Short story contest! Yeah…no. I’m not fantastic at short stories, but entering contests helps toughen up your skin. So, I wrote this for a contest. You have to write a short story based inspired by this picture. I’d love some feedback on it.
“The sky was filled with lightening. Bolts cut across the grey gloom, slamming into the green earth. Rain pour from the clouds in wrath and despair. Wind shrieked and spun through the air breaking branches and skewing arrows from their targets.
“Below the enraged sky, man fought man. Armies crashed with the sound of steel and dance of death. Destriers screamed falling beneath their riders. Men pleaded for their mother’s as their life’s blood watered the ground.
“For three days shields shattered and lives ended. Victory rose with the dawn and the blade of Serafine, the woman warrior and shield of Nudar. Her steel tasted blood, biting flesh and bone. Her courage unfaltering, her skill unmatched.
“The song of the battle ended. The dead were burned, and the victors honored. But Serafine was never seen again. The shield of Nudar passed into legend, though many songs were written of her and the battle of Murel.
“On that day, Luvina was defeated; the Nudar were finally free.” Mother smiled, brushing her fingers through my hair.
“What happened to Serafine?” If anyone knew, my mother would.
“No one knows, Asta. Some say she was wounded in battle and disappeared too prideful to die. Darker rumors believe she was born Luvinain and left to hide her shame. I like to think she was done with war, and vowed never to take another life.”
I didn’t understand why my mother would want to think that. Serafine was a warrior, honored for her glory in battle.
The door opened and I grinned. “Daddy!” I jumped from my mother’s lap and screamed.
Steel shone in the dark. Three tall men and covered in armor. My father’s head dripped blood onto the floor. His skin was pale blue.
My mother pushed me. “Run,” she whispered. I could see one of her hazel eyes shining with a single tear. “Run!”
The night was cold, the chill sinking into my bones. Terror and anguish made me dizzy. I stumbled. Wind brushed against my skin. The sky laughed. It crooked a dark finger glittering with stars. “Why did you run, little girl? Why did you let your mother die?”
Darkness surrounded me. I whipped sweat from my forehead and threw my wool blanket onto the floor. Stupid nightmares. They’d plagued my sleep for nine years, and haunted my steps tormenting me with my biggest regret. I abandoned my mother to die. Not that I could have changed her fate if I stayed.
I closed my eyes, but my mother’s hazel eyes invaded my thoughts.
I grunted and left my barracks.
Dawn was near, the darkness of night ebbing away. Soon the drums would sound and everyone’d wake up. We were at war, and soldiers had to be alert. The war was nine years long with no sign of victory. It started the night my parents died, the red night. I wasn’t the only child orphaned so many years ago. And the orphans were the lucky ones. We survived.
The army took all us in, teaching the dance of bows, arrows, and axes, and swords. They never let us forget what happened to our parents. Old song about Sarefine, the battle of Murel, and our hatred of Luvina were our lullabies. The marrow of my bones hated that country now. And I’d sworn to see my parents avenged.
“Asta, don’t you ever sleep?” Ziazan stepped up behind me, quiet as a shadow. He was a night owl, and always on night guard. With dark hair, blue eyes, and sharp cheekbones he was unfairly attractive, and the star of many day dreams.
“What do you want, Zan?”
He shrugged. “To end the Luvinain, revenge for my parents, own the sun, number the stars, conquer the world. Not too much to ask do you think?”
“Is this what you call patrol? Harassing soldiers who can’t sleep?”
“But you never sleep. Honestly, I’m not sure how you’re alive.”
“You’re one to talk.”
He laughed. “The sun makes me tired. Seriously, Asta, why can’t you sleep?”
I sat on the grass, watching the mountains in the distance. They were pale and tall, with peaks that hide in the clouds. They separated Luvina from Nudar. Long ago at the last council of Luvar, the country broke in two divided by the mountains. The elders thought they were tall enough to prevent war. They were wrong.
I sighed. “I’m having those nightmares again.”
“The one with your mom? Her hazel eye?”
“Yes. There’s never any fear in that eye, only grief.”
Ziazan sat down beside me. “She was brave then, till the end.”
“I’d rather she was alive.”
“Hey me too. I watched both my parents die. The bastards who did it gave me this.” He brushed his finger across the scar on his eyebrow.
“I didn’t see my dad die, but I saw his severed head in the hands of the enemy.”
“We’ll get them back. We’ll kill them all.” He took my hand and squeezed it.
“Ziazan!” Commander Tal voice was gritty for a woman. “Is this why you always want the nighttime shifts? Trysts underneath the stars?”
I laughed and Ziazan smiled. “Commander, it’s dawn.”
Tal’s eyes narrowed. “Back to work. Now.”
He sighed dramatically. “Very well. Catch you later, Asta. Try and get some sleep.” He bowed to Tal before strolling away.
