THE JOY OF STORY
John M. Daniel’s Blog
February 25, 2017
Greetings, friends and celebrators of the joy to be found in stories—writing them, reading them, telling them, or hearing them. If you enjoy a good story, this weekly blog is for you.
This week, beginning the fourth Saturday in the month, I offer you another installment of my novel The King’s Eye: A Fantasy of the Farther Isles.
In case you missed last week’s installment, here’s a recap:
The kings and queens of the Farther Isles gather on Blackberry Island at the castle of High King Rohar, as they do every year on the Solstice, to pledge their allegiance. The Giant Clobber from the Isle of Wind shows up and steals the High King’s crystal eye right out of the High King’s eye socket. The High King offers to reward anyone who will kill the Giant and bring back the crystal eye. The reward: half of Blackberry Island and the hand of the High King’s daughter, Llanaa, in marriage. The only one to stand up to the challenge is Prince Frogge, a 12-year-old boy from the Isle of Fens.
That was the Prologue, and this week you will meet Rodney Trapper of the Isle of Goats. Rodney is the protagonist of the novel, and he’s Prince Frogge’s partner in peril.
THE KING’S EYE
A Fantasy of the Farther Isles
John M. Daniel
Chapter 1: Rodney Trapper, the Goatherd’s Son
Rodney Trapper, the Goatherd’s son, walked out of the copse at the end of the day, carrying a sack heavy with dead animals he had caught in the farmers’ fields and the villagers’ gardens—two weasels, four coneys, three moles, and a fox. He didn’t like catching foxes, but his grandmother, Aggie Crone, prized their skins and tails, and she ground the foxes’ teeth into a powder, for a special cure she said she hoped Rodney would never need.
Plodding across the meadow toward the high road that led to Goatstown Harbor, Rodney whistled a tune inspired by the songs of birds in the copse. Now, in the late, late afternoon, with the sun on his back and his stretched-out shadow loping along before him, he breathed deeply the thick, sweet scent of summer grasses.
When he reached the high road, he was lucky enough to catch a ride with old Jode Farmer, whose ox-drawn wagon was lumbering toward town. Just as the wagon reached the outskirts, Rodney gave old Jode one of his coneys, climbed down off the wagon, and said his thanks and goodbye.
Rodney was where he wanted to be, and where he often was after a long day tending to his traps. Ralf Alehouse’s tavern, a friendly spot to sit and drink while the warm afternoon outside darkened into a cool summer evening. Rodney Trapper did like an ale or two before he went home to Grandmother Aggie’s cottage in the forest on the other side of town. A laugh or two with fellows whom he considered stupid but fun.
He also enjoyed sharing smiles with the barmaid, Bromalynn Alehouse, Ralf’s daughter, who sometimes took him out behind the alehouse and up the stairs to her room, after all the other customers had staggered out and stumbled off into the night, and she had shut and bolted the tavern door. There in her garret, Bromalynn and Rodney would take pleasure in lying down together after working all day on their feet.
Bromalynn was older than Rodney by seven years, but she swore her love for him was as young as it was generous, and how was a lusty lad of seventeen to complain about that? Generous indeed she was, and Rodney Trapper had no complaints at all.
Rodney walked into the tavern and saw that it was filled with the usual after-work tosspots, but this time instead of sitting at the long table they were all standing around slurping ale from mugs and laughing at a fat young lad who appeared to have no business being in a peasants’ tavern. The pudgy boy stood on a bench before the cold fireplace, waving his hand for silence. He was dressed like a foreigner, a rich foreigner from one of the prosperous islands, and the locals were hooting at him for putting on airs. But the young roly-poly fop only grinned back, waiting for their attention.
Bromalynn came out from behind the bar and stood in front of the boy on the bench. She poked two fingers into her mouth and gave forth a shrill whistle, which quieted the jeering locals. “This lad’s money is good in this tavern,” she let the men know, “and he has a right to be heard. Any of you sods who wants another ale will be courteous enough to heed what he has to say.” Bromalynn tried to sound stern, but Rodney heard the mirth behind her words. So did some of the louts, perhaps, but they all quieted down and gave the young dandy their ears.
