Thursday, 12 June 2014

"Just Write" Challenge - The Keeper

This next post was inspired by Lynn Viehl: a professional author and blogger that I read daily and constantly motivates me to keep writing.

A week back, she challenged her blog followers to put down whatever they were working on every Thursday and "Just Write". You can find her original post here, and I invite everyone to try it out. It's truly inspiring, and a nice way of getting away from editing/novel writing for a day. And who knows: maybe you'll pump out some gold?

Here is what I was able to put together today. I've had this story idea for a while now, so it flowed like a six pack of beer after a hard week of work. Hope you enjoy, and there will be more to come I'm sure!

“He’s been a little out of sorts lately, hasn’t he? Even after the last haul!” said the guard holding the chamber door.
“Out of sorts? Out of sorts he says! Tell me, Clay: when you’re in a sour mood or have a bad case of indigestion, do you breathe fire and attempt to fry the one person in charge of looking after you?”
“Well, I mean to say -.”
“When you’re having an absolute stinker of a morning, do you waddle over to your chambermaid and attempt to cleave her in half with your longsword? Do you, knight?
“Well!” said Sir Clayton, smiling as he winked. “Well that depends on what longsword we’re talking about!”
Loran’s face soured. “And they tell us simple folk that you knights are supposed to be of a noble breed. Funny, that.”
“No, no, you got it all wrong you simpleton,” replied Clay, patting Loran on the shoulder as he smiled. “Us knights, we only breed with the noble. And between you and me, our definition of noble has been on the liberal side for some time now. Noble can mean many things! Noble heart, noble character, noble breasts…”
Loran snorted and removed Clay’s hand. “You don’t need to lecture me on the finer points of nobility. Didn’t King Gertrand call the sack of Renhold a “most noble endeavour and conquest”? How many unarmed men did you and your fellow knights maim and kill?”
Clay shrugged, unperturbed. “You wouldn’t know anything of this, Keeper, but unarmed men and armed have one thing in common: Neither are too fond of parting with their treasures, and both will fight like fools to keep them. We do what we must, you know that. In fact, you probably know that better than anyone else in the kingdom.”
Loran looked into the chamber from whence he came and nodded. A shiver ran down his back. “Yes, I suppose I do. All too well.” He sighed. “Tell me, Clay. How long must I keep at this before the King takes me into his service?”
“Well then we get back to the question of nobility.”
“What, do you don’t think my chest very noble?”
The guard laughed aloud. “Hardly! And even if you had the greatest tits this side of Cormandy, I’ve never heard of a whoremaster’s bastard son becoming a knight.”
A small grin found its way onto Loran’s face and he shrugged. “You know you’re probably right. But I’ve never heard of a whoremaster’s bastard son becoming the King’s personal Dragon’s Keeper either.”
“A glorified chambermaid, really. Except the room is a bit bigger and most of us humans actually use the chamber pot,” he replied, pointing at himself with mocking pride.
Loran looked back into the Dragon’s lair and scowled. The large wagon he had painstakingly placed in the corner of the huge room was empty as usual. Apparently, you could teach a dragon to talk, eat vegetables and obey the King, but you couldn’t train it to shit in a wagon. Or perhaps you could and the Dragon just enjoyed watching Loran on his hands and knees cleaning chunks of lamb carcass off his treasures.
“So are you headed back in, or should I tell the King he needs a new whoremaster’s son?” asked Clay, raising his eyebrows as he looked in the direction of the lair.
“No, there’s no need for that my young and valiant knight. You just keep tight here on the other side of the door and guard our poor Dragon from the mice, while I enter his chamber and politely ask him why he all of a sudden prefers medium rare human to alive and wriggling all of a sudden.”
“I think he’s just a little out of sorts is all,” said the guard smiling a wry smile. Loran could have slapped it off of him. “Well, good luck in there, Keeper. I’m head back upstairs for a bath. To be honest, I haven’t been right since our glorious sack of Renhold.”
“Sure, I’ll be fine down here,” said Loran, as he blew a lock of singed blonde hair from his forehead. He swallowed hard enough that it was audible. “Suppose I’ll have to go back in there eventually, right?”
He turned back around to face Clayton, but the knight had already begun to silently trudge back up the long staircase and into the castle hallways above where his safe and comfortable room would be waiting for him. Loran was alone.
So he did the only thing he could do, and swung open the small, steel door before stepping inside the lair for the second time that morning. Loran was afraid.
In nearly six months of tending to the giant, black beast, the Dragon had not once lashed out at him in any way. Moments ago, however, Loran had come within an inch of his life when the Dragon let out a torrent of flame for no reason at all. Had he been three or four steps closer, he likely would have been fried on the spot. Another dead Dragon’s Keeper.
Loran had thought the two of them had a relationship; one that benefitted the both of them. And while it was true that relationship was largely based on food and gold, like most relationships he’d been a part of, Loran thought the Dragon preferred him alive over dead. It was perhaps the greatest compliment a monstrous beast with an insatiable hunger for flesh could give you. But Loran was angry now. It had all been a damned lie!
So it was with great care now that Loran walked deeper and deeper into the Dragon’s lair, past his giant mounds of gold and silver that loomed above him like shining mountains. Every one of his steps this time around were with great purpose, for Loran had to be certain not to trip and kick over the Dragon’s delicately placed objects that stuck up from the gold and silver like trophies, as if the Dragon had collected them himself. There were bronze statues of men who had long since passed on, some legends, and others unnamed. Gold pocket watches lay about this way and that, some still ticking and others in need of winding. Entire sets of armor, polished by the Dragon’s Keeper himself, were scattered about the lair as well, perhaps enough of it to equip half a legion of men. There was enough wealth around Loran to build twenty more castles twice the size of this one, yet in its magnificence he began to tremble for fear of its owner. But he pressed on anyway.
