Category Archives: Flashfic

Sif’s Errand Boy #flashfic

“Honey?” Ann bent to smell the white flower and sighed at its citrus musk. “Why did you get four glasses out?”

Brad stepped out onto the veranda, tucking his bright white shirt into his black pants. Polished silver buttons and embroidery on his vest flashed in the bright sunshine. “One for me, one for you, one for Sif, and one in case she brings a guest. You never know.”

“Oh.” Ann sighed, her shoulders sagging. “She’s coming, then?”

“Yes.” He straightened his shirt and set to buttoning his vest.

Picking up the decanter, Ann bit back her feelings about the goddess lest she be overheard. She pulled out the stopper and poured amber liquid into a glass, filling it to the gold band. “Every time she visits, she sets you on a quest. Then you’re gone for six months, chasing down the Shield of Brucklesnot or the Erflgrumpy Sword or something.”

Brad laughed and wrapped his arms around her from behind. “That’s kind of my job. You knew that when you married me.” He nudged her head aside and kissed her neck.

She sighed again, this time at the warmth of his breath on her neck. “It would just be nice if you could be gone less.”

“I know.” He rested his chin on her shoulder and rubbed his hands over her swollen belly. “I’d like to be here when this baby is born. How much longer will it be?”

Ann set her hands over his and their wedding bands clinked together. “The candle has a few days on it. That’s only counting down until the birth, though. Labor could start as early as tonight. I don’t want to be alone.”

“You won’t be alone, no matter what.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” Ann held her glass where he could see it and waited for him to stick his finger into the liquid. When he pulled it out, he offered it to her and she sucked on it. He’d removed the alcohol for her, leaving her with a light, pleasant grape juice.

He opened his mouth to respond, but flinched away from a harsh flash of yellow light in the backyard. When Ann opened her eyes again, a woman with hair of pure gold stood among the roses and daises. Her gown matched the lush grass under her feet and displayed her cleavage to best effect.

Ann sighed and sipped at her juice. Brad let go to pay fealty to his patron goddess. She watched him approach and sink to one knee before Sif, lowering his head in complete obeisance. What she wouldn’t give to have him–just once!–refuse to abandon her in favor of the goddess. While Brad and Sif spoke in tones to quiet for her to overhear, Ann poured wine for them and moved the extra glass out of the way.

Sif touched Brad’s head and he looked up. With his back to her, Ann could only imagine the devotion and ecstasy on his face. Sif stepped around him, smiling, and glided up the marble steps to the veranda. She reached out, offering Ann her hand to clasp.

“Annbjørg, I’m so pleased to see you.” Sif’s voice flowed smooth and rich, as it always did.

Ann dipped into a shallow curtsy and took Sif’s hand to kiss the emerald ring on her finger. “We’re honored to share our home with you, as always.”

Brad trailed after her, an adoring puppy allowed to lick his master’s feet. “The wine is your favorite, my Lady.”

The goddess stepped close and placed her hand on Ann’s belly. “Ah, joy comes soon. Brandr will be away, alas. He must fetch me a token before Loki’s minions can find it. Grave danger lies before us all should he fail.”

Though she’d expected this, disappointment crashed over Ann anyway. Her smile faltered and she felt her eyes itch with tears wanting to be shed. Brad always had to stave off some kind of monumental disaster. “I think I need to sit inside. Excuse me.”

“Of course,” Sif said. “Your state is fragile, my dear. Do as you must.”

Brad, serene and smiling, bowed to his goddess. “My Lady, if I might be so bold as to ask, could you see to it that someone attends my wife while I’m away?”

“A sensible request, my Brandr. I’ll speak to my husband about dispatching one of his valkyries to watch over her.”

Hearing them speak about her as if she’d already left, Ann covered her mouth with a hand to avoid bursting into noisy sobs and waddled inside. By the time she recovered, Brad would be gone. Perhaps it came from the hormones, but she had the awful feeling he wouldn’t come back this time.

Halflings and Mischief are Peas and Carrots

“What a ridiculous thing to do with panties.” Owen leaned against the wooden fence keeping the sheep from wandering and watched his cousins struggle with a ladder.

His little sister, Primrose, arched an eyebrow and planted her fists on her hips in an uncanny echo of their mother. “You expect me to believe you didn’t do that?”

“Pfft. What for? Stringing them up there serves no purpose other than embarrassing Gillie for wearing red lace panties under her sensible skirts. I’m a gentleman, and this juvenile behavior is beneath me.”

“Right.” Primrose snorted. “You’d rather wrap them up to avoid having to buy her a Naming Day present.”

