One-Minute Epics: “Anak the Prophet”

One-Minute Epics are poetic micro tales from John Klobucher’s Lore of the Underlings, a lyrical fantasy-fiction world. Please enjoy this 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.

One-Minute Epics: “Bitter Fruit”

One-Minute Epics are poetic micro tales from John Klobucher’s Lore of the Underlings, a lyrical fantasy-fiction world. Please enjoy this 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.”

One-Minute Epics: “The Fighting Pit”

One-Minute Epics are poetic micro tales from John Klobucher’s Lore of the Underlings, a lyrical fantasy-fiction world. Please enjoy this installment…

The Fighting Pit

It was still dark when the ram horn sounded. Jury and Morio jumped to their feet and scrambled outside with the other recruits, falling in line just in time for their drill lords to kill them. “Let the hell begin!” The trainers were robed and hooded and growled in unison; they dwarfed mortal men.

“Watch out for that one with the bullwhip,” Morio whispered to his tall teen friend. Just the thought made the scars on Jury’s back sting.

“Silence! At attention!”

This is how they’d lived for months since the conscripts had been rounded up and dumped at this nameless, spartan camp somewhere in the hinterlands. There were scores of them, young men and women, the fruit of Nord, here under the Legion’s thumb. All had been bruised, some fallen and left to rot — a harvest of bitterness. But the trainers wanted only the few left standing. They had one last test.

“Today you duel,” the masters announced. “Sharpen your pikes. May the weak die young!”

Jury gave his friend a look while shushing a whimper from behind. His pet changeling, Ogdog, hid there like a rucksack. “Hush, don’t worry boy.”

At the heart of the camp lay a fighting pit cut in the hillside like an amphitheater, a deep bowl filled to the brim this morning with spectators wearing festive masks. The only exception was Governor Rippen Plesh who’d come to inspect his troops. He watched with keen interest, seemingly taking notes as the culling bouts began.

Ario Rill was a small, clever girl but when called she surprisingly shunned her armor. Not her opponent, the brutish lad Teed Parfnik; he had steeled for war. And so as their match tipped off with a clash of pikes in the sandy oval pit, Ario seemed to have no prayer. Teed taunted her, “Done, Rill? Beg for mercy!” But she had a plan and ran rings around him till he fell dizzy to the ground. The impact alone was enough to knock him silly, amusing the raucous crowd.

Teed was cleared out of the way and the games went on, tallied in blood on the sand.

At twilight the final duel was set, a grudge match between two Doontown delinquents. Jury and Morio breathed a sigh of relief — till they were picked as well. “How do we get out of this one?” Morio worried. “Just follow my lead,” Jury said. And he whispered over his shoulder to Ogdog, “Time to use our secret weapon.”

In no time the og rolled up to resemble a battle stick, landing in Morio’s hands. “Well hello there!” he chirped and gave it a swing… which downed the Doontowners who’d ganged up behind him. “Sorry about that, chaps,” he winced. But the bloodthirsty crowd only wanted more.

“They won’t let us both walk outta here,” Jury warned, pretending to fight his friend. “You’ll have to kill me too. Just trust me, Yooper.” The trooper dropped his guard.

“Sorry?” A puzzled Morio froze in place. “I didn’t catch that, mate,” he said and cocked his ear to listen. But all he heard was a cascade of boos raining down, so Ogdog took command. The battle stick flew at Jury’s head and felled him. The madding crowd went wild.

Morio knelt by his friend’s still body until he was ordered to cart it off. “Old chum,” he mumbled with wet red eyes, “farewell. I promise to tell your story.” Morio fought back a tear. “We needed a miracle…”

Jury winked at him.

“Ch-ch-chum?!” Morio almost fell over.

“Shhh!” Jury whispered, “I’ll explain later. Go — before the lords catch on.”

But high above the pit the Governor grinned, like he’d seen everything.

One-Minute Epics: “Red Letter Day”

One-Minute Epics are poetic micro tales from John Klobucher’s Lore of the Underlings, a lyrical fantasy-fiction world. Please enjoy this 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 poetic micro tales from John Klobucher’s Lore of the Underlings, a lyrical fantasy-fiction world. Please enjoy this 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!”