Friday, September 23, 2016

Winter Writing Challenge

It's time for another Modern Bard Challenge!

The theme of this one is WINTER. This was one of our suggestions that everyone pretty much agreed upon and it's also the perfect time of year to do a winter themed challenge.


This one is simple: just write a story with a winter theme! Besides that it can be any genre you want it to be. Go wild! 

As usual, if you can keep it under 10,000 words, great, if not, don't worry about it ;-)


The date to send them to me by is December 3rd so we can post them during the appropriate season!

A note to new writers:

If you would like to participate for the first time in one of Modern Bard's challenges, please just touch base with me via email (at so that I will be expecting your story and I can add you to the email list :-)

I can't wait to see what everyone comes up with this time!

Happy Writing!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Song to Story Challenge: "A Tale of Serpents and Stars"-- Joseph Leskey

Well, this is the last entry for the Song to Story challenge, an epic tale of heroism, by Joseph Leskey! Check out the Writers Page for more of his stories.

A Tale Of Serpents and Stars

by Joseph Leskey

(Based on the song “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” by Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh)

Walther sat in complete darkness, listening. Since the sun went down that night, he had been crawling along a tunnel with five other men. The only thing he could hear was a slight slicing noise as two of them dug forward. All of these men were thought to be normal knights, but in reality they were a specialized army meant for dealing with issues that nobody else needed to know about. He ranked third in the third highest level. In the entire army there were one hundred fifty-three people, divided into four levels. There were three leaders, seven captains, twelve specialized soldiers under each captain, and fifty-nine ordinary soldiers. None of these numbers, excepting those of ordinary soldiers, could change, creating a large competition for the next level. Six of the specialized soldiers, Walther among them, had been given orders and had set out to destroy a small fortified camp. Walther didn’t knew exactly why, but it was his job and it paid well, so he was more than willing to do it.
Walther suddenly heard a slightly louder than allowed dull thump.
A few seconds later, somebody whispered to him, “The wall goes deeper than we thought, but we’ve reached it.”
He heard the slight slicing of the shovels again. A few minutes later, somebody nudged him and he crept forward, eventually reaching the hole under the wall and slithering underneath it. Just as he emerged on the other side, a stream of moonlight slightly illuminated the tunnel. He could see one of the men peering out of a tiny hole. He beckoned and they all burst out of the ground, drawing their swords. These swords were so sharp that a slight touch was enough to cut something, yet they were strong enough not to chip if they struck something as strong as cast iron. Expert armorers had worked for over a decade before they perfected them.
An unfortunate soldier, who had to carry black powder through the entire tunnel, held up his barrel and addressed the leader of the mission. “Shall I begin?”
“No,” growled Aiden in a whisper. “They said to be chivalrous to this group. We have to warn one of them. We need two volunteers.”
Always wanting to be promoted, Walther instantly said, “I,” as did Guy, Aiden’s younger brother. He was ranked in the second place.
“Very good. Be swift. If you can, bring the person here.”
“Yes, sir.” Walther and Guy surveyed the area. In the center of the camp, a small but formidable building made of black bricks loomed over the tents all around it. The two, without a word, moved swiftly to a random tent. They peered inside and saw nothing. They went to another tent and found the same. After a few more tents, they figured that they were all empty and turned to go to the building. In a split second, they were pulled into the building and down into an hollowed out underground room. Three people, one a man and the others cloaked, confronted them. They all held staves.
“Greetings, little sirs,” said one. “Why are you prowling around our humble abode at this unearthly hour of the night?”
“We came to talk to you,” said Guy, “if you would please come outside with us.”
“Why go outside? To have your little friends capture us? I think not.”
“If you do not go to the surface this instant,” said Walther, “things will go badly for you.”
“Is that all?” asked the man. “I am terribly frightened.” He dipped his head slightly. The cloaked figures instantly pointed the top of their staves at Walther and Guy, who both did handsprings forward and smashed them to the ground. An explosion sounded and large amounts of dirt fell from the roof. Then, Walther and Guy were thrown back by some immense force and smashed into the wall.
“Therefore, I suppose you don’t agree to having negotiations?” asked Guy mildly. “If there are no negotiations, there is only death.”
“I dare you to give me over to death.”
“Very well.” Guy whipped out a tube and blew a dart at him. In the same instant, Walther threw knives at his companions.
 To their fascination, each object flew to the uncloaked man’s raised hand. He flicked it and they fell to the ground. “I expected more than that.”
Walther and Guy started to run, one on each side of the room. Then they each turned, leaped, pushed on the wall, flew backwards twisting, and kicked. All three of their adversaries crumpled into a ball.
“I advise you surrender,” said Guy. “Or you will die.”
“We choose death.”
“Very well. How do we get out of this place?”
“Do you think I’d tell you that?”
“No. Three and threescore, you find the surface.”
Before Walther could do anything, the ceiling burst open and a rope was let down. On the other end was one of the men who stayed outside.
“Are you going to stay in here and explode or come out with us?”
“We’ll go out, but not out of submission.”
“You first then. Drop your staves.”
The prisoners obliged and climbed up the rope. Walther and Guy followed.
“Are there any others who would wish to be saved?” asked Aiden.
