Clearing the Castle (A Chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: March 1, 2017 in Fantasy, Fiction
Tags: , , , , , , ,

This week’s challenge: the random flickr challenge. Get a picture, use it as inspiration.

I ended up with mmcclair‘s image of Eilean Donan‘s castle in Scotland. Reasonably happy with how it turned out, and it gave me an excuse to take Heinrik and Viona back out for a spin. If you enjoy they’re anctics, you’ll be happy to know a story featuring them was accepted by New Realm magazine. Also- in which I am reminded that writing “quick” sword and sorcery is in some ways harder than writing the long stuff.

As always, comments, likes, and shares are much appreciated.

“I don’t like this,” Heinrik said, staring across the bridge at the castle situated on the island. The weathered stone of the castle sat heavy on the island, a cold wind whipping his cloak around despite his best efforts to keep it closed.

Viona sniffed as she stepped down from the wagon, the top of her head only just reaching her companion’s shoulder, and that thanks to the raised heel of her boots. “When do you like anything outside of a city?” she snapped.

Heinrik held his hands up, but his eyes crinkled behind his pince-nez in amusement. “Not much, I’ll admit.”

He pulled his zweihander out from the back of the wagon, strapped its sheath to his back. “What do you think we’ll find in there?” he asked, pointing at the squat structure with his chin.

The castle was designed with defense over comfort in mind. Only a single bridge lead to it, and otherwise surrounded by water. The grey dressed stone lacked ornamentation, the windows narrow and barred. Dark water crashed against the shore, and dark clouds rolled ominously along the far horizon.

“The contract didn’t say,” Viona said. “Locals are reporting weird noises, livestock disappearing, and some people gone missing. The castle’s been abandoned for around two generations. Rumors are it’s a ghost.”

Heinrik snorted. “Looks to be in good shape for a place supposedly abandoned.”

Viona nodded. She grabbed her crossbow from the back of the wagon, slung her satchel bag over her shoulder. “Well, if the locals think it’s haunted, don’t you think they’d stay way?”

Heinrik snorted. “And hire a couple of adventurers to see what the fuss is about. They won’t grieve when we come up missing.”

“There is but one way to see what all of the fuss is about,” Viona said.

Heinrik wrapped a belt around his waist, secured his short-hafted axe on his right and sword on his left, and checked the brace of daggers he wore across his chest. “Let’s go see if anyone is home.”

Heinrik strode across the bridge, Viona following slightly behind and to his left, crossbow held upright but loaded. As he approached the door, Heinrik saw the boards were rotten, the iron hinges covered in rust. He pushed against the board, leaning his weight into it. The sound of wood cracking filled the air, and Heinrik stumbled as the door opened with a bang. Slipping his axe from his belt, he slipped through the doorway into the entrance hall. Inside the air smelled musky and ripe, like some great animal had laired there. Furniture lay smashed into kindling, tapestries torn down and left in tatters on the floor. The stone walls bore great gouges from what looked like claw marks, each of the marks placed about a hand higher than Heinrik’s head.

“Well, the good news is that at least it’s not goblins,” Heinrik said, a fierce grin crossing his face. No goblin could stand that high.” He wrinkled his nose. “Well, maybe four or five goblins all standing on each other’s shoulders, but that would mean them cooperating on something more than killing.” He shuddered. “Oh, good, now I know what I’ll be having nightmares about for the rest of the week.”

“One of these days, you must tell me why it is you detest goblins so much,” Viona remarked. “What do you suppose created these marks?”

Heinrik opened his mouth to answer, but then heard a sound, like a great snuffling, emanate from deeper within the castle. He slipped his axe back into his belt and slipped his zweihander off his back, resting it on his shoulder. He gestured to Viona to move to one side, and she did, covering the entrance way as she stepped lightly around and over the debris on the floor.

A large form shambled into the room, clad in rags, massive arms nearly touching the ground. A squashed face with tiny eyes and twisted, yellowed tusks sprouting from the gash of its mouth, sat on top of a neck thick as a tree trunk. In one of its massive hands, it clutched a wooden club, the gnarled head dragging across the castle floor. Its head swiveled side to side, then it caught sight of Heinrik, its eyes fixating on him. Its mouth opened and it roared a challenge, hefting the club up to its shoulder, a thick strand of drool hanging from one tusk.

“Ogre,” Heinrik breathed, knuckles tightening around the hilt of his sword.

Viona blinked, taking a quick couple of steps back as she leveled the crossbow at the massive form. “Can it be reasoned with?” she asked.

The ogre charged at Heinrik, bringing its club down in a sweeping arc. Heinrik slipped to one side and drove his sword at the brute’s side. The tip caught in the thick hides the creature wore wrapped around its body. He leapt clear as the beast’s club came back in a vicious backswing, the wind from its passing ruffling his hair.

Heinrik heard the snap of the cord, saw a quarrel sprout from the ogre’s cheek. It howled in pain, head thrashing as it sought to dislodge the bolt. He took the opportunity to bring his sword up in a slash, but the blade only scraped along the thick hide of the ogre. The ogre grinned and slammed its club against the blade. Heinrik winced from the impact, his hands numb from the force of the blow. He stepped back again, avoiding another devastating blow, but felt his back hit against the cold stone wall. The ogre grinned down at Heinrik and brought his club up for a finishing blow. Heinrik pushed off the wall, driving his blade straight forward and up at a slight angle. At the same time, an explosion detonated in the room, causing his ears to ring and his nose to fill with choking dust.

When the air cleared, Heinrik looked down at the ogre. His sword stuck out from the monster’s neck, but a chuck of its torso was also blown out from its side, the edges black and charred. Heinrik shook his his, planted his foot on the ogre’s chest and pulled the blade free.

“Next time you get to be the distraction while I make the bomb.” He spat dust onto the floor. He caught a glimpse of light glinting off metal. Leaning down, he saw the ogre wore a chain of silver links around its neck, a pendant of copper worked into the shape of a dragon eating its own tail hanging from it. Feeling around, Heinrik found the clasp.

“What is that?” Viona asked.

Heinrik studied the pendant, some aspect of it nagging at him. He slid it inside his jerkin with a shrug. “I don’t know. Some religious symbol, maybe? Strange to see an ogre with something so nice. Think there are any more about?”

Viona sighed. “Given that ogres are solitary beasts by inclination, and I cannot begin to fathom any other creatures cohabitating with one, I’d say our contract is fulfilled.”

“Good, let’s see if there’s a tavern nearby. I’ve worked up a thirst.”

Viona shook her head, but said nothing, following her companion out of the ruins of the castle.


  1. Congrats on the acceptance from New Realm!

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