“Absolutely.” Owen flashed his most charming smile. “Besides, if I was going to steal her underwear, I’d take the blue ones. They’re much prettier.”

She gasped and covered her mouth. “You’ve seen her other undies?”

Aware he’d stepped in something, Owen’s smile faltered. “I’ve, ah, seen Jack out with the laundry.”

“You liar. I’m telling Mom.” Before he could grab her, Primrose hiked up her skirts and sprinted away.

“Crap.” By nightfall, he’d be Gillie’s bed boy. Everyone would think he’d strung up her undies, and Matron Marta would string him up. Launching into action, he sprinted around the nearby house and dove into the cellar. He darted past the roots, cheeses, and smoked meats of Gillie’s household and resisted the urge to grab a snack. In the back, he nabbed a crate and dragged it to a precise spot.

The crate allowed him to reach the five foot ceiling. More importantly, it allowed him to reach the hidden depression in the wood that caused the trapdoor to click open. He listened carefully, heard nothing, and let it fall open. Pushing aside the rug covering the hole, he grabbed the sides and jumped to haul himself up into Gillie’s bedroom.

On this side, the trap door had a recessed handle he used to pull it back up and lock it into place. He replaced the rug and tiptoed to the closed door. Beyond it, he heard Gillie’s high-pitched voice railing about the state of her underwear. Another voice, probably belonging to one of her fathers, tried to calm her down. Owen caught something about a “joke.”

Angry thumps thundered to the door. As Owen jumped to safety, the door caught him and threw him against the wall with a fresh bruise in his gut from the knob. His head hit hard enough to make him see stars.

“Owen,” Gillie growled. “I knew it.” She drew in a breath he thought she might use to call for her father.

“No,” he grunted. “Wait. Wasn’t me. I swear.” Rubbing his head, he tasted bile.

“Sure. I believe you.” She slammed the door shut and grabbed the front of his shirt.

The room spun. “Ugh, please don’t. I’m going to throw up.”

Shoving him to the floor, she crossed her arms and glared at him. “I ought to tell my mother about you.”

He rolled to lie flat on his back and squeezed his eyes shut, hoping it would make the nausea pass. “But you won’t, because you love me.”

Her voice softened. “Why did you do it?”

“I didn’t. I swear. Even if no one else believes me, you have to.”

She sighed, and he thought it meant she’d given up on being mad at him. “If it wasn’t you, then who was it?”

“I don’t know, but I can find out. You know I can.” He cracked an eye open and saw she’d moved to her small window. Sunshine streaming in hurt to look at, so he shut his eyes again.

Snapping the curtains shut, she returned to crouch beside him. “You’re such an idiot, Owen.”

“Nonsense. I’m charming and clever. That’s why you love me.”

“I got you pretty good, huh?” Her cool hand laid on his forehead, pressing with enough pressure to make his pain recede.

He cracked an eye open again and found her smiling down at him. “Took me by surprise.”

She chuckled. “Gotta work on those reflexes.” Taking a deep breath, she let her tiny thread of magic loose to work on his injuries.

He sighed again, this time from the easing of his belly. “But then you won’t get any opportunities to take care of me.”

“I have no doubt you’ll get into plenty of trouble trying to clear your name of this hideous offense. When my mom finds out, she’ll think it was you. So you shouldn’t be found here today.” She leaned in and kissed him. “Which means you should come back late tonight.”

He grinned. “Don’t wait up. I’ll wake you. With the underpants of the offender in hand so you can humiliate him properly.” Hugging her close, he reveled in her scent, an earthy mix of sage and potatoes. “You should let me marry you. Then we won’t have to sneak around anymore.”

She stuck out her tongue and pushed him away. “I’m not ready to start my own homestead yet.”

“Bah.” Scrambling to the trap door, he flashed a wide grin. “We can just mooch off your mom’s for a while.”

Rolling her eyes, she waved to shoo him off. “Get going before my father decides to tell my mom what he can obviously overhear.”

Owen heard a cough from the other side of the door, followed by feet shuffling away. “I barely touched her,” he called out. Quieter, he added, “This time.”

“Go already!”

No Honor Off the Pitch #flashfic

Looking over the competition, Alex felt confident this joust would go well. Last year, he lost to Count Estvern’s son by judge decision. This year, Brendan had been sent into the King’s Cavalry, the same place Alex would go after his eighteenth birthday in three more months. It left him as the one with the most to gain from a win and the most to lose without one.