“Gentlemen,” the boy said in a high-pitched voice, “thank you for your attention.”
“Gentlemen?” Rishru Sawyer called out. “What’s that supposed to mean?” A crescendo of laughter threatened to reclaim the room.
“Hush if you want another drink, Rishru,” Bromalynn snapped, “and if you don’t want another drink, you may show yourself out. And that goes for all of you rascals. Hello, Rodney.” She filled a mug and handed it to the handsome trapper.
Rodney grinned and nodded, then turned his attention to the lad standing on the bench.
“My name is Frogge,” the young man said. “I am Prince Frogge of the Isle of Fens, but you, friends, may call me simply Frogge. I’ve come here to the Isle of Goats because I’m looking for a strong, brave man who wants to become very, very rich!” Frogge paused, raised his eyebrows, and said, “Anybody interested?”
“Go on,” said Smith, a man of few words. He glanced at Bromalynn, who nodded.
Frogge held up a sheet of heavy paper. Rodney had heard about paper but had never seen it before. Frogge held the sheet out for the tosspots to see and he said, “This is a proclamation from our beloved High King Rohar the Seventh, from his castle on Blackberry Island. I shall read it to you.” Frogge cleared his throat and began:
On the Summer Solstice of this year, the twenty-first year of my peaceful reign over the Farther Isles, I suffered a grave injury, as witnessed by the assembled loyal kings and queens of the Alliance of Farther Isles, at the hand of the Giant Clobber, King of the unfaithful Isle of the South Wind. The villain robbed me of my left eye, the Crystal Eye, and in so doing subjected me to physical pain, which is bearable, and insult, which is not.
Let it be known throughout the Farther Isles that I, King Rohar the Seventh, will have my revenge. I swear this by my faith in the Stars above us all. I hereby proclaim throughout the Farther Isles that to the man who kills the Giant Clobber from the Isle of the South Wind and who brings back to me my left eye, my crystal left eye, to that man I shall give the hand of my only daughter in marriage, as well as the western half of my Kingdom of Blackberry Island. There may he live as a king for the rest of his days.
This is my pledge, the pledge of a just King and a man of his word.
Frogge grinned at the assembly of louts and said, “Well, that’s it, gentlemen. Signed by the High King and sealed with his ring. Any takers?”
The crowd quietly shuffled with their mugs back to the long table and sat down on the long benches. The first man to speak up was Smith, a man of few words. “Ale!” he said. “More ale.”
Bromalynn brought a pot of ale to the table, and then another, and then a third, until every man had a full mug. The men mumbled and drank, and none of them smiled, except for Rodney Trapper at one end of the table, and the plump young dandy, Frogge, who sat at the other end and drank only berry leaf tea.
Conversation never fully resumed in Ralf Alehouse’s Tavern that evening. Rishru Sawyer asked, “Who would want to live on Blackberry Island? Those who’ve been there say it’s foggy and cold.”
“I couldn’t leave my crops anyway,” said Siler, Old Jode Farmer’s eldest son.
“I have roofs to mend,” said Garrett Thatcher.
The men drank in somber silence, and every time Bromalynn found an excuse to pass by Rodney’s end of the table she laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed.
Rishru Sawyer’s brother, Knox Carpenter, broke the silence and spoke directly to the boy at the end, the stranger from the Isle of Fens. “It’s folly, you fool. They say the Giant Clobber is as big as a tall oak tree, and as strong, and fast as a snake.”
Frogge shook his head. “Not as tall as all that,” he said.
“Tall, though. Big, and vicious,” Knox Carpenter insisted.
“Vicious, yes. And yes, big,” Frogge admitted. “But he’s stupid. Everybody knows that.”
“Not as stupid as anybody who’d want to fight him,” said Fisher. He rose and said, “This is nonsense, and I’ve heard enough.” He threw a coin down on the table and shambled out of the tavern.
One by one the men left the tavern and returned home to their families in town. Soon only Bromalynn, Rodney, and the boy remained seated at the table. Bromalynn’s father, Ralf, came out of the kitchen with a pot of chicken stew, which he set on the table. He went back into the kitchen and brought out bowls and spoons.
“It’s humble fare,” Ralf told Frogge, “but it comes with your room.”
“Are you stopping here for the night, then?” Rodney asked.
Frogge nodded. “I am. And you, too?”
Rodney stole a glance at Bromalynn, who blushed and said, “Rodney’s welcome to stay.”
Ralf smiled and said, “Rodney is a frequent guest.”
“It’s a long hike to my Grandmother’s house,” he explained. “She lives in the forest east of the town. Sometimes it’s hard to find my way home in the dark.”
Later, upstairs in the candle-lit garret, after Bromalynn and Rodney had feasted on each other’s lips with their loins locked in a slow, long dance, Rodney lay back and smiled up into Bromalynn’s face.
She smiled back, tickled his chest with her long blond hair, and said, “What are you smiling about, you silly tomcat?”
“That little chap,” Rodney answered. “You know, Bromalynn, it does sound like quite an adventure, killing a giant and all that.” He stroked her chin with his thumb.
Bromalynn pulled away from him and slapped his sweaty belly. “That was not the answer I expected,” she said in a trembling voice. “And you are not going off with that little idiot to risk your life. You’re not leaving this island, my friend, and you’re not leaving me.”
He put a hand on her shoulder. “I’d come back. Come back to you.”
“Bromalynn, I swear by the Stars that I shall return to you. By the Stars, Bromalynn.”
“Oh, I have no doubt of your good intentions, my lad. But can’t you see you stand more than a good chance of dying in battle against this monster?”
“I’m not afraid. I’m a good trapper. I’d build a trap big enough to trap that villain, and then I’d demand that he give me the High King’s eye, and then I’d poison him to death. My Granny will make me a poison. You see? And then you and I can move to Blackberry Island and live like a king and a queen. Wouldn’t you like that? And raise goats, like my father did before he lost his mind.”
“You’re the one who’s lost your mind. You’re not going. You’re not going to fight a giant and die. And you’re not going to kill a giant and win, because then I’ll lose you for sure!”
“If you give the High King back his crystal eye, you’ll have to marry his daughter Llanaa. I’m told she’s beautiful beyond measure.” Tears ran down Bromalynn’s cheeks. “I forbid you to go to battle on the Isle of the South Wind. If you lose or if you win, I’ll lose you, Rodney.”
“Who told you the High King’s daughter was beautiful?” he asked. “Who told you this? Frogge?”
Bromalynn rose from the bed and stood in candlelight. “No, not the little boy. He didn’t tell me about Princess Llanaa. I learned about her from another visitor, who stopped at the inn last night. He told me all about the evening the Giant Clobber robbed King Rohar’s eye, and about the High King’s pledge—including the bit about the beautiful daughter, who the High King thinks he has a right to just give to any brute foolish enough to do battle with a giant.”
Rodney Trapper propped himself up on one elbow and stared at the woman he loved, who was no longer weeping. “Who was this visitor?” he asked her. “Who stopped for the night in this inn? And did he stay in the guest room downstairs, or—”
“What difference does it make?”
“Who was he, then, this man who knew so much?”
“His name was Tamber. Prince Tamber, if you must know, from the Isle of Mirth.”
“A prince? He stopped for the night in this inn? What did he look like? All jewels and fancy clothes, I suppose.”
“No. Plain clothes. Honestly, Rodney—”
“What did he look like?”
Bromalynn took her time, and while she took her time a small smile began to play on her lips. “He was the handsomest man I’ve ever seen,” she said.
Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories
The deadline for March’s 99-word story submissions is March 1, 2017. The stories will appear on my blog post for March 11, and will stay posted for a week.
note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.
Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:
1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to: firstname.lastname@example.org
THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY (choose one):
Make up a story inspired by the following quotation from Julius Caesar: “Beware the Ides of March,”
or inspired by the following couplet:
“The winds of March that make my heart a dancer;
A telephone that rings, but who’s to answer?”
Calling all published authors—
I try to feature a guest author the third Saturday (and week following) of each month. If you’re interested in posting an essay on my blog—it’s also a chance to promote a published book—email me directly at email@example.com.
Thank you for visiting. Please drop by next week!