One-Minute Epics: “Grimhaven”

One-Minute Epics are new micro tales from John Klobucher’s Lore of the Underlings, a lyrical fantasy-fiction world. Here’s the latest installment…


Grimhaven

To say that Jury and Morio were not the finest foot soldiers in the Nord Lord’s dreaded Legion would be an understatement of epic proportions. And yet they were given a plum assignment — to take a special cargo by ox cart to the Governor’s secret retreat, Grimhaven. They’d heard it was a place of wonder, a palace with spires that rose to the sky and fountains that flowed with sweet red wine. So neither one could wait to see it.

“It’s said there are gardens beyond your wildest dreams,” chirped Jury, who steered the oxen.

Morio studied a map. “We must be near! I hope they serve refreshments…”

They came to a great stone arch and passed under it, leaving the highway to follow a winding road that climbed through a wood to a wide plateau where something used to be. Now it was barren except for a gash in the ground where the long lane seemed to continue. So they headed down below deep into the shadows and stopped at two huge doors.

“Hello!” sang Morio. “Anyone home?”

Jury knocked three times. The doors opened.

They entered and found themselves in an underground chamber as vast as the sky itself. In the distance churned a crimson ocean beyond which loomed a castle with towers like spikes that stabbed at the pregnant storm clouds above them. It thundered and started to rain. But it was not a rain like any they’d seen. “It’s red,” said Jury. “Blood.”

Just then the doors slammed shut behind them.

Morio shrugged, “I’m sure there’s an explanation… Ah! Here’s someone now.” And he waved to the tall cloaked figure gliding toward them. “Where should we unload?” The figure howled and pointed down the road. “Much obliged,” Jury shuddered.

The ox cart creaked up a rocky slope that was strewn with bones and shards of brimstone. It made for a bumpy ride, upsetting their cargo, which thumped around behind. But they crested the hill nonetheless to discover a freshly plowed farm field ready for sowing.

Somehow the same dark figure awaited them there. “Plant here!” it shrieked like a banshee.

Jury shielded his mouth with the blade of his hand. “Must mean what’s in the wagon,” he whispered, “plumpkin seeds or something.” Morio cheered, “I do fancy farming; I’d say that things are looking up!”

So they broke the locks on the ox cart’s tailgate and out rolled its load of unmarked blackwood casks. One hit a brimstone boulder and spilled its contents on the soil. It was a pile of something unthinkable. “Are those really… hearts?” gasped Jury. Morio nodded, “And they’re still beating.”

“Plant them!” ordered the angry wraith. Jury and Morio had no choice.

They dutifully buried the hearts in thirteen rows. “Whatever they’re trying to grow,” muttered Jury, “they won’t need scarecrows here.” Morio wiped the blood from his hands. “That’s the last of them,” he announced to the howler — but it was nowhere to be found. Jury jumped up. “Looks like our friend is gone. Hurry, let’s get going!”

They ran for an adjacent sea of beanstalks, which stretched back toward the giant doors. But what really lurked there was a sight beyond their wildest nightmares. “These aren’t peapods, are they,” Morio stared. “No, man, they’re pods of men… warriors by the looks of them,” blinked Jury, inspecting a big ripe pair.

Just then a hand poked out of the closest husk and clawed at the dumbstruck chums. They didn’t look back as they raced for the exit but Grimhaven’s bloody reign had come.

One-Minute Epics: “The Underlore”

One-Minute Epics are new micro tales from John Klobucher’s Lore of the Underlings, a lyrical fantasy-fiction world. Here’s the latest installment…


The Underlore

Shosha the young scribe boy looked puzzled. He’d been practicing runes on the dungeon’s dirt floor for hours as all beginners did, but this shape was odd; he’d not seen it before. It was simple yet hurt his hand to draw and made him drop his wooden stylus. “Master,” he asked of the gaunt monk sitting nearby, “what is it?” His fingers burned.

