Die Writing

The Loss of Magdalene’s Star

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on October 25, 2016

Aside
Participating in another writing contest – The Great Flash Fiction War, this time. The prompt was “I can’t leave her now. She’s already gone,” with quite liberal constraints on its use.

I’m presently reading Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and I think her writing bled over a bit into this story. It also resonated with all those Jules Verne books I read as a kid.

CRASH

 “Get to the boat!” Captain Faulk thundered over the storm. Again and again he eyed the distance to the Ethebian Gate, two colossal pillars of ancient basalt guarding the narrow entrance to the harbor beyond. He spun the wheel, commanding the cutter away, toward the open sea. Magdalene’s Star lurched, her hull pierced and bleeding.
 “Captain, you must be away with us!” His passenger, the doctor, pleaded, wiping away the frigid brine. Around them, torn rigging beat and snapped in the wind as a host of maddened vipers. One of the sailors slashed the cord securing a tarp over the lifeboat. The storm immediately ripped the canvas away, and it flew off, flailing like a nightmare hag.
 “If she drifts, she’ll overtake and spoil the boat before it reaches the Gate.” He regarded the doctor with a level gaze. “You are needed ashore. I am needed here.”
 “She is lost!” With his free hand, he motioned toward the wounded sails and the broken booms.
 “Then I’ll follow her to Hades! Mr. Creene, get the doctor to shore!” The sailor gathered up the doctor in a heap, and clearing half the deck in a single bound dumped him into the lifeboat.
 Presently, the sea began to draw itself up. The coming swell was so massive, it seemed to tilt the horizon, as if the globe itself struggled under its largesse.
 “Mr. Aldour!” The second sailor appeared, his loyal eyes upon his master. “Cut loose on my command. Once free, race like hell. If the crest overtakes you, all will be lost in vain.”
 “Aye, captain.”
 “Get on with it.”
 The sailors leapt into the lifeboat and drew their hatchets, aiming for the lashes holding it in place. The dull grey steel glinted dimly in the early dawn. The storm thrashed and howled around them. The doctor, his pleading eyes still turned toward the captain, pressed himself into the bottom of the lifeboat, his bone-white fingers grasping tight his leather valise.
 As the sea surged upward, it drained the water away from the Ethebian Gate, revealing its treacherous and craggy maw. Magdalene’s Star, faithful to the last, rushed and sliced up the glassy slope. The crest nearing, Captain Faulk laid the cutter to starboard, shielding the lifeboat from the crest, turning it toward the distant hope of the Gate’s passage.
 “Now!” The captain commanded. One, then the other, the hatchets sounded, severing the lashes and letting the boat free. The sea began to boil all around, but in its wake, Magdalene’s Star left a brief window of calm. The lifeboat slipped into the rift of relative security, and darted into the watery gorge below. Creene and Aldour leaned into the oars with fiendish strength.
 Above them, Magdalene’s Star briefly cut a silhouette against the foaming ridge, illuminated by the first rays of the breaching sun. She listed to port, water broke over her deck, and the graceful cutter slipped onto the far side of the swell. The doctor caught one last glimpse of Captain Faulk, who stood motionless, rooted to his deck, his countenance serene, and his hands resting gently on the wheel. As the green bank rose between them, the captain raised a hand to his lips, and tenderly transferred the kiss to the rudder wheel.
 The sailors rowed with back-breaking power. The oars bent and creaked as they struggled against the water. The slope rose ever more, opening the vast chasm beneath them. With their own strength and the sea pushing behind them, the miniscule boat flew toward the Ethebian Gate with astonishing speed.
 The surface of the water around them changed, from taut to ruffled to bursting. Above them, the crest bisected the darkened sky. The swell clashed with the outward cliffs of the Gate and the surge began to collapse inward toward the narrow entry. The sea, with the madly sprinting mariners at its fore, thrust itself into the close confines of the Ethebian Gate.
 Everything became a furious roar. The sea, the very air transformed into an icy, stinging, whipping mist. Deafened and blinded, the men cried out, though not to each other, but merely giving a voice to their terror and anguish.
 The boat swept to the left. An oar was caught between the hull and the rocks. Crushed, it burst into splinters. In brief flashes of visibility, the wicked black rocks would manifest themselves, arrayed against the beleaguered travelers as battle lines of pikes, only to vanish in the foamed brine an instant later.
 Then in a moment, hell receded, and the three found themselves safe in limb and body, save for the burning salt filling their lungs and eyes.
 They turned their gazes back, toward the Ethebian Gate and the riotous sea beyond. The monstrous wave had dissipated, and momentarily, the sea appeared level. Yet no sign of Magdalene’s Star could be sighted.

The Maid and the Bishop (FFC 2016)

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on September 22, 2016

Aside
This is my second-round entry for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge. Since I scored zero in the first round, this may also be my last entry for FFC 2016.

The prompts were historical fiction, circus tent, and a doll’s head.

Perhaps, this needs some historical background. Surely you’re familiar with Joan of Arc. Cauchon was a French (Burgundian) figure, closely allied with the English cause. He presided over Joan of Arc’s witch trial. Jean, Duke of Alencon was a French nobleman and military commander. He was among the first to recognize Joan’s value, he was her close ally and even friend. Joan of Arc was nineteen, and Jean was about twenty-two. At the time Joan had come along, about a third of France was lost to the English and their allies, and the French haven’t seen a major military victory in decades.