“Definitely not. In fact,” said the non-hooded man. “I do not wish to be saved.” Suddenly, a entire host of people dressed completely in black charged at the band of six. Eight swords were instantly drawn, Aiden and Guy drawing two. Walther charged at a random person who was holding a sword and a shield. He lunged forward but his sword was pulled to the shield and stuck there. He dodged quickly as the sword moved in a blur in front of him. Without any more ado, he rushed towards the figure and threw him by the arm into another enemy, recovering his sword in the same movement. He then parried a heavy blow from behind, twisted, and sent another to the ground. Guy flashed by, executing flawless flying kick maneuvers. With two more hits, five slices, and one kick on the part of Walther, the battle was done.
“Who is chief among you?” Aiden boomed.
“You called?” said the man without a hood. “May I suggest keeping it a bit quieter. After all, this is a secret mission, I assume.”
“You have been charged with suspicious activity and the murder of many of our people.”
“Peasants,” said the man. “They were peasants.”
“And where would you get your food without these peasants?”
The man looked a bit bemused. “Excellent point.”
“Do you have anything you wish to keep in this area?” asked Aiden.
“Of course not. It would convict us.”
“We shall bring out such articles…”
“No you won’t.”
“Excuse me?”
“Look behind you.”
Guy looked back. “A dragon rider, Sir.”
“Ah,” said Aiden.
The dragon was spurred forward. Everybody jumped back as it belched forth a monstrous torrent of fire. Then everybody gave signs of horror as they watched fire creep quickly towards the black powder.
The dragon rider shot into the air. Walther, along with his comrades, climbed quickly over the wall and threw themselves on the other side. Their enemies walked to the wall and it swung open. They ran outside just as the barrel caught on fire.
“Gentlemen,” said the enemy leader, “May I suggest we run?”
Everybody ran. Then the whole place exploded. Debris flew everywhere and nobody was far enough away to escape it. When it was settled, everyone but the dragon rider was buried beneath at least six inches of something. Walther quickly dug his way out of the situation. He saw Aiden and Guy looking around, puzzled.
“They just disappeared,” whispered Guy. “I’ve never seen the like.”
“I have,” said Aiden. “Once. We found the cowards that time and we shall do the same now. Do we have anything to study?”
“I took a staff,” replied Guy, lifting the object.
“Excellent. Let us remove our good bodies from this place.” Aiden launched into a vicious sprint. His men soon followed. Soon they reached their extremely bored horses, who were tied to trees, and mounted them.
They then rode out of the small forest and swiftly rode away into the fog. The same was discovered to be so thick that Aiden quickly had everybody turn around and get out of it.
“This is no ordinary fog,” he shouted.
“That’s right.” A mounted man said, appearing dramatically. “You don’t hold victory very long, do you?”
Aiden drew a sword. “Why not regain it?”
“Sir,” said the man. “Surely you jest.” He raised a hand. A terrific force seized the sword and it would have been thrown to the ground, but Aiden had a very strong hand.
“Men,” he said. “Ride. Quick as you can.”
Everybody shot off into the fog as if they were trying to break out of the atmosphere. Fiery arrows began to volley at them, making illusions of great transparent fireballs. Everybody unattached shields from their saddles and held them up, spurring their horses on even faster. Aiden shot back with a crossbow, but no cries of pain were heard.
Then, the man next to Walther whispered, “Dragon.”
Walther looked up and saw the faint outline of the beast. Its wings seemed to be beating the fog away. Then began the real fireballs. The horses didn’t need to be spurred again.
 Before long they were back at the base of their section. The other six specialized soldiers and Captain Percival were sitting around a fire in the building, waiting for them.
“Sir,” said Aiden.
The captain dipped his head. “Did you succeed?”
“In all truth, we didn’t.”
“What?” The captain obviously expected Aiden to boast about great feats of victory.
“It seems that they have connections that we did not know about.”
“Of what sort?”
“We saw a dragon rider.”
“Interesting. It would take much nerve to train one of those beasts. Surely that in itself could not stop you.”
“Its breathed flames which, of course, posed a problem. Also, such was their sorcery that they could pull at our weapons without touching them.”
“Yes. They could also create an extremely dense fog.”
“Extraordinary. Suitable excuses. A force such as this must be struck down before it gains any more power. I will send word to Berkshire. They do not have a captain, but the twelve there are said to be good with beasts. They also have excellent arrows that should be able to kill the dragon. Now, are there any other dilemmas in your area currently?”
“None of any importance.”
“Well, then, devote your full attention to this new threat. I must leave before dawn. My trip may take a while, but Berkshire isn’t too far out of my way. I will send you as many men as can be spared as quickly as I can.”
“Very good, sir. Then will you return here?”
“As quickly as possible. You will take my place, of course, Aiden, and I expect everybody to obey you.” Although he was looking at Aiden, everybody could feel his intense gaze.
“Won’t that be jolly?” said Aiden.
“I do hope.” Percival rose. “Well, I must be off to rest.” He briskly walked into the sleeping quarters.
“Well, then,” said Aiden. “We need volunteers for guard duty, patrol, and scouting. If you take none of these, make sure you are ready to respond quickly if you should be needed anywhere. I will remain here and manage all operations.”
“Which pays more?” asked Erick, a slightly larger man than his companions. It wasn’t all muscle, either.
Aiden grinned. “I’d say scouting.”
“Which one’s the safest?” asked Martin, an highly muscular, enormously dangerous, yet fit man. He was known to be the one farthest from danger.