“Ah!” said the sallow-skinned man, not needing to look, “You’ve met the devil’s mark, I see.” He stood. “It’s the same for every apprentice. You’ll learn to take the pain.” The bald monk pushed back the hood of his thick, brown robe. “Let’s check your progress, boy.”

A cluster of candles lit the dim dank room, which washed it in muted gold. The monk inspected Shosha’s work and nodded, “Faithfully done — not bad. Just mind your cusps on lunar runes like this one.” He gestured with his hand.

The boy beamed. “Thank you, Master Garn, but…”

“Yes, lad?”

“May I ask a question?”

“Surely.”

Shosha glanced at the parchment he’d copied his text from. “What does it say?”

The cleric stepped to the scroll unfurled on the table and kissed it solemnly. “This, my son, is the vow of our Order, a pledge to the black-eyed Woman of the Wood, which you shall take one day. It’s written in secret language like her prophecies, full of rhyme and riddle. We guard those songs with our mortal lives to keep their verses safe and pure — for there comes a time when they’ll be needed…”

Shosha was curious. “What did this seer foretell?” His deep brown eyes were wide.

A shadow crossed the monk’s long face. “A future world that’s come to be called the Underlore; pray you’re dead by then. For a great black bird shall block the sun while a Dark Lord rules the lands below it. And heroes yet unborn must give their souls, or join the living dead.”

“Oh!” said the boy scribe, awed by what he’d heard. “But how do we know it’s so?”

Brother Garn opened an ancient, dusty tome. “Let me show you something.” He ran his finger down the page then tapped three times with its yellowed nail. “This list predicts the keepers of Anak’s prophecies. Tell me, what do you see?”

The pupil looked and blinked his eyes. “It’s my name, Shosha. When was this written?”

The monk smiled. “A thousand years ago.”

One-Minute Epics: “Anak the Prophet”

One-Minute Epics are new micro tales from John Klobucher’s Lore of the Underlings, a lyrical fantasy-fiction world. Here’s the latest installment…


Anak the Prophet

In an age before the written rune when the lands of the world had names now forgotten and empires rose or fell at the magi’s whim, a girl named Anak lived. She and her sisters, all bronze-skinned and blond, were water maids for their family’s village of shepherds. They climbed the hill each day to fill their jugs at the sacred well.

But one fair morn as they frolicked and sang by the headspring, the sisters three were beset by monsters, bear-wolves from the wild with fangs like daggers and claws like scythes. The older two, Lanak and Pran, both bravely fought the beasts to spare sweet Anak. “Run love! Don’t look back!” they cried. So Anak ran till she was lost.

She found herself on the edge of a deep dark wood, which beckoned her to enter. “Girl,” it whispered gently, “we’ll protect you…” And innocent Anak believed it. She followed the voice to an opening in the trees and vanished out of sight.

A thousand suns rose, shrouded in clouds, without her. A thousand blue moons set.

Then one day as Pran, the sole survivor, mourned for her sisters and scars by the spring, Anak appeared on the hilltop strangely changed, her green eyes turned to black. The siblings embraced. Anak’s touch was magic and healed Pran’s deepest wounds. Then together they went to Lanak’s tomb with holy water and brought her back. The villagers fell to their knees and kissed the ground the risen sisters walked.

Before long the song of Anak spread far and wide, beyond the hill folk’s world, and multitudes set out seeking the black-eyed witch, their hearts set on hope, gold, or vengeance. Though her hamlet was so remote that none could find it — till a warlock did.

The jealous Wizard upon the Mountain came down with darkness on his mind and a staff full of spells he planned to use on Anak, his rival sorceress. He set the village afire. “Surrender the girl!” he roared as people ran.

Anak beckoned from high on the hill to draw him away from her sisters and kin. Then she fled back to the dark wood, the source of her power. The sorcerer caught her there. The trees shielded Anak from view, still the conjurer sensed her, “No use hiding, child. Show yourself and I’ll spare your precious folk. I promise that death will be painless.”

