Saturday, February 4, 2012


In the midst of an editing project, I saw the following prompt and knew I had to be involved. How could I resist? 

Prompt: Write a fantasy fiction piece using these words: Forest, Fortress, Flying, Forever, and Brimstone.
Word limit: 1,500
Deadline: Wednesday, February 8th at 9:00 pm ET

OK, so it's due on a Wednesday, big whoop. The thing is, after a long day of staring at the screen yesterday, I saw the notice for this prompt, and whipped out the story below in 2-1/2 hours. It is, surprisingly, exactly 1500 words, including the title.


The Serpentine Dance

“You smell that Vigo?” Calpurnia said to the boy stalking the forest beside her. She put an arm out to stop him, and took a deeper whiff. He copied her, and then he had it too.

“Rotten eggs,” he whispered, turning to look at the dusky skinned enchantress with the unusual amber eyes that were always filled with a flickering play of light. “But stronger, like something died.” He pointed ahead and she nodded, her eyes fixed on the clearing through the trees where the rising moon picked up a shimmering sheen in pools of water.

Brimstone,” she said slowly, crouching down to peer through the brush and tussocks of the marsh. “When the swamp wyrm leaves the muck, it always smells like brimstone.”

“Should we get any closer Mistress?” he asked her, kneeling at her side, trying to peer through the brush.

“We must, if we want to find the nest,” she told him as they slipped on in the gloom, the rustling of breezes in the trees giving away to the drip of water off hanging moss. The canopy overhead closed in and hung low. A feeling of brooding gloom and despair came over the place; such a change from the forest they had just passed through. Somewhere ahead a bird cried something between a croak and a squawk, and great wings flapped as it lifted to the air. They caught a glimpse of it as it was flying away in the distance, long neck outstretched and legs tucked beneath as it dodged gnarled and twisting branches festooned with strings of saturated moss.

“It comes,” Calpurnia said with surety.

A frog plopped into the water at his feet, and Vigo started, but he fingered the beads at this neck, rubbing the bone amulet at the end that had protection symbols carved into it. He was only two and ten, an age between boyhood and manliness, and very much afraid of what he had to do. But he had been apprenticed to the Zül Fortress enchantress for five years now, and he owed his life to her. Orphans of the pale skins were often sold into slavery, but she saw the promise in the blue eyed, blonde haired boy, and had taken him under her tutelage.

“Get ready,” Calpurnia snapped, and threw back her hood. Ahead of her, rising from the mire with water cascading off its coils, he could see the dark gray and green armored coils of the swamp wyrm. Something hissed, loud and strong, almost metallic sounding, like one hundred teakettles on the coals of the banked fire at her hearth. The plated and fringed head of the creature, its open mouth full of dagger size curved teeth, rose up before them, three times taller than the height of their biggest warrior.

Vigo almost wet himself in fright, as his shaking hands pulled the hand axe from his belt.

Calpurnia’s hands went up, fingers tracing sigils in the air, and eyes gleaming like bronze in the firelight. She knew this dance well, for it was one that her mother had taught her, and the tune her grandmother had crooned often when she was but a babe in arms. The tattoos that wound around her thin arms began to pulse and shift in a pattern that made one dizzy if watched too closely, and she swayed her body as she began to chant, the song a lulling one of old. The bells on the fringe of her mail girdle began to chime in time to her sinuous motions as limbs akimbo and torso undulating, she mesmerized the beast.

Vigo turned his eyes away, lest he too fall under her spell. He waited for the signal.

“Get what we came for now boy. Be quick, I can’t hold it forever here.” She wove the words right into the hypnotic song as her shimmering form kept the swamp wyrm busy watching her serpentine dance. Young Vigo began to circle the wallow in the fen that the creature made its home. The tail of the beast snaked back and forth in the water, and he had to dodge it several times as it slapped overhead. He could see the tiny, almost vestigial back feet of the thing, with their little webbed toes like ducks, and the plated ridges of its back. He was so cautious of not being knocked into the water by it, he almost walked into the web of a blackleg, the hand-sized olive green spider with the most poisonous bite known to the people of the Stygian Lands between the mountains and the sea. He tangled in a few strands and it ran down the sticky netting toward him, so he had to use the axe blade to cut himself free before it dropped down onto his head and shoulders. That cost precious minutes that too distant Calpurnia could not afford to loose.

Pushing on, he was already two-thirds of the way around the wallow and despairing of finding the nest, when he spotted a mound out in the middle of the muddy murk. It was heaped and rounded, unnatural looking, and topped with bones of old kills. That had to be it! He began to wade out, but the pool turned deep, so he kicked off his boots and swam, axe in his belt again. He must not fail, no matter what was in there, he must not fail!

Calpurnia was already growing tired, for she was not young anymore, and the far reaching enchantment along with the dancing and singing took a lot out of her. The air around the creature was stifling and fetid with its reek, and she was growing short of breath. She dared not stop or take her eyes off it for fear it would turn on Vigo, and then all would be lost. If he found what they came for, Zül would be protected forever from being overrun by outsiders. If they failed, their bones would join others in this fen, whose spirits lit the nights with their glowing energy. None had brought home such a prize for ages, but then, the blue eyed son of a pale skin hunter had not come to them in many generations. Vigo must succeed. He must!

She continued to concentrate on chanting and swaying, fighting off her weariness with thoughts of what this thing they sought might do.

Vigo reached the nest just in time to see the great head swivel his way. Calpurnia raised her voice and danced more vigorously, enticing the creature once more to pay attention only to her.

Several smaller heads that reminded him of the giant before his mistress rose above the surface as he scaled the slippery mound, which was riddled with holes. A couple of them hissed and he did his best to ignore them as he chopped with the axe and dug deep within. They would not have teeth yet Calpurnia told him, so the mother would chew food for them. He came across several shell shards and tossed them aside, until he found a round, leathery, long and oval intact egg, bigger on one end than the other. Fighting to pull it free, he almost lost it several times. Triumphant, he stood atop the mound and held it up, pale green and dripping, so Calpurnia could see it.

“Thank the gods,” she said and slumped forward, before the big head came down and opening its mouth wide, snapped her up.

Vigo waited, trembling, but staying still as he had been told to do, while the serpentine coils of the thing began to squirm and propel it around the mound where he stood with its last egg in his arms. He had his axe in his belt in case it did attack him, but his mistress had said it wouldn’t touch him as long as he held the egg. He was afraid when she was eaten, for they had hoped not to have to go that far. But she said to have faith, and so he quieted his nervous thoughts and waited until the eyes of the beast went from coldly appraising reptilian green to the amber intelligence he knew so well. The head came from the water, and lay at his feet.

“Leave now,” said the voice in his mind, as he stepped gingerly onto the big body and used it as a bridge. “I will see you again in the morning, when it sleeps.” He walked its length onto the firm ground, and disappeared in the trees, praying that Calpurnia was right and she could fight her spirit free of the great beast to join her body that he knew was supine in bed at home.

The boy who was now a man, as well as a warrior mage of his adopted people, ran through the forest with a dripping green egg in his arms, bringing back the first moat monster the Zül would have to train in many generations.


Beach Bum said...

Excellent story, very well done!

Nancy said...


Joyce said...

Wow. Cool story. That's quite the terrifying quest for a child, and quite the monumental purpose behind it, but he handled himself well. Hopefully, his mentor survived to continue his teachings. Love the imagery here. Dangerous and frightening, with such a mystical quality. Well done!

Flannery Alden Jenny Shaw said...

Your story was very compelling and foreign-feeling. I saw a new world with a strange culture.

My favorite part was the description of the enchantment. It was hypnotic and lovely.

Thank you for participating!

Sue H said...

Wow - I loved this excerpt of what must surely be a much longer tale! You have conjured up a whole mythology that needs to be told! Will there be further instalments?

Jason Carney said...

Very interesting. The relationship between Vigo and the sorceress is very well done. I got confused when she was eaten. When they approached the swamp wyrm, was she in a separate body? Anyhow, very interesting and looking forward to reading more of your work!

Nancy said...

Thanks folks for you kind comments. When I saw the prompt I knew I had to do this one, I am a fantasy author by trade, so it was fun to write. And Sue H, yes I have thought of extending this one, it's begging for a full short story at the least. Jason, that 'death' was sort of a MscGuffin corner I wrote myself into, and had to find a way out of. It would have worked better in a larger tale, where I would have had more time to set it up.