“It depends on where you want to get killed,” said Aiden. Martin blanched. “The most dangerous would be scouting, I suppose. Everybody pick something.” Aiden snapped his fingers. “We can’t just talk all day.”
Everybody picked something and Aiden enlisted Walther and Guy to patrol and check on everybody.
“Now everybody have some rest and eat something. I’ll go make the proper arrangements with the village guard. By the way, if scouts must communicate with somebody, they should tell a guard or, if they must, go directly to a large group of soldiers or somebody important, so everybody keep this in mind.” Aiden walked out of the building.
“Who wants to cook?” asked Guy. Everybody looked at Cianán. He quickly became a renowned cook wherever he dwelt, and his fame had been quickly spreading, until Aiden’s band took him for themselves. He made such fantastic porridge that, on more than one occasion, people hid and watched him to see in what way he cheated. Before long, they were all eating the same. Everybody but Martin, who got sick from such things, and Cianán was exclaiming over it with his mouth full. Directly after they had eaten, they went off to their quarters.
Walther was wakened by being pulled up by the front of his tunic. He scowled into Martin’s apologetic face.
“Sorry.” Martin set him on his feet and went off to the next unfortunate sleeper.
Walther grabbed up basically all the weapons within one meter of his person and headed out to the main room. Guy and Aiden were there, apparently waiting for him.
“Let’s get out there, Walther,” said Guy. He gestured to the door.
“I’ve spread the word for the guards to be extra careful,” said Aiden. “If there should be danger, there should be at least one person to spread the word, wherever you are. Enjoy yourselves.” He kindly opened the door. Both men bowed and went out. It was a lot colder than Walther expected, as usual, so he let Guy go on a little bit and then he did a mad jig.
“Walther?” said a voice behind him. He turned. Most of his fellow soldiers were staring at him with amused expressions.
“You mean you don’t exercise?” He turned back and saw Guy with the same expression. “Don’t you start.”
No sunlight could be seen and the only lights in the village were near the soldier headquarters, the church, and the square.
The volunteer scouts went out to the outskirts, the guards to join with the regular guards, and the patrol marched around the town.
Guy did a handstand. “Death, death, death, death, death, death, death…”
“You don’t have to be the only one.” He leaped back to his feat. “Come on. Let’s go check on somebody. Where do you want to go?”
“Let us take a leisurely stroll through town, then maneuver ourselves over to the guards, then maybe peek at the scouts.”
“Good idea.”
They strolled slowly through the town, nodding at other soldiers. Then they walked down the road until they reached the three guards.
“Greetings, sirs,” said Guy
“Have you heard anything from the scouts?”
“Oh, aye. They said that there was trouble. They headed towards the square.”
“We just came from over there. We should have seen them!” exclaimed Guy. He started running back.
The guard raised an eyebrow. “Should I do anything?”
“I do not think so.” Walther started after Guy.
“Stop right there,” boomed a voice. Walther whirled around. A group of men battered their way into the guards. Walther was over to their aid in a second. With a technique Aiden taught his men, he jerked one man’s beard out, causing his mouth to attempt to cover the area where it used to be, opening in a massive bellow. He then threw the wretched man into one of his fellows. With a swift movement, he drew his sword, cutting another man through his armor. A punch knocked another senseless.
“I believe our outer defenses are lost. Come closer to the buildings,” he shouted to the guards. They all started running towards the square. Suddenly, a house lit up in flames. When they finally reached the area, all was confusion. And there was plenty of light to see it by. Quite a few soldiers were temporarily dedicating their lives to putting out house fires. Strangely enough, it seemed that one of the enemies was helping.
An arrow flew past Walther and hit a man behind him. He lunged towards a giant amount of paint with an enormous man inside. His first attack was cut short by a giant battle-axe, which he grabbed as it whizzed by. He whirled the full way around, then fell on the axe. It dropped out of the man’s grasp. He jumped up, dodged a fist, threw a fist, dodged another fist, dodged a sword, threw forward his sword, pulled back his sword, and walked away. Then a man with a staff ran at him. Suddenly, a small amount of dirt in front of him blew into the air. The staff smoked. He ran towards his attacker, but found that he couldn’t move his sword anywhere near the staff. Walther quickly stuck his sword in the ground and threw himself from it, smashing right into him. He heard Guy grunt and ran in that direction, picking up the staff. Guy was fighting the dragon and its rider, both of which seemed to be able to make fire. Walther ran up to the dragon.
“Hullo, Walther!” said Guy. He threw his sword into the face.
“Get its mouth open!” shouted Walther.
Guy pierced its mouth and it opened it in a massive bellow. Walther ran and thrust the staff down its throat as far as he could.
“Run. Run. Run!” They escaped a short distance and watched as smoke began pouring from the beast’s nostrils. Suddenly, a burst of fire shot from its mouth. At the same time there was a loud noise, lots of smoke, and dragon guts.
“Interesting,” said Guy. He swiftly pierced his swords backwards. There was a grunt and a thud. “Fight, man!”
Walther heard a caw and looked up. A griffin swooped down at him. He waited until it nearly had him, then somersaulted forward, kicking its underbelly. He instantly pierced his sword into the beast. A ball of fire suddenly launched into a house next to him. He narrowly avoided an arrow and charged after a giant of a man he saw. Guy followed. They launched themselves at him. He turned around and began waving wildly at them with his hammer. They ducked and dodged as required, until they finally were able to each leap at his legs. With all the momentum they could muster, they smashed into them. He fell and turned to get back at them but Guy threw a rock and knocked him out.