But Anak stayed concealed and the wind sent her answer on a summer breeze. “Great wizard, I don’t deserve such a generous offer. I have a gift for you too.” And suddenly music filled the air.

She sang of things to come in the voice of an angel, for prophecy was his weakness. The wizard stood enchanted until she was done. He begged for another one, “Please…” The voice from the forest laughed, “Of course. Tomorrow. When the sun rests in the west.” So the warlock sat to wait, under the spell of Anak the Prophet.

Some say the wizard wasted away to nothing but a cold gray mist that lingered by the wood each evening waiting for the siren’s song. But the songstress was long, long gone — a black-eyed ghost who frolics still with her sisters high on a moonlit hill by a spring.

A roundup of “One-Minute Epics”

One-Minute Epics are new micro tales from John Klobucher’s Lore of the Underlings, a lyrical fantasy-fiction world. Here’s the latest roundup…


One-Minute Epics

Lam and Jury — 2 The Yooper — 3 The Wide Eyed — 4 Of Ogs and Oggers — 5 Edict of Thoom — 6 The Stone Knight — 7 Red Letter Day — 8 The Fighting Pit — 9 Bitter Fruit

Click a tale to read. I hope you enjoy them. There are more to come!

One-Minute Epics: “Bitter Fruit”

One-Minute Epics are new micro tales from John Klobucher’s Lore of the Underlings, a lyrical fantasy-fiction world. Here’s the latest installment…


Bitter Fruit

Oatus Troot stood on the edge of his field of marshmellons, wielding a hacking blade. The old farmer picked out the best looking fruit, a pearl-white orb the size of a cabbage, and split it in two with one quick whack. What he saw turned his rosy face pale with disappointment; he cursed the shadowed sky. “Look what you’ve done to my crop, you demon!” The specter that first appeared over Nord four years ago loomed as large as ever, eclipsing the sun from dawn to dusk and his sister moon as her brother slept.

The melon was black and sticky inside, like tar, with a putrid stench of death. It made Oatus sick to his stomach. He reared back and hurled it into the plumpkin patch.

“You too?” called a familiar voice. It was Oatus’ neighbor and friend Zedd Lardborn who owned the orchard of poms next door. “The rot got half me harvest this season,” he hissed, “damn Legion took the rest. How’s a man ta stay in business, Oatus brother? They done bled us dry…” By now Zedd had climbed up the hillock he shared with Oatus, which overlooked East Nord Road. Huffing to catch his breath he continued, “Five bits a barrel’s all they paid fer pom ale — then took six bits tax.”

Oatus laughed bitterly. “That,” he spat, “is a might better deal than what I got. But you know the Governor’s Guard, they drive a hard bargain.”

Zedd croaked, “Speak o’ the devil…”

The two farmers watched as a column of troops approached from out of the distant haze, heading west on the dusty road toward Groon where a huge new garrison had been built. They were heavily armed and armored with bronze shields and battle pikes, flying blood-red flags. And they moved as if they rode the wind, marching double time to some urgent mission.

“Pity the poor blokes they’re after,” Oatus joked.

The column came to a halt. It turned crisply toward the orchard, waiting for orders. Oatus gulped. “Uh-oh,” said Zedd.

In no time the pair found themselves surrounded with dozens of pike points trained at them. “Hold on — there’s been some mistake,” piped Oatus, hiding his knife. “We’ve already given.”

“Silence!” barked the captain. “There are no mistakes. Lord Governor claims these lands.” And he waved his hand across the horizon from Mount Theeve to the Angel Spires.

The farmers could hardly believe their ears. “Claims what lands?” Zedd questioned. “Me kinsmen have toiled here fer ten hundred years.” Oatus gripped his hacking blade, “Mine too — our blood is in this soil; this hillock’s built upon our bones. You’ll take it over my dead body.”

The captain raised his pike. “So be it.”