“You can tell that one hasn’t bloodied his sword.”
I stood up, brushing dirt of my butt. “Most of us haven’t. I haven’t.”
“You’re damn good in practice though. If you can keep your nerve when Luvinain’s come at you with murder in their eyes and steel in their hands, you’ll be a terror on the field.”
I had doubts about that. Last time I was faced with steel I ran. I ran and my mother died. Next though, next time would be different. It had to be.
“Thanks. Don’t forget, Ziazan’s our best shot. Even among bloodied warriors.”
“Are you judging off his skill or his cute smile?” I rolled my eyes and Tal laughed. “He can hit a still target, but can he aim for a man’s heart? Talking about war and actually killing are two different things, Asta. Can you do it? Can you take a life?”
I thought about shoving steel into flesh, through muscle a bone. Watching the light fade from someone’s eyes as I twisted my sword into gut. I closed my eyes and saw my father’s head weeping tears of blood. My mothers hazel eye, shining with a single sad tear. “Those Luvinain bastards killed my family. They never stopped hating the Nudar and never will. History is proof of that. It has to end. Here. With us.”
Tal smiled. “You’ll be a warrior yet.”
I shivered. The horn of Nudar. The sound echoed through the camp and something stirred deep in my bones, like a monster ready to wake.
The enemy was here. We were under attack.
Tal and I looked at each other.
“To arms!” she cried. “We’re under attack!”
I ran into my tent. “Wake up!” I grabbed my breastplate. “Everyone get up!” Groggy faces shifted and groaned. The horn rang out again. People sat up, eyes wide with fear. They jumped from their beds, donning armor with trembling fingers. Metal clinked and clanked as hearts raced.
I buckled on my sword sheath and pulled the blade free. Outside the tent people were running in every direction. Some with purpose, others in terror. The camp was a mixture of chaos and organization. Not everyone could follow orders.
Soldiers ran to the ramparts, arrows ready. Others ran to the gate. Something slammed against it. The wood shook like thunder. I joined the cluster of men. Our fortress was rock and stone; our only weakness was this gate. It’s where the battle would be decided.
I clutched the sword. My heart was wild. My breath short. Fear and anticipation battled inside me. Men shouted outside the gate. Beating on their chests. Stamping to their song of war. Sunlight rose behind me, hot and bright
The wood trembled. The gate burst open. Men poured in. Arrows flew from above. Bodies fell but it didn’t stop the tide. Luvinain’s crawled over the bodies, axes and swords glittering under the sun.
Tal cried out. We rushed to meet their attack.
Steel kissed steel as the song of battle filled the air. The dance had begun.
I brought my sword down, embedding it into a neck, and drove it to the bone. Blood flew from the wound and splattered my face. I jerked twice before my sword was free. I swung around and blocked a blow to my back. The impact jarred my arm. I drove forward, plunging my blade into his chest. I ripped it out. Parried. Stabbed. I cut my way towards the gate, my sword flying in silver arcs. Cut. Block. Kill. Kill. Kill.
Blood wet the ground. People slipped and were defenselessly cut down.
A sword slammed against my back. It didn’t cut through my armor. I whirled around and kissed his neck with the tip of my sword. I jerked to the side, cutting through half of his neck.
Someone screamed my name. I turned as a man fell dead at my feet, an arrow planted in his chest. I spot Ziazan firing from the ramparts.
I danced with my blade. Bodies piled around me. My sword cut up and into the enemy. I spun and swung. My steel biting flesh over and over until blood dripped from my fingers. I sliced open a stomach. He fell down his body spilling out onto the ground.
Steeling stopped singing. The dance was done. We were victorious.
I looked at the dead. Luvina and Nudar, women and men, young and old. Blood covered the ground like grass. Bit of bone, flesh, and muscle scattered like macabre flowers. An arm was lying far from its body. A head with a gapped mouth was lying on it’s own. The eyes were hazel, shining with a single tear.
I dropped to my knees falling into grief, weariness, and darkness.
I woke with the blue eyes of Ziazan watching me.
He smiled and grabbed my hand. “You’re alive.”
He looked down. “You gave everyone a scare passing out like that.”
“I’m ok. I was just…overwhelmed.”
He kissed my hand. “I’m glad you’re ok.”
I smiled. “Me too.”
“We won. You know, right?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“They’re calling you a shield of Nudar now. Just like Sarefine.”
“You were a terror out there. We would have lost without you.”
“I’ll led us to victory.”
I smiled again, but my heart was heavy. I wanted to defend my people—and I would—but death wasn’t something I could celebrate. Even the death of Luvinain’s. I understood Sarefine now, why she vanished after the battle of Murel. She wanted to protect Nudar, but she didn’t want credit for death. I would do the same. I would fight side by side until the enemy or I was defeated. I finally understood what my mother was trying to tell me on the night her hazel eye closed with a tear.