“Fun stuff,” said Guy as he pierced another fellow’s armor.
“Slightly so.” Walther threw a knife at another dragon that didn’t have wings. This, of course, didn’t do much. Its rider turned around and spurred it forward towards Walther. Walther gulped at the sight of its three monstrous horns, nearly as long as himself. Guy kept his composure and prepared his stance. All too soon, the monster was upon them. Suddenly, another ran in from the other direction.
Walther and Guy leaped unto the beasts’ backs, threw the directors of the same off from their lofty seat, and pierced their swords underneath the scales. As the dragons were falling, horns were heard and the scouts on horseback rushed into the village. A few of the village guards seemed to remember they had horses and dived into the stables to fetch them.
“Watch out!” shouted Guy, running quickly away. Walther looked up and fled after him, as a gigantic fireball exploded the area into flames. Suddenly, there was a jolt of pain in Walther’s left shoulder. He looked back at it. “I say, Guy, I’ve been shot.”
“So you have,” Guy said, without much feeling, looking at the puncture. “You’ll be fine.” He waved a hand to illustrate, managing to hit an airborne arrow onto the ground. “Luck?”
He pulled his own bow from his shoulder and sent an arrow in the general direction of the distributer of the projectiles. Walther and Guy strolled the town, looking for somebody else to engage with. Suddenly, they heard a voice.
“Dear worthy fellows,” it said, as if reading a letter, “If you would kindly stop attempting to murder me, I will henceforth surrender unto thee.” The voice coughed. “I am terribly sorry about attacking your village now and it will not happen again. I realize that you will likely want to kill us and, if so, I beg reconsideration. We are worthy of it, to be sure, but I beg mercy above justice and for you to deliver unto us imprisonment.”
Walther and Guy ran over. Everybody was gathered around the man. He had a large pile of weapons at his feet and enemy soldiers kept coming over to it and dropping theirs.
“It is not often,” said Aiden, who had, of course, not managed the simple task of staying inside the base, “that an besieger suggests that he be imprisoned. I am nearly inclined to think that you are reciting something you memorized, which would be quite odd. However, I am used to delivering mercy. Put them all in the prison.”
“The prison” was a small establishment. There was a building and in that building there was a pit and in that pit there were prisoners. Already inside were a man who kept stealing crucifixes from the church, a magician who was said to ransack butcher’s shops and turn the meat back into animals, and an old lady who muttered while cooking and was heard talking about turning the king into a rat and making soup out of him. At least, that was what somebody witnessed. Unto these outlaws were soon added the late enemies.
A few soldiers remained patrolling, but many spent the night cleaning up their mess.
Eventually, Walther was allowed to go to bed. Off he went. He wasn’t extraordinarily tired, but he was able to soon go to sleep anyway.
The next morning, he woke to the bell of the church ringing so loudly that it was physically painful. He grabbed his weapons and rushed outside.
Everybody was gathering around the church and looking up at the bell tower. Apparently, the door was locked. Soon after Walther came out, the bell stopped. He looked expectantly. All of a sudden, the priest flew out of a window and remained suspended in the air. He looked terrified. Walther craned his neck and could see a hand holding him there. The priest was moved to one side and an enormously bearded, muscular, and seemingly good-natured man appeared behind him. He set an enormous rock on the windowsill.
“Good morning to you all!” said the man. “As you can see, this is no ordinary service, although it has some similar properties. Usually, I believe, the priest is not quite so high above his congregation.” He laughed, a deep hearty laugh that actually made Walther feel quite jolly. A few townspeople started laughing too. The priest didn’t. The man beamed. “There is actually a reason for this. I’m going to ask everybody to lay down their arms and step back a bit. If you don’t, note the position of the good Father.” The priest began to laugh.
“Oh, come now,” said the man, puzzled. “That wasn’t funny.”
“Oh, no, son. No, no…” The priest became hysteric with laughter.
“Now,” continued the man. “I know what you’re thinking. You can shoot me and then catch the priest. However, I am afraid that this rock has different plans.” He lifted it to demonstrate. Everybody looked puzzled. Apparently they hadn’t thought of it. “Now I want you all to stand back while our men let out the prisoners.” The door to the church opened and a large group of enemy soldiers came out. They went directly to the prison. An explosion could be heard. Then they all came back with the released prisoners.
“Now,” said the man. “I will ask you all to please march into the prison, where you will be locked in.” He disappeared from the window. Everybody did as they were told, for now they were being aimed at with crossbows.
The man came out and escorted the priest to the prison. When at the door, he burst into tears. “Forgive me, Father; my sin is indeed grievous.” He put the priest in, ran back to the church, and ran back, holding the crucifix and a jar. He then charged into the prison.
“What are you doing?” inquired one of the enemies.
“I am the one deserving of this punishment.”
“Whatever.” The soldier shut the gate and walked off.
There was the sound of horse hooves and then all was silent.
“I fear my repentance was too late,” he moaned just as heartily as his laugh.
“’Tis never too late, my son,” said the priest.
“Then might I too, the worst of sinners, be accepted?”
“The worst of sinners often makes the best of the saved.”
Everybody watched in silence as the priest went through the rituals, then, at the request of the new convert, the priest conducted a service. Only then did everybody start to think about getting out and how crammed they were.
“You know, Raghnall,” said Aiden. Raghnall’s name was revealed during the whole ordeal. “What exactly is going on?”