“Boy, just make sure to–”

“I know how to joust, Father.” Alex stifled down a roll of his eyes so the Baron wouldn’t see it. He patted the neck of his horse, a steady beast he’d trained himself. “Is Mother here?”

The Baron of Killendy spat on the churned dirt, missing his polished black boot by an inch. “She’s off husband-hunting for your sisters.”

And, Alex suspected, looking out for wife material for him. His lip curled at the idea of scouting eight-year-old girls to find the one with the right breeding to be suitable for him in another decade. He’d marry whoever she told him to, of course, but he didn’t have to be happy about it. “Ah. I suppose this isn’t terribly important from her point of view.”

“Of course not. She’s a woman and can’t be trusted to understand what’s important.” The Baron rolled his eyes and turned away. “Don’t embarrass me.” With that rousing endorsement, he walked away to take his place in the box reserved for the nobility. His finery allowed him to claim the seat beside the Duke of Northlund and below the Duke of Cadogawr. Poorer nobles had to sit on the other end.

Alex noticed a woman with a young girl clinging to her red velvet dress as she sized him up. He nodded and pushed his visor down to avoid letting her see his revulsion at her obvious intention to catch his eye for her daughter. The woman leaned over and pointed at him. The girl nodded and smiled at him. Because he knew his part to play, Alex lifted a hand and waved to her.

Turning his horse away, he led the parade circuit of the pitch. He waved to the crowd, as was expected of him, and stopped to the side of the King’s booth. There, he waited while the rest of the jousters lined up. Beside him, the son of the Count of Endwyfr held the reins of his black stallion tight while it stamped and shook its head.

Alex’s chestnut mare stood rock steady for him. He had a thought to point out that the stallion wanted more lead, but if the boy didn’t know better, that would reflect on the Count. The Baron would enjoy taunting him for it.

“On the north end, Alexander of Killendy!” The King’s Seneschal, an aging jester in King Brannon’s green and black, boomed his announcement out, sending the crowd into an anticipatory hush.

Alex urged his mare forward and waved to the crowd. As he snapped her reins, his steward hurried to the north side of the pitch with his lances and shield. He wondered why they chose to send him out first, since they had to know he’d win today. The best usually waited until last.

“On the south end, Kevin of Orilwyn!”

The boy who wrestled his horse to the opposite end of the pitch, the son of a Count, made Alex’s blood boil. He and his father both had been insulted by this first match against a fourteen-year-old with no experience. Alex scanned the box and saw his father reach the same conclusion. To his surprise, the Count of Orilwyn had gone pale, suggesting the King chose to use Alex to punish Orilwyn for some reason. Mother would know why–she kept up on all the gossip.

“Don’t kill him,” Edward suggested as he handed Alex his shield and lance.

“It’ll be hard to avoid, but I’ll do my best.” Alex hefted his lance and watched Kevin fumbling with his own. He’d meant his response in jest, but as he noted how poorly the boy held his shield, he genuinely feared Kevin could be killed in this contest designed to entertain the commoners and designate the pecking order among the noble sons.

“Riders to your marks!”

Alex’s mare snorted. He lowered his lance across her neck and braced his shield. When the Seneschal blew his horn, the mare launched into a gallop without needing to be spurred. Kevin’s horse fought him and only lurched in the correct direction for two steps before Alex’s lance slammed into Kevin’s shield with a thunderous crack and knocked him ten feet back to land in the soft dirt. His head clanged against the ground and the boy lay still.

The mare whinnied and pranced for the roar of the crowd. Alex pushed his visor up to smile and wave, and noticed his father taking the opportunity to shout angrily at the Duke of Cadogawr. At the other end, the Count of Orilwyn jumped to his feet and gripped the railing with white knuckles.

Kevin’s steward reached the boy and pulled the shield off his arm. He struggled with the boy’s helm, prompting Alex to urge his mare to their side. “Is he breathing?”

“I can’t tell, m’Lord.” The steward fumbled with the helm still.

Alex tossed his shield and broken lance and swung off the mare. Taking a knee beside the boy, he shooed the steward’s hands away and gripped the helm. “Have you never squired a joust before?”

“No, m’Lord.” The steward’s face turned pink. “It’s our first match ever.”

Yanking the helm off, Alex flung it aside and patted the boy’s cheek with his gauntleted hand. “He should have declined the invitation until he could run in a smaller match.”

“I don’t think the Count had the option, m’Lord.”

That news raised one of Alex’s eyebrows. He’d never heard of such a restriction before. Standing, he raised a hand for quiet. “He needs a Healer, Your Majesty.”