Because if there was anything to be said about Loran Dornstead, it was that he never backed down from a challenge. For his entire life had been a challenge from the moment he was born.
When his mother had died giving birth to him in his father’s brothel, his father, wanting nothing to do with him, gave Loran to his whores so that they could raise him instead. When Loran grew up smarter and savvier than his free-spending half-brothers, his father re-adopted him into the family business and made him a minor partner. Then, when Loran had made enough money, he told his father to go screw a meat grinder and started up his own brothel, taking over half of his maidens of money with him. It was there his ladies provided their services to the knights of the kingdom for a pretty penny, and it was there that he made his connections. Loran had always wanted to reach higher than his birthright would have normally allowed, and he had found a pathway to knighthood in the most unlikely of ways.
Loran made friends with those that visited. He was always good to the women that worked for him, and because he was good to the women, they were good to the men that visited them. So good in fact that one of his closest friends, Sir Auric Caderant, approached him with a proposal. Auric had fallen in love with Loran’s favorite, Missy, and the knight wished to marry her. However, knights under the King Gertrand were expected to marry into families appropriate to their standing, and therein lied the problem.
Never one to stand in the way of love, Loran agreed to forge Missy’s birth papers and relieve her of her duties at the brothel under one condition: he wanted a spot in the King’s service, his own step up in the class ladder that was so stiff and orderly that many a nun had called it suffocating. And so it happened.
With the blessing from Sir Auric, King Gertrand himself had asked Loran to be his thirteenth Dragon’s Keeper. It wasn’t exactly what Loran had expected from the deal, but becoming a knight apparently wasn’t that easy. It was even more unsettling when he learned about the fates of his predecessors.
The first eleven Keepers had apparently done quite poorly at their jobs, lasting but a few weeks each before becoming food or disappearing with no immediate explanation from the Dragon. Luckily for Loran, The twelfth had learned from the experiences of the previous eleven, and had lasted nearly two years, having perfected the recipe for keeping King Gertrand’s weapon of mass destruction happy: a constant supply of food, and an ever-increasing supply of treasure.
It took eleven men to discover the Dragon was greedy. So when the twelfth Keeper told King Gertrand that more gold meant a happy and obedient dragon, the King raised taxes and began to raid the outlying provinces to increase his wealth. Not a single kingdom, not even his own, was safe from his plundering armies. And when a formidable resistance was mounted, the ceiling of the Dragon’s lair was pulled back and the Dragon waged its own war. The black behemoth was unstoppable, perhaps impossible to kill, and as far as the King was concerned, he was worth his weight in gold one hundred times over.
“Where are you, Dragon?” Loran whispered to himself. But his voice echoed and he froze. “Sandra was right, I do have a death wish…”
The Dragon was nowhere to be seen in the lair. The ceiling was closed, and now that he was in the center of the room he could see everything. The mounds of gold rose at least fifty feet into the air on either side of him, and came down like a valley in the middle, where the Dragon usually slept, ate and played with his newest treasures. For the only treasures he cared for were the new ones, and that fascination usually only lasted a few weeks, maybe a month if the kingdom was lucky. Yet, if a single, long lost and forgotten gold coin went missing, lives were lost for each piece unaccounted for. Somehow the Dragon always knew.
“Dragon!” yelled Loran, testing his luck. But there was no answer. No fire-breathing, and no eating. He could do his job and let the King worry about his Dragon. Big ten-tonne beasts didn’t just disappear after all.
Loran went to work. He ran over to the chamber-wagon, and beneath it he grabbed a shovel and turned upright an old and rusted wheelbarrow. He rolled it over to a mound of feces he spotted on the opposite side of the lair, took out his shovel and inspected the specimen.
“Son of Theros! Too much protein in his diet…I better talk to the King about this. It’s a single solid piece, hard as rock! How am I supposed to deal with this?” Loran said aloud as he always did when he worked alone. It helped pass the time.
But when he thrust the shovel into the pile of dung, it hit solid and sent a shock through his upper torso. Loran’s eyes went wide, and he dropped his shovel and scampered backward.
“Grrrrrrrr….” Loran heard as the ground began to rumble beneath his feet. He looked side to side, and then toward the exit, but it was too late. The gold and silver began to heat up and glow orange and then red. He felt the leather on his shoes turn black, and that was all it took. Loran ran for his life, tripping over spears, swords and greaves as his legs moved faster than the rest of his body could keep up.
A burst of flame erupted from below, the force of the blast toppling Loran over and onto the ground. He tried to scramble to his feet, but the black tail of the Dragon erupted from the treasure and sent him headfirst into a pile of shining silver, almost knocking him senseless. For a moment he lay there prone, and half-thought of digging himself a place to hide out. Then he remembered the Dragon could smell him coming from a mile away; two miles if he hadn’t bathed in a few days.
“Stop!” roared the Dragon, flames shooting out from his cave-like nostrils. “Help me, Keeper…”
Loran turned up from his belly just in time to see the black beast topple over like a giant, scaled shadow, sending the treasure flying about in every direction. Something was very wrong. His tail whipped overtop Loran’s head, and then slammed into one of the huge mounds to his right. A landslide of wealth forced him to his feet for fear of being buried alive, and he ran toward the belly of the beast, which sizzled his eyebrows and nose hairs as it continued to glow red hot with fire.
“Dragon, enough with the fire already!” screamed Loran, now only ten or so feet away from the beast. The heat was unbearable. “You do realize that fire kills humans! And when fire kills humans, we can’t help Dragons!”
More to come next Thursday when I pick this up again! Woohooo!

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