“You are all going to be snake food!” said the man, starting out in a sad tone, then turning to anger. “Or maybe not.” He caught hold of the iron grate and tried to pull it down.
“Snake food?”
“They have a great serpent. We were all going to attack the capital with it, for nothing can destroy it and it can destroy everything. It became hungry. It doesn’t often, but, when it does, it eats a lot. It loves human and that is what they are planning to feed it.”
“Why isn’t it here yet?”
“It’s kept far away from humans, so they don’t spot it. It will take a while to get here. Maybe we can get out.”
“I doubt it,” rued Aiden. “The entire place is solidly built.”
“Well, not exactly,” said the crucifix-stealing man. “I… broke a hole in the floor.”
“Never mind.”
“Why didn’t you try to escape?”
“It leads right into the old sewer cistern.”
Aiden went over and peered into the hole. “Men, get over here.” All his men moved forward. All the townspeople respectfully moved back about an inch. “Quickly! Let’s get down there!”
He crawled into the hole and held onto the side. Guy climbed down him and held unto his legs. Some kind townspeople and Raghnall helped Aiden with the load as all the rest of the specialized soldiers climbed down. Walther finally got over, but, as he climbed down, his shoulder shot pain through his arm. He let out a bellow.
“Walther,” said Aiden. “My ear.”
“I was shot in the shoulder last night,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Get back up, then.” Walther obeyed. All the rest of the soldiers climbed down each other. Eventually, the last one shouted, “I’m not far enough. We need Three and threescore.”
“Walther, this would mean you would have to be the one to get help.”
“Certainly,” said Walther without thinking. He didn’t want to regret his decision later. He shinnied down the line of men, nearly breathing annoyingly through his teeth because of the pain in his shoulder, and held onto the last man’s legs.
“Swing!” He looked down. He was directly above an enormous cistern, half-full with waste. A broken stairway led to its edge. It was to this that he was swinging. A slow ripple went throughout the human ladder. This got stronger and stronger, until Walther was covering a very large arc. At last he mentally pushed his doubts into the sewer and let go. Immense amounts of momentum sent him crashing into the top stair. The stairs crumbled and he hauled himself onto solid ground. He looked down into the sewer and then he was sick. He suddenly lost his last meal.
“When you’ve quite finished…” said Aiden.
“Sorry. I inherited my grandfather’s weak stomach.”
“Everybody can climb back up now,” hinted Aiden, trying to adjust his arms. Everybody apologized and climbed up.
“Now, Walther, go find the nearest soldiers and round up an army.”
“No!” said Raghnall. “The serpent would destroy them.”
“What do you suggest doing?” asked Aiden.
“I do not know.”
“I have an idea…” said the priest with obvious hesitation.
“There is a great magician up north, they say is able to trap the stars of heaven into objects. They say that he is extraordinarily powerful. Not that I want anybody associating themselves with him, yet, if he has a spare star lying around, perhaps it will destroy the serpent.”
“Any better ideas?” asked Aiden.
“Only what we should all already be doing,” said the priest. “Pray.”
“Well, go Walther, with all blessing,” said Aiden.
“Ah…” said Walther. “Thank you.” He paused. “I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think I want to go now.”
“Sorry. Once you let go of the boots, there’s no more grabbing the boots.”
“Oh,” said Walther. “Well… I’m off then.”
“Oh, Walther,” said Aiden. “Try to get us out if you can, but do not risk anything.”
The priest said something appropriate in Latin and Walther ran off through the catacombs until he reached the exit. He quickly exited and waited until his eyes adjusted to the sun. Then he looked over at the prison building. Nine guards patrolled it.
Well,” thought he. “That ruins my plans.
He sneaked through the town to the stables and got his horse. The horses, who might have known him by name, didn’t make any sound. He then tried as quietly as he could to slip away. As soon as he was beyond sight, he shot away, turning to the road. Only then did he remember food, but he did not dare return. His horse galloped as quickly as was safe for many hours, with few rests, until it finally began to slow down. Walther pulled it into a trot and rode for almost another hour, before he came to another town. He climbed off his horse, but somehow caught his foot in the saddle and fell painfully to the ground. He then saw a man on a tired looking horse and nonchalantly followed him. As he suspected, the man was going to a stable. Walther walked up to its keeper.
“Good evening, my good man!” he boomed in his most knightly voice.
“Is it not?”
“I am a knight of his Majesty the king. Would you please stable my horse?”
“Right away, sir.” The man set about the task.
 Walther set off to find some food. He walked into an inn. The innkeeper was a lean man with wrinkles in his forehead but not the corners of his eyes. Walther grimaced. Obviously not the best inn.
He walked up boldly, however. The men looked at him, but didn’t speak. Another bad sign.
“Good evening,” said Walther.
The innkeeper nodded. “Good evening.”
“I request food and a room.”
“Very well. Go into the common room and your dinner will be along.”
Walther did so. There weren’t many people and most of them were eating instead of drinking, another bad sign, but, at the moment, it was quite good for Walther. He hardly sat down before food was brought. He ate it, disputing what it was within himself, drank some ale, and was shown to his tiny, dirty room. He instantly fell asleep. The next morning, he went to the innkeeper and paid his bill. Then he went over to the stables and was delivered his steed. He mounted and rode off. He had gotten into the part of the world where people are curious and these same individuals were staring at him as he passed by. He did his best not to stare back at him, as he was one of those curious individuals in his youth. He then realized that he didn’t know where he was riding to, so he looked for some gossipers. He found some and, as a stroke of luck, they were old women.