King Brannon waved a bony hand to allow the intervention. As his hand fell back into his lap, he met Alex’s gaze and the old man’s mouth quirked into a cruel smirk for half a second.

The expression cemented the suspicion he’d been used as a tool to shame Orilwyn. That thought left a sour taste in Alex’s mouth. His steward handed him the reins for his horse and he turned away, content to let others handle the boy. Nothing else would consume him half so much for the rest of the day, though, as discovering why Kevin had to be humiliated and why he’d been chosen for the task.

Disappointment

“Initiating Oculus.”

White hot pain stabbed through Todd’s brain. The receptors had been there for all of four hours before they insisted upon this initial test. He would’ve liked to get used to the feeling of the solid contact points in his cheeks and forehead first, though he couldn’t deny his excitement.

The agony faded to dull aches at each of the six incisions. His personal, permanent darkness lit up with red numbers and green lines. He sat still in the tank mockup, as he’d been instructed to do, and watched while the lines jumped around, then settled into place to show the contours of the world in front of him. The numbers gave him distances to each isoline.

Goosebumps marched up his arms and legs. “I can see.” He itched to turn and take the whole world in, even in this minimalist way.

“Stay facing forward, Sergeant.”

Duly chastised for twitching, he forced himself to sit still. “Yes, ma’am.” As he watched, new isolines appeared, creating a more complex image. “Is that a tree?”

“No.” She sounded disappointed.

Todd frowned and squinted, though that made no difference. “The lines are too far apart still, I guess.”

“Is it getting better?’

Nothing changed, no matter how much he wanted it to. He stared through the goggles, willing it to change, to show him something else. “Is it a mailbox?”

The voice sighed. “No. Alright, we need to do more work with it. Shutting the Oculus down.”

“No!” Todd’s hand curled into a fist, knowing he shouldn’t have yelled into the mic. “I mean, I’d appreciate leaving it for another few minutes. Maybe you can collect some data? Tweak something?”

“Sorry, Sergeant.”

The lines derezzed, leaving him in darkness again. He sagged and sighed while a tech popped the face mask off. Sharp pain stabbed in his cheek.

“Oh, crap. Medic! The sutures ruptured.” He patted something soft on Todd’s cheek. “Sorry, Sergeant. We’ll get this taken care of right away.”

“It’s okay.” Todd gritted his teeth and wondered if the stupid project would ever let him see despite his ruined eyes.

Wake Up (Content warning: disturbing)

Billie’s slippers made no noise at all as she padded across the Oriental rug in the rich wood-paneled foyer. They matched her gown, a lovely ecru confection with soft pink ribbons and lace. Clutched in her hand – covered by a long eggshell satin glove with pink stitching – was her invitation to this party, a heavy white card with delicate calligraphy. It had only two words: her name. She couldn’t remember how she got here, or how she knew to come.

A large woman in a strangely drab uniform and lab coat blocked her path, hand held out. Billie handed her the invitation. As the woman took it, Billie saw new words flash across the back in a familiar scribbling scrawl: ‘wake up’. She blinked and looked again, but the card had gone blank as the woman read it, glanced at her, then tucked it away in a pocket and stood aside.

Music began in the middle of a song as if it had been playing all along. Billie thought she recognized the classical piece, but couldn’t recall the name or composer. Mozart, perhaps, or one of those other long-dead men worshiped for their brilliance. She went towards it, wanting to find the source, or perhaps someone who could tell her what it was. More than anything, she wanted to dance to it.

She turned a corner and had to rub her eyes as the patterns in the rug formed those two words again – ‘wake up’. It returned to normal when she opened her eyes again, and she found herself in a grand ballroom, full of other woman wearing dresses just like hers in a dazzling array of colors and fabrics. Was her brown hair swept up and forced into curls that dangled around her face like everyone else’s? Why didn’t she know?

Lifting one hand, she patted her hair. Yes, she had curls, thick ringlets dangling all around and held in place by some kind of thick headband or scarf. Strange, she didn’t remember styling it or sitting for someone else to do it.

“Is this your first time?” The woman approaching her had a soft yellow gown with real slices of lemon decorating it. She held out a matching satin glove to take Billie’s hand with a gracious smile that didn’t reach her dull green eyes.

Billie nodded, too confused to find words. Something about the veined marble floors and crystal chandeliers felt wrong, but she couldn’t figure out what. Thinking about it was difficult, like trying to walk through knee-high mud. She slipped her hand into the woman’s.

“This is my fourth party. Let me show you around. I’m Claudia.” The woman squeezed her hand gently and walked her around the room. They picked up delicate glass goblets edged with gold and filled with sweet wine. Billie sipped at it while Claudia pointed out absurd details, like flying buttresses and carvings in the woodwork. She didn’t even know what a flying buttress was.

Claudia pointed to a dark wood chair with eagle claws for feet, gesturing for Billie to sit. The maroon upholstery on the cushion had a white fleur-de-lis pattern that changed to show the words again, this time scratched and urgent: WAKE UP. She didn’t feel tired, but sat anyway. Just as her bottom touched the chair, she felt a painful ache in her womb and blinked.

Bright lights filled her vision, and she was cold and naked, lying spread-eagle on some kind of metal slab. Her heart raced and she didn’t understand anything, except that someone was forcing something inside her and it hurt.

A man’s voice said, “Stop! She’s rejecting the program. Andy, fix that, now!” The pain in her lower abdomen eased, but not soon enough to stop her tears. As her eyes adjusted, she made out tubes snaking down into her arms and torso, and realized her wrists and ankles had been bound.

She heard the unmistakable sound of office chair wheels on industrial tile, then a figure slid into sight. He wore a face mask and cap like a surgeon, with large glasses distorting his eyes. “It’s okay, honey. Just relax. Don’t struggle.” This was a different man, and his latex-covered hand brushed her forehead tenderly, then slid to the back of her head. “You’ll be fine. You’re doing your part for your country, remember? You were chosen for this, it’s a special honor. Everything will be fine.”

“I want to go home,” Billie sobbed. She wasn’t chosen, she was conscripted. This wasn’t what they said it would be like, either. They said she’d be taken care of, and everything would be as painless and pleasant as possible.

“Soon, honey, soon.”

Something solid on the back of her head clicked and she blinked again. Back at the party, she sat on the chair with an empty goblet in her hand. She was supposed to be here, and she was having fun. The music sounded nice, it made her want to dance. She looked all around, but didn’t see any men to dance with, only women. How strange.

Claudia bent over her glass with a pitcher, filling her glass. Her mouth opened and her lips moved, but Billie only heard a whisper in her own voice. “Wake up.” She stared at Claudia, who looked at her expectantly.

Billie rubbed a glove across her forehead, confused and tired. Her fingertips came away with smears of blood that formed the words again, WAKE UP. This time, they didn’t go away. The words stared back at her, daring her to think and remember.

She blinked again and was back in the bright lights with a new ache in her lower parts. “Dammit,” that voice said again. “Andy, you said you fixed it. She’s conscious again!” Billie’s cheeks were still wet. She started crying again.

The man with the glasses rolled back into view. “Honey, if you don’t relax, this is going to fail. You don’t want to be a failure, do you?”

“If she comes back out again, we’re scrapping her.”

What did that mean? Billie fixed the glasses man with a fearful, questioning look. He sighed and shook his head a little. “Honey, if you fail, you’ll never go home. Take a deep breath and calm down. You’re not even impregnated yet.” He coached her to breathe several times, then she heard the click again and opened her eyes in the ballroom.

All she could see were letters of those two words, stacked in the shape of people, colored like their dresses. “No, I have to calm down. I have to relax. These are people. I’m having a good time.”

###

Andy looked down at the girl’s face as she opened her eyes again, for the last time. “I’m sorry, honey. I really am.” He didn’t need to be told what to do. She was the fourth failure from this batch. Covering her eyes with one hand, he pulled the spike out of the back of her head with the other. Such a waste. Her body went limp and the life left her.

“I’m taking a break.” He fled the room as quickly as he dared, ignoring the looks his coworkers gave him. In the bathroom, he splashed water on his face and stared at the sink. In the old days, people just had sex. This was the best way, everyone said. Had to protect fetuses from their irresponsible mothers. But we aren’t monsters, they said. Let them eat cake inside their heads.

Thank God he had two kids the old fashioned way before all this became mandatory. He protected his daughter from the lottery, too, so she’d never be on one of those slabs, at a party in her mind while her body was nothing more than an incubator.

He stepped out of the bathroom just as they wheeled the corpse down the hall without the dignity of sheet to cover her up. Someone downstairs would probably play with her before incineration. Turning away from the accusing stare of her blank, glassy eyes, he saw his boss watching him.

“The next one is ready. Let’s get through this batch today if we can.”

Andy nodded and rubbed his face. There was no point to delaying. Another girl with enough of her brain scraped out to die without the AI spike lay across the slab. The only thing to clean up was the paper record of the last girl’s brainwaves. He picked up the end and folded it for storage, only stopping at an oddity in the feed towards the end. The lines formed squiggles he had to peer closely to see.