One-Minute Epics: “Red Letter Day”

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…


Red Letter Day

Marb Ogger had just made the morning tea, a big steaming pot of Nordish black, when she heard a loud rapping at the door. “Now who could that be at this hour?” she muttered. She set down the cake tin and wiped her hands on her apron. “I’m coming!” But no one was there. Instead she found a large notice nailed to the wall. She read it and promptly fainted.

The teapot was cold by the time she came to, propped at the kitchen table as a neighbor, henwoman Fleen, ate sweets. “Seems that you’re out of pom jam, dear,” she said, dabbing her mouth with a cloth. Marb looked down to find an empty jar — and there was the notice beside it. The old maid spread it out on her crumb-filled plate and digested each plum-red word:

ATTENTION — Clan of the Underland! Per order of Acting Governor Plesh, your house must relinquish one grown daughter or son for reaping. Be ready at dawn. Congratulations on being chosen…

“Please stop,” Marb pleaded, “I cannot bear to hear more.” The flush-faced woman sighed. “Is this the help they send from Thoom, a priest who wants to reap our children?” She pressed a palm to her troubled brow. “Not that I know what reaping is, but it doesn’t sound good — that I’m sure of.”

Henwoman Fleen split open a fruit bun and slathered it with oxen butter. “Reaping, that’s a term from ages ago. Your boy’s been drafted, dear.”

“Drafted? My Jury?”

“Some say they raise an army.”

“He’s not ready for that.” Marb stood up and started to pace the room. “He’s more teen than man…”

The henwoman reached for the teapot and poured two cups. “Our days are numbered, Marb.” She took a sip and spat.

“Cold comfort.”

One-Minute Epics: “The Stone Knight”

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 Stone Knight

“Please, Sir Narkalus, tell us a story, won’t you? One of your great adventures?” The clerk walking next to the Stone Knight’s steed looked starstruck, lucky to taste his dust. “Thou art a persistent man,” growled the legend. He raised his visor. “Well, just this once.”

The rider, Sir Narkalus Grayvane, had been dispatched by order of Merth’s High Priests to bring their law to troubled Nord and quell the turmoil that engulfed it. The mightiest knight in a thousand years, Grayvane the Cold was renowned for his steelstone armor, a suit he forged himself, and a sword hand none had ever fought and survived. The Stone Knight knew no mercy. Even now with age his fiercest foe, he was more than a match for any horde of men, and he still lusted to face them.

Today the knight led a dozen attendants winding their way down Crossing Road toward the Underland in the heart of Nord. The thirteenth, the clerk, the High Priests had added to serve as the eyes and ears of Thoom. The bureaucrat’s name was Rippen Plesh, a man with a ruddy complexion and greasy black hair, and not much else of note.

“Here’s some lore for thou, scribe,” the knight reminisced, spitting in the clerk’s direction. “‘Twas long ago during the Battle of G’urn when I met at Lord’s Pass a legion of Narr men — foul, fanged creatures that smelled to heaven — and slayed them alone with none but this.” He touched the hilt of his sword, the Merth Keeper. “Only then did the enemy show its hand, a sorcery grim and long forgotten. The Narr dead had been enchanted to rise again; seventeen times I killed them until the blood moon broke their spell and I felled them like saplings for once and for all. ‘Tis said that turned the tide of war, crushing the Narrish threat forever.”

“Bravo!” gushed the swooning clerk. Then the company came to a sudden halt.

“The bridge is out, my liege,” called a young valet. “The detour’s a fortnight north.” The knight, wanting none of it, reached to unsheathe his blade.

The clerk chirped, “I know a shortcut…”

Plesh led them down to the old Low Road and warned that, though quicker, it was “a shadowed way.” The brave knight scoffed at his caution. “Descend, men, into the gorge,” he ordered as mist clouds parted to welcome them.

Before long the entourage reached a vast swampland, Hell’s Hollow, and took to its narrow causeway, crossing the fogbound bog in single file for what seemed like forever. Sun and moon were obscured above them, day and night both but a ghastly glow. And strange sounds swirled around like restless ghosts. The Stone Knight paused to listen.

“Doest thou not hear that damsel in distress?” he shouted, dismounting his steed. He was in the water before his men could stop him. “I’ll save you, m’lady! Hold on…” Then the Stone Knight waded into the endless deep. The black muck swallowed him up.

While the rest of the company stood in stunned silence, clerk Plesh let out a long, low whistle and grinned when a widowlark answered him with a cry as it took flight from the murk. “Tragic the good knight didn’t know his birdsong. On to Nord, my friends!”