“Good day!” he said.
“What’s that?” asked one of them. Such is the way of luck.
Walther dismounted. “I said, ‘good day.’”
“Oh! That was kind. Wasn’t that kind?” She turned to the other six women, who all agreed.
“Do you know where I might find the magician who traps stars?”
“What did he say?” she asked the other woman.
“What did you say, dear?” asked another.
“I said,” responded Walther. “Where does the magician who traps stars live?”
“He wants to know what the streets are made out of,” she cackled to the others. “Stone, dear.”
Walther talked again slowly and loudly, taking all the time he could to pronounce and enunciate clearly. “Where… can… I… find… the… magician… who… traps… stars?”
“Oh,” they all said at once. One of them spoke, “You go that way until you reach a town.” She pointed and then pointed in a different direction. “And that way until you reach another town. You should be able to find him then.”
“Thank you.” He reached for his horse.
“Oh, do stay,” pleaded another of the old ladies.
“I’m sorry, but this is very important.”
“You need a latrine?” she asked, then added to the others, “He needs a latrine. They’re over there.” She pointed.
He headed off in that direction, quickly turning back to the road. He heard one of the gossipers say, “Such a nice, handsome young man.”
Another contributed to the new topic. “If he wasn’t so charming, I’d say that he….” He never heard what horror he might have performed.
He rode as quickly as he could. A good half-hour in, though, his horse was suddenly stopped. A mounted man, with sword drawn, rode out in front of him, two men with swords came behind, and at least four archers came up on either side.
“Well,” said the mounted man. “You aren’t a coach, are you? Oh, well, you may have some gold on you. Search him, lads.”
One of the sword-wielding men stepped forward. “Get off your horse.”
Walther obediently did so. An archer appeared and took it into the woods.
“Maybe you didn’t notice,” said Walther, “but you have taken my steed.”
“And now, we take your gold.” The swordsman stepped forward. Walther seized his arm and expertly threw him into the apparent leader on the horse. He then jumped up behind him and threw both men at the two groups of archers. He then leaped at the closest one and punched everybody in sight.
He then took one of their bows and a quiver full of arrows for himself, and tied them up with the remaining bowstrings. Then he peered up into the road. An arrow instantly whizzed from the other side. He dodged and returned fire. Suddenly, the other swordsman leaped at him before he could fire again and caught him up in a lung-crushing embrace.  He then tried to throw him onto the road, but Walther held on. The bowmen forsook trying to shoot him and joined in, creating a large stinky mass of pressure. Walther only saw one thing to do. He drew a knife from underneath his tunic and kicked. Many of his opponents tripped and fell into the ditch. He fell to the road and the swordsman leaped upon him. He whirled to the side and the man’s blade pierced deep into the dirt. Walther rolled onto it and pulled the swordsman down. He heard the blade snap. He then rolled over and gave the man a direct punch to the head. He then threw him down into the ditch, hearing many grunts and yelps, and ran.
A little while later, he heard a coach following him. Its speed started accelerating, so, like any sensible person, he went slower as it became faster. Within seconds, it was beside him.
“Greetings, my man,” said the gentlemen inside. He looked incredibly healthy, yet seemed old.
“Hello.” Walther sniffed.
“Tell me,” he continued, “have you walked all the way from the last town?”
“No. I lost my horse.”
“You lost it?”
“As in, it was taken.”
“By whom?”
“A few highwaymen back there,” he gestured, unknowingly in the wrong direction.
“I wondered about that.”
“About what?”
“What those fellows were doing in the ditch. That’s quite a feat.”
Walther said nothing.
“Well, you likely saved my goods. Why not climb aboard and ride to the village, eh?”
“I wouldn’t mind.”
“Well, get on!” The man stopped his horses and Walther, without much thought for caution, climbed aboard. “My name is Laërtes; do not ask me why.”
“My name is Walther. Don’t ask me why.”
Laërtes smiled and shouted something to his two horses. The coach sped forward. Not long afterwards, they were in the town.
“You want to go here?”
“Yes. Well, actually, I’ll be going to the town over that way.” Walther pointed.
“So am I. Fairly soon, we’ll be going to the same house! You might as well stay on, then.” He turned his coach down another road.
“Do you know the people around here?”
“Very well.”
“Well, while I was here, I’d thought I’d see about the rumor.”
“Oh! The magician that can trap stars!” The man laughed uproariously. “You believe that silly tale?”
“Are you saying it’s false?”
“Of course. No such person lives in our village!”
“When we first heard those fables we had a good laugh, but now it’s grown a little old. It’s simply not true.”
“How did they start?” wondered Walther.
Laërtes didn’t answer. Walther looked over. He was untangling his long, white beard from the reins, lost in thought. Walther suddenly noticed that he had something like soot on his hair.
“Sir?” he asked.
“How did the fables start?”
“Oh, there’s a man who plays around with explosions and light.”
“Could you take me to him?”
“Oh, certainly, but… he’s often extremely busy. You must have a reason.”
“We… I need his help.”
“Becau…” Suddenly, there was a large splash and the coach seemed to sink into the ground, then fly up into the air.
“I should have warned you about that puddle. What were you saying?”
“Well, we need whatever power he has.”
“Are you being attacked?”
Walther swallowed and noticed it. He never liked noticing when he swallowed. “Yes.”
“Why not call the army?”
“They couldn’t help. I’m sorry, but I can’t explain it to you.”
“You can, but you aren’t allowed, you mean?”
“Just that.”
“Because you view me as just a helpful gentlemen and you view the ‘magician,’ as you call him, as some dangerous, untrustworthy, evil, but extremely useful person. In fact, you so fear him and dislike his enchantments, that you are just trying to figure out where he lives. You will try to steal a star and take it home. Is this not so? He won’t be pleased with you; you had better return home.”
