there were things to do, more important things than crying over a little girl who grew up too hard.

“Okay, down to the van. There’s going to be some hard bits here… customs and immigration will be watching for us.”

“I don’t get it. They don’t want us, why won’t they let us leave with you?”

“Because America doesn’t want other people to know how bad it has gotten here. They still pretend they are the greatest country in the world.”

“So, it’s just to look like they are better than they are?”

“Yeah, pretty messed up huh?”

They got into the van, all of them. It was large enough that even with seven of them there was still lots of space, not like the tiny vehicles Laura drove back home. The kids were looking at the interior of the van with wonder. It was almost as large as their shack had been, and the seating was far more comfortable.

Laura drove through the neon night. The sky shone purple above them, dust and smog intermingled with city light to create a solid dome above. The traffic started to pick up as Laura and Paul headed into more populated parts of the city, some cars even driven by humans once again. It seemed a particular form of American insanity, to want to control several tons of steel and glass careening at insane speed within inches of other similar vehicles. Not the weirdest thing they had seen in Dallas, but up there.

After a bit Paul said, “I think we have a tail,” quietly.

“Okay, can we lose them?”

“I’ll try. It’s the dark grey car behind us, the one closing in.”

<< Part 1 < Previous Part | Next Part >

Share

The Stars Look Down Part 4

<< Part 1 < Previous Part | Next Part >

The van was waiting outside. It was a nondescript white van with no windows. Laura said, “So, the van should probably say free candy on the sides from what the Internet has told me.”

“Well, I guess that would be appropriate, after all, we are here to take children.”

“Tell me that doesn’t make you feel a bit weird?”

“Of course it does, but these kids don’t have anyone, it’s just us.”

Night was starting to fall, the sky going from a bright grey smog to a bright purple smog. Time to get the hell out of the gated community. At least they had white skin going for them.

They punched in their co-ordinates and the van took off at a careful pace.

Going into the gated community had been a mild shock, the chaos and decay of the urban environment giving way to carefully manicured lawns, all green, and identical houses. Going out was even more of a shock. The gates kept out the reality. There was a homeless man sitting against the gate, drinking out of a paper bag, his skin grey from dirt. It was clear that his skin had been white once upon a time, before the dirt covered it, and Laura could still see faint patches of pale. His left eye was gone, a gaping, festering hole in his face.

This drive took them through far, far worse areas than their previous one had. Tenements made up of empty towers, the glass smashed out of them. Stately homes that were gradually decaying into the ground. Laura said, “There are no people. It’s like watching a movie about the end of the world. Where are all the people?”

“They got out if they could. These areas are poison, nobody can make a go of it. Not enough money, not enough people. Notice everyone we see has dark skin?”

“I knew the states was bad, but I didn’t realize… I’ve only gone to places like Florida. I thought it was bad. How the hell did Texas end up like this?”

“The oil market dried up, globally. Most of the money here is oil money. Texas built on black gold, once they didn’t have that they didn’t have a damned thing. It took a while, there was so much money, but in the end it all caught up to them.”

“Damn, we are really, really stupid monkeys.”

They kept going, and the decay got worse. Laura realized she hadn’t seen another human being in ten minutes. The gas station was looming ahead, decayed like everything else. No wonder the kids had  been able to hide here, there was nobody to find them.

<< Part 1 < Previous Part | Next Part >

Share

The Stars Look Down Part 3

<< Part 1 < Previous Part | Next Part >

It was hard to leave the children, but if she didn’t they didn’t get to eat. In the end that trumped everything else, their food was on her shoulders.

There were five of them right now. Jenny and Jude were the girls. Onipede was probably in the worst shape in many ways, he could show his face only if he didn’t talk – and even then, dark black skin was dangerous. Combine that with an accent he had picked up from his first seven years, spent in Nigeria, and he was going to be picked up by anyone who noticed him. Manuel was the best of them. He looked white, with a tan, and he’d lived in Dallas all of his life, he was two month old when his parents came over. He even had a Texas accent. Timon was somewhere in the middle. He had an american accent, but black skin. Black skin wasn’t quite a death sentence these days, but it wasn’t all that far from it. Read more

Share