For France and King!
 Mud streaked her face. Blood caked one side of her head. Swelling and the sweat made it almost impossible to see out of her left eye. She was bound to a chair with rough twine that cut into her bruised flesh; her arms were growing numb. A terrible thirst scorched her throat.
 Four guards stood in silent attention around her. The red tunics covering their spotless, gleaming armor bore the three lions of the English.
 The battle had been a roaring human storm. Afterwards, a silence so deep, it made your ears ring. Wind quietly whistled around the ragged canvas edges of the tent. She thought she heard distant horses.
 The canopy of the once-splendid tent rested on two mighty poles. Rotting straw covered the floor. The center clearing was ringed with benches, many broken and overturned. The faded canvas had lost its bright colors. Joan remembered tents just like this. They would be full of actors, acrobats, and clowns with clever limericks. She could not recall any. Her thoughts sank into a drowsy molasses.
 There was a rustling of heavy cloth and a burst of bright sunlight. Someone exclaimed in French:
 “Do my eyes deceive me? Is it really her? It is. A glorious day! Right here in the flesh. Joan of Arc.” The tall man clad in a fine heavy robe approached her, bending over to look closely in her eyes. A wolf’s smile appeared on his lips, and he continued with the flat and measured tone of a coffinmaker’s hammer. “The mighty, invincible Joan of Arc.”
 “Cauchon,” she breathed through her cracked lips.
 “One and the same.”
 The man straightened up and took in the shabby pavilion.
 “What in heavens is this place? A county fair, was it? Ah, the plays. The Lovers.” He pursed his lips in an exaggerated kiss. “Pierrot, the clown.” He frowned with theatrical sadness. “Nonsense, the lot of it.
 “This arrangement is temporary, of course. You’ll be moved shortly. To Rouen, eventually. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even see England before you are executed.”
 Then he added, in English, “Leave us.” The soldiers obeyed.
 He circled behind her. Joan’s neck was too stiff to follow him.
 “You’re quite pretty, you are.” Something creaked and thudded heavily. “Did you ever fancy yourself as Colombina?”
 Cauchon reappeared in front of her. In one hand he was holding the head of a wooden doll. He blew the dust from its perfectly polished countenance and held it up next to Joan’s muddied face. Then, he grabbed her chin and twisted her head, comparing her to the doll. Her neck and spine burned with pain.
 “The men talk about you, you know.” He studied the toy and the young woman. “What about Jean? That handsome boy duke of Alençon. Does he find you beautiful?”
She spat at him. He swung his fist wide and hit her. She did not flinch; the soldiers had hit much harder. The rings cut her skin and fresh blood trickled down her cheek. He dropped the doll’s head and splintered it with his boot.
 “You stupid girl. Dukes don’t go with peasants.”
 His gaze wandered away from Joan, and traveled toward something distant, beyond the canvas walls. His tone again turned casual, absentminded.
 “They are still dying for you. They scattered, but… Burgundy’s got the fastest horses, and your friends have none. All they ever really had was hope in you. Turns out, that’s not as good as a horse.”
 He leveled his gaze on her again.
 “You brought them here, and now they are all going to die.” Tears welled up in Joan’s eyes. She did not even notice them at first. Joan remembered the faces of those who stood by her without wavering, even before a certain death. Seeing her in their lines, they drew a fresher breath.
 “You should have stayed on the God-forsaken farm, girl.”
 Tears came as a torrent. She wept and choked on her sobs. She remembered the bodies strewn on the fields, the inhuman tension in the battle lines just before a charge, the exhausting, crushing marches. Yet even in those moments, the darkest of them, she saw courage grow in the hearts left fallow and barren by a lifetime of defeat.
 “I couldn’t… I couldn’t.” She shuddered, struggling to speak through the tears. “We are dying on our land. I had to come. And so I have come, and so I have done God’s work. Don’t you see that this is His plan? France will right herself with Charles as the king. God has told me so.”
 “Blasphemer,” he grabbed her throat. “You will burn for these words!”
 “He has told you, too. You can see it as clearly as I.”
 Cauchon peered into Joan’s broken, filthy face streaked with tears. Her eyes were as steady as a mountain’s heart. He recoiled.
 “The English will abandon you. They will sail back to their isles, leave you here as so many bilge rats, and never look back. In death, I will stand with the brave multitudes. But you, Cauchon, for the rest of your life you will stand alone, seeing terror in every shadow.”
 Cauchon staggered out of the tent. Joan’s words thundered in his head like hammers. He tugged at the suddenly suffocating collar.
 “Sergeant, have the prisoner bound and gagged. We leave for Beauvoir,” he ordered in a rasp, halting voice. The sergeant regarded Cauchon indifferently from his horse, then raised his hand and signaled to his troop. The English cavalrymen began to form into a column and move out onto the road heading north.
 “It’s just a woman, bishop,” the sergeant said coolly. “And she’s bound.” He rode off without waiting for a response. The troopers’ capes and banners billowed in the wind as they steadily receded. Cauchon stood still. A frigid, sucking hollow formed in his chest.
 “The witch,” he whispered in a quiver, not daring to go back into the tent. “The witch.”