“Confidential information, that,” said Walther, realizing that what he said was rather true. “Couldn’t you show me where he lives?”
“Naturally,” said Laërtes. “He lives in that house right there.” He pointed to a small, tidy cottage. “But you won’t find him there.”
“Why not?”
“He’s traveling.”
“Where to?”
“How do you expect a helpful gentlemen to know that?”
“I… don’t know. I’d tell you our situation, but I can’t entrust it to anybody.”
“How much less would the ‘magician’ trust to you a star?”
“I don’t expect him to.” Walther realized the coach had stopped.
“You expect to steal it.”
“Not steal…”
“Yes, steal, but it would be no less than such a man deserved. But, tell me truthfully, boast or degrade yourself, how much do you deserve?”
“Not much if I don’t get help in time.”
“Perhaps you need to realize that you can never get help.”
“Why not?”
“You’re too busy talking to me, you don’t trust anybody, and you think you can steal a star.”
“I… only distrust people because they would come to help. If they came, they would be destroyed.”
“Well, it seems I can solve all your problems, which in itself resolves your first one. You definitely shouldn’t tell anybody if they couldn’t do anything. But, a magician surely could help, which means you should tell him, if you trust him to be good. This would resolve your two remaining problems, for, if he was good and your cause happened to be just, then indeed he would lend whatever aid he could.”
“But you said that he was gone.”
“He just returned home, young lad. Behold!”
Walther looked up at a gigantic building, just perfect for a magician to live in.
“Why did I not guess?”
“You were too busy with yourself. Now let’s get into my house and see what I can do.”
Walther followed him into the house, where he was invited to sit. He did so.
“Now hurry up and tell me your problems,” said Laërtes. Walther hesitated.
Laërtes sighed. “If you don’t, would you rather be imprisoned for a week or die?”
“Well, I intend to return to my village in time, so I’d escape, go there, and die.”
Laërtes started laughing. Walther found himself irresistibly drawn to do the same, although he could not find what was so hilarious.
“This is the second time this week somebody laughed me into laughing,” he poured out.
“Really?” chuckled Laërtes. He burst into a fresh rumble of harmonious laughter.
Walther nodded, hardly able to breathe from laughing so hard. Suddenly, he found this funny and laughed with even further gusto. This started Laërtes into his finest once again.
“Who was the person?” gasped out Laërtes, before bursting into a fit even louder than before.
“ Ragh… Ragh… Raghn…Ragh…nall,” squealed Walther, hardly understanding how he was able to speak.
Laërtes burst into greater laughter, then abruptly stopped. He let loose a massive hiccough. This made Walther jump up in a fit of laughter and stumble unto the floor in an effort to contain himself.
“Raghnall, you said, eh?”
Walther suddenly ran out of air; he started coughing. This calmed him down quite a bit and he wiped his eyes and got back up. “Sorry.”
“All my visitors do it to me,” explained Laërtes. “But, I hope you’ll excuse my interruption, but Raghnall is… is my son. I raised him as well as I thought I was able, but I was a fool. He fell away from the church long ago and joined with evil men.”
“Not anymore. He held our priest out the window and then you never saw such a repentance.”
“Truely?” Laërtes beamed with joy. “Now I can die happy.”
“Could you wait a while?”
“If you have something important you wish to say.”
“Soon my friends will be eaten. Perhaps already they have been.”
“How alarming.” He sniffed. “Would you care for some wine?”
“No, but I extend my gratitude.”
“Ah. Please continue your delightful little tale.”
“Well, there’s this enemy and they have this giant indestructible serpent that can destroy everything, or something like that. It got hungry, so they are going to feed my village to it and then….”
“Right then! Let’s see if its invincibility is relative.” Laërtes stood up.
“What?” Walther also stood.
“Follow me.” He sauntered over to an impressively strong-looking wooden door. He opened it slowly and deliberately, unlatching the three monstrous latches with such relish, that it seemed as though he liked nothing better. Finally, however, they were unfastened. He put both hands to the door and gave a mighty push. It swung slowly open.
Walther gaped at the amazing sight before his eyes. There were many extraordinarily bright objects, blocking his view somewhat, but besides these were multi-colored liquids, some going upwards through tubes, cauldrons, large masses of iron, with spinning wheels and much smoke, and a rainbow stretched across nearly the entire room, coming from a large clear pillar.
“Isn’t it marvelous?” asked Laërtes.
“Definitely!” said Walther. “I should come sometime when there isn’t a giant serpent about to eat my comrades!”
“Naturally! Right then. Find any place you like to sleep and eat whatever you want! I’m especially good during the night. I might come up with something nobody in the world has ever thought about before! Just think how much people miss by wasting their night in a state of subconsciousness! I don’t know what I’ll end up with, but it will be dangerous, wonderful, and spectacular. And I believe I can guarantee that, whatsoever earthly being should cross its path, the same will die. Now out, out, out, out!”
Walther walked back out and looked around the room. There were two couches, three chairs, and now that he actually looked, Walther also saw a small table, overflowing with food. He ate until he was stuffed and then fell asleep on one of the couches.
Walther woke with a jolt, tumbling off the couch. A crackling hissing sound filled his ears, immediately following maniacal laughter and a loud slapping sound. The heavy door burst open, slamming against the wall and vibrating the whole house. Smoke began to fill the room. Laërtes appeared from it. His clothes and hair were nearly completely black and smoking. His pant legs were torn to shreds and his legs looked dreadfully scraped.