One-Minute Epics: “Edict of Thoom”

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…


Edict of Thoom

The High Priests of Merth had heard enough. Word of the unrest and strange goings on in Nord did not sit well with them, so they called for an unheard of Council of Lords to convene on the eve of the new year’s moon in Thoom, their stronghold and holy city crowned by the Temple of Rain and Sun. Prelates flocked from across the land and locked themselves away for days of debate, some of it so contentious that points were made with blades and fists.

But the fur really flew when the priest of the west accused the eastern lord of concocting it all, the tales of things in the sky, of flying girls, martyrs, and thousands possessed. “I know you, Hennok. This smells like one of your tricks, a menace you’ve conjured up over Nord and its weak-minded, inbred folk. It’s no doubt merely a ruse to raise an army and resurrect the throne.”

“I wish I’d thought of that,” Hennok laughed. “I’d order you skinned alive as my first royal act…” Then he gagged on his mug of wine and choked to death, poisoned with half of his faction.

The west lord was strangled that night as she slept.

The blood was still wet on the chamber floor when the council resumed deliberations. “Brothers! Sisters! We must stop these squabbles now,” cried the priest of birds and beasts. “The crisis grows with every sunrise — the crows have told me so. I believe them.”

There was a dangerous silence before the wisest, the Sooth of the South, spoke up. “Be that as it may, what matters is… we must act before the Senate does.”

All agreed and they issued the Edict of Thoom. It was written in crimson, posted, and read…

 

“Hear ye, folk of the Underland!” yelled the herald, unrolling a lambskin scroll. “Harken — this is official business.” A hush fell over the wide-eyed crowd.

“The Lordly have spoken from holy Thoom and offer this gift of four Commandments; heed them or not, on pain of death:”

– Firstly, don’t gaze at the sky again.
– No flying or dying without permission.
– Speech is allowed, but not aloud.
– Everything else is strictly forbidden.

The messenger tucked away the scroll to leave, “Good luck with that, Underlings. You’ll need it — the High Priests have sent their knight.” And he laughed as he lumbered out of sight.

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Photo by John K ~ Lore of the waters

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One-Minute Epics: “Of Ogs and Oggers”

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…


Of Ogs and Oggers

Jurykynd Ogger was barely awake when he stumbled outside for the morning chores. He crossed the snowy courtyard barefoot and shirtless, buck naked but for his britches, and seemingly unaware of the calendar or the frigid winter air. Six moons had passed since his love, Lam Lan, was lost and Jury still wasn’t himself.

His father, Jurgo, was waiting for him in the og barn, where he’d been working since dawn. It was warm there and dry and bathed in a lamplight that turned the sweet-smelling straw to gold. “Yer late again,” groaned the bronze-skinned man. “Them ogs, they ain’t gonna slop themselves, son.”

“Sorry Da,” said the young man meekly. He reached for an old oaken bucket of swill.

“Leave that,” his kind-eyed father commanded. “It’s time I showed ya something, lad.” Then he tossed his son a soft, worn blanket and led him to the nursing pens.

Soon they were standing in front of an open stall full of hay bales and dozens of frisky young ogs, flat creatures shaped like a sea ray but eyeless and tailless and made of flesh. A few of them flew around the room and flocked to the two men when they sensed them. Jury petted one flapping at his side. His father smiled and said, “These beasts us Oggers breed and train — haven’t ya wondered why they’re so dern strange? Like how they can change their look like magic? I’ll let ya in on a secret…”

Jurgo motioned past the pen to a square slab set in the earthen floor. He used a shovel to flip it over. Jury was awed by what he saw.

It was a tablet, the olden kind, a tale in stone from another time and place about a race of men who lived when wizards ruled the land. After the Witch Wars, they were enslaved by the nineteen nether lords and enchanted — half turned into handy changelings, the rest made keepers of those creatures. “Ogs and Oggers”, the black runes read.

Jury reached the panel’s end as his mind raced with a thousand questions. “Ogs and us are kinda kin?” He sat down to think on a bench by the pen, an old birch log, which had been there forever.

“Son,” said Jurgo, “there’s one more thing… Ogdog! Come on out o’ hiding.”

The log rolled out from under Jury and turned to a folded up old og.

“Oggie was my boyhood pet. Our fathers’ too fer generations; that’s why he needed a little rest,” laughed Jurgo. “Now he belongs to you.” The og unfurled and flapped like a pup, happy to be himself again. Then he nuzzled Jury’s leg and purred like there was no tomorrow.

“Belongs to me, Da? Are you sure?” chirped Jury excitedly. “Got to show Yooper…”

“You boys go and find yer friend, but take care — ogs have a taste fer adventure!”