This is part of an ongoing writing challenge in which I base a short story or snippet off of a piece of art found somewhere on the web. Usually it kicks in my world building muse. None of the art belongs to me and I will do my best to provide artist credit when I can. For my fellow writers, if you’d like to join, feel free to post links to your own stories. If writing isn’t your thing, what do you think?
Guardians of the Pass
It is said that the Mage headmaster can summon the powers of the universe to reanimate the Guardians of the Pass. The massive stone guardians act as the protectors of our realm against any who hope to invade Soviania’s territory.
That is the story everyone in the realm has heard since they were nothing more than babes in their mother’s arms. Unfortunately, the tale has been revealed to be nothing more than a generations old white lie told to make the Sovianian people feel safe.
My father—a man only accustomed to dealing with stubborn mules—was slaughtered by an enemy who had no understanding of our surrender. Instead of allowing those who survived their attack to bury the dead, our captors cooked them over a spit much like we do whole pigs at the harvest festival.
My sister and I are the only remaining women from the tribe who haven’t been treated as brutally as those well into their child-bearing years. I am forced to tend to the grotesque warriors by maintaining their huts and weapons. My sister on the other hand refuses to speak of what she is required to do on a daily basis. I am only witness to the aftermath of the woman she is slowly becoming.
Night after night she is summoned away to entertain the warlord. Whatever constitutes as amusement to the warlord leaves my sister covered in bruises, cuts, and someone else’s blood.
Thea used to be a delicate beauty—revered for her grace in a region of Soviania that had no true appreciation for it. Now Thea’s gaze was hard, her nightmare’s haunted her, and wrenched screams from her throat to the point that her voice appears to be rendered permanently raspy.
I stand in the doorway of our threadbare sleeping quarters wishing I could simply stretch across the bed we share and stare at the thatch ceiling. My legs are weary from a long day of service to our masters, but I summon the strength to turn away and make my way to the nearby lake to bathe away the filth of the day.
The moon is full and high in the sky—bright enough to cast an ominous shadow over the valley where we call home. I stare at the Guardians and wonder when they will strike. When will the headmaster awaken our stone titans to retake the pass? When will they step forth and stomp out the ones squatting unlawfully on their land?
Like my nightly prayers to the Seven, I know my inquiries will go unanswered. The Guardians, like the Seven, pay no heed to the wishes of a commoner. Still I dream of a day when my people will be emancipated from their brutal captors.
The guttural sound of one of my captors startles me from my musings.
“What are they?”
My gaze follows the direction he points his spear.
“They are the Guardians of the Pass.”
“What do they guard?”
He grunts and steps closer to the edge of the lake. I sink further under the cool water to hide my nudity, which earns me an assessing stare.
“Girl-child has nothing to hide from a Tzwaeni. We honor our girl-childs.”
Honor must have a different meaning to them, as I am positive that they raped the miller’s wife not long after they decapitated her husband.
Foolishness would have me telling him just that, but I’ve earned enough backhands to know when to hold my tongue and this was one of those times.
“What is girl-child called?”
None of them have ever inquired about my name. I am merely girl-child.
“Illia. I am called Illia.”
He mouths it silently for a moment before nodding in approval.
“You will be my girl-child. I claim you…Illia, girl-child of Hektak of Tzwaeni.”
I make no move to smother the cry of distress that bubbles from my throat at his claim.
I have been claimed by a barbarian. I know nothing of their customs beyond their terrible natures when it comes to their conquered enemies and the cruelty they inflict upon grown women.
“Girl-child cries. Why?”
“I do not want to be yours.”
“I have claimed you. You are mine. You call me father.”
The meager dinner they have given me sours in my gut.
“I had a father and you monsters killed him!”
Hektak flinched as if I’d struck him, but he quickly recovered. “Death covets all life. Your father has gone to death. I am new father.”
“No. I want no father, no male will ever replace my father. I may one day have a husband and sons of my own, but never another father.”
A slow smile creases his features. I’ve seen that smile on the other Tzwaeni warrior’s faces. They flash it right before they meld their bodies to a woman or kill someone.
Should his mind be on laying with me as if I am a woman, he should be sourly disappointed as I have yet to have my first blood. In truth, I’d rather he kill me than lay with me.
He must have picked up on the direction of my thoughts because the smile quickly disappeared.
“I have no use for girl-child in my bed. Girl-child will be mine to protect and guide to womanhood so that she may have husband and sons.”
“I have my sister to guide me.”
“No sister. She is Tzwaeni maiden, claimed by warlord to be first mistress.”
My blood heats and I turn away to hide the scalding tears racing down my face. The stone guardians in the distance glow, but I know nothing will happen. They have resigned us to our fate—we commoners must be content to remain common and suffer where nobles would not.
Just once more I wish to the Seven, pray for a savior that I am sure will never come.
“My Illia cries. Why?”
I want nothing more than to shrink from the kindness in his inquiry, but I deny myself that simple, yet fleeting pleasure.
“I want my father. I want for the days long before you and your fellow warriors descended upon our small village and slaughtered what few men we had. I want the ability to summon the powers of the universe—to breathe life into the Guardians of the Pass—so that you and your ilk can be returned deaths in kind.”
He smiles at me. He radiates pride the way a father would for his daughter, but his pride only angers me more.
“Do not boast in the face of my anger. I hate you!”
He frowns at me. “What is hate?”
“Dislike. I strongly dislike you.”
He nods but I see he has no understanding of what I am saying.
“The opposite of love,” I say as added clarification.
“To those we do not love, we are indifferent. We do not care what happens to them enough to feel anything. You feel for me still.”
The triumph on his face burns in my soul. I would wish death on him, but I know the grace of the Seven would never find me should I embrace such ugliness.
“Come, Illia. The moon begins to slumber.”
I glance back at the moon as it descends towards the horizon, but instead of obeying request, I sink further into the lake.
“I will return to my hut after my bath.”
Turning my back to him, I begin to scrub away the dirt on my arms and from under my short nails. I quickly wash the rest of my body before turning my attention to my hair.
I’d just released it from it’s high bun when a loud splash behind me startled me.
Hektak stood behind me, hands raised as if to strike me. Instead he offers a soft smile before he forces me beneath the water. He drags me back up and I shriek only to be submerged again.
After three turns beneath the water he allows me to sputter a plea to stop.
“Girl-child finished with her bath? Good. Come. Moon sleeps.”
With that he hauls me over his shoulder and out of the lake.
He paused shortly to cover my nudity, Hektak takes me to his hut on the far side of camp, where he dumps me onto a soft, fur-covered bed.
“Dry, then sleep. Girl-child has long day.”
With that he placed a stretch of beautiful indigo fabric on a nearby table before closing the curtain enclosure behind him.
A sudden wave of exhaustion floods my system and I know—at least for the remainder of the night, Hektak has won. I will be his for the night, but with rest and a plan, I will renew my rebellion and find my way to freedom.