“I tested a cupful of my mixture and it is the most powerful I’ve ever made!” He sat down at the table and began shoving food into his mouth. “When the smoke clears away, we’ll go off to your village! Come on! Eat something!” Walther obliged.
“We?” he asked, his mouth full.
“Yes. I want to see my son and my latest stroke of genius in action!”
After they had eaten, the smoke was still as thick as ever.
“Well,” said Laërtes, “since it’s an emergency.” He walked over to the wall and pulled down a monstrous lever. Smoke swirled up to the ceiling. He pushed it up then pulled it back again multiple times, until, finally, all the fumes were gone. “Excellent,” declared he.
Walther turned his gaze from the ceiling to the floor. Upon it was something not unlike an immense, wheeled crossbow. Set in this was a colossal arrow, brightly painted in red.
“Well, let’s be off! No use gawking!” He walked into the room, which still smelled strongly of smoke. “I told a friend of mine to send the army in later.” He pulled the crossbow out of another door, which exited the house. Walther followed. Laërtes put the crossbow into a closed-in, box-shaped area of his coach and jumped onto the seat. “Let’s go, young sir.”
And off they went, driving as quickly as possible down the road. They thundered into the next village in hardly any time at all, and, without slowing their pace, they rushed towards the next. They were going so quickly, that Walther barely was able to see that the highwaymen were gone from the ditch.
Walther looked over at the possible worldwide hero and was surprised to see him standing up and slightly bent forwards, looking so engrossed in his professional maneuvering that one might think he was in a race, save for the lack of other contestants. Walther turned back to the road and not having anything better to do, he decided to give himself some extra sleep.
Walther woke up to Laërtes punching him on the head. “Wake up, my good fellow!”
Walther opened a sleepy eyelid, then another. “What’s that?”
“We’re approaching your town.”
“Oh.” Suddenly Walther bolted upright. “Don’t go into the town.”
“Why not?”
Walther felt dizzy from the sudden upward movement. “Uh… because… because… because there are guards.”
“Oh. Where should we go?”
“That cliff seems a good place.” Walther pointed to the projection of land that existed right next to the village.
“Quite worthy, indeed.” Laërtes redirected his horses and rode towards and eventually up the cliff. “Dismount!” They both got off and Laërtes prepared his weapon. Walther noted the position of the sun.
“It’s just past noon,” he said.
“Aye. I wonder when they’ll be along.” He said something to his horses and they fled down the cliff with the coach. “I brought food!” He lifted an enormous bag for demonstration.
Walther grinned and they both started eating. They continued eating, sometimes pausing for digestion or to rest, in which case they ate a nice restful snack, until the sun went down. They then took turns sleeping and watching whilst eating until morning. They continued this routine through the greater part of next day, until finally, just as Laërtes was going to sleep, Walther spotted a glow growing from below the decline they were facing.
“Laërtes!” he hissed. The old man jumped up with a vigor befitting one a third of his age.
“Wonderful!” Laërtes whisper-shouted. The light grew and soon a small host of men appeared, casting great shadows. Suddenly, all their shadows were blocked out, for a great expanse of darkness covered them. A gigantic brown serpent, wide and long, twisted into vision. Its large, clearly visible head bore a ring of giant black eyes, with yellow bands around the pupils. Two hideous mouths bulged out from the top and front of its uneven head. The oral cavities frequently opened, revealing dripping rows of teeth, to let out a massive belch of green fumes. Its skin was drawn tightly over its guts, making the same somewhat transparent. Every once in a while, a massive drop of slime would fall from its oozing body.
“Disgusting, eh?” asked Laërtes. Walther nodded.
“Well…” began Laërtes. He pulled out a ball. “Better get this over with. The army will be coming soon and we don’t want them to have to deal with the serpent! Shoot it.”
Walther pulled off his bow, notched an arrow onto the string, and fired. His shot was an excellent one, but the serpent made no indication that it was damaged.
“Interesting phenomenon!” exclaimed Laërtes. He took out a can and flipped a wheel. A burst of flame shot out and lit a rope attached to the ball. He threw it into the air and it exploded with brilliant colors. The army and the serpent both turned and headed towards them.
“Now comes the scary part,” Laërtes moaned. He aimed his crossbow and prepared his flame-maker.  “Oh! I’m too nervous. Walther?”
Walther seized the flame-maker and readied it over the rope that Laërtes pointed to.
When the enemies were close to the cliff, Laërtes shouted, “Fire!”
Walther instantly turned the knob.
“Quicker!” said Laërtes urgently.
Walther did it as quickly as he knew how. A brilliant flame shot out. He put it down to the rope. Suddenly, the serpent’s head shot forward.
“Stop!” shouted Laërtes. It was too late. It had touched the rope. In the confusion, Walther dropped the flame-maker and the whole crossbow caught on fire. The serpent made another attempt at eating Walther. The arrow shot forward. Suddenly, it seemed as if out of it came all the power a star could ever wish to have. An intensifying light burst throughout the area, illuminating for miles. A noise like thunder deafened all other sound, finally dying away and bursting into many other smaller explosions. The mighty sound of cracking rock could faintly be heard as another final explosion rent deeply into the very earth. Finally, all sound, save what came from an avalanche of dirt, died away and the unbearable light faded away into an inexhaustible darkness. The dense smoke filled the valley and poured into the village, a lingering trace of what had been done.

Copyright 2016 By Joseph Leskey

Author’s note:

This story is inspired by “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” by Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh.