Here are my entries for The Great Hites podcast.
This weeks, the prompt is 'and none of the answers is savory'. I wasn't paying attention and built my story around, none of the choices being savory. Well, it's close. Here it is:
The king stood in the passage just outside the open door to his daughters ante chamber, and watched the ladies-in-waiting hover and fuss like a swarm of helpful bees attending to a single flower. "She is beautiful', he thought as the ladies primped and preened her in preparation for the betrothal feast, just a few hours away.
A son-in-law that would be the most beneficial alliance for the kingdom was not the foremost factor in the kings mind as he negotiated with the eligible men of the surrounding kingdoms, but it was high on the list. He wanted his only daughter to be happy, that was foremost. Ten kingdoms touched the boundaries of his own, or were within a days ride of it. All had varying degrees of hostility or cooperation with his land. Should he choose the son of his most trusted alliance and cement a relationship that was already strong, or pursue the son of his most heated rival and build a bridge to cooperation that had been difficult to achieve in the past? Would allying with this rival, then, offend his trusted friend, and thus shake a fundamental and valued relationship? Should he choose the dim witted, but handsome, youth of one king over the intelligent, but middle aged brother of another? None of the choices had been simple; all had potential repercussions that might prove to be undesirable.
He had made his decision and forged an alliance with one of the more distant kingdoms that produced much of the grain that his kingdom used; It had seaports and was strong in trade with distant, exotic countries. In addition to fields of grain and sailing ships, the kingdom had a prince, the heir to the thrown, a few years older than his daughter. The princess had accompanied the king and her older brother each autumn, since she was eight years old, as the king traveled to the foreign land to secure treaties and trade agreements. It would seem that the princess had been concealing an interest in the young prince for many years; when he presented the idea to the princess of marriage to this young man, she reacted with indifference, and replied, "My desire is to serve the kingdom. If this is what is expected of me, I can do nothing but comply with your wish."
'She will be a beautiful queen,' the king thought, proudly, as he heard her reply, her shining eyes putting the lie to her affected indifference.
The king turned from the door and walked toward the banquet room, where his trusted advisors and ministers were preparing to receive the prince and his envoy, in preparation for the official betrothal.
A scribe, red faced and perspiring sped down the passage and threw himself at the kings feet. "My Lord, I bring the gravest of news. The princes envoy was attacked as it passed through the eastern forests, and the prince was taken hostage. The rest of the entire party were killed, save a single squire. He reached our gates only this very hour. He said that there is a large contingent moving this way. He brought this emblem from a dead solder of the attacking party."
Mechanically, the king took the emblem form the messengers outstretched hand. He recognized it immediately and wanted to cast it down in disgust. The kings face paled then reddened in turns, as the implications of the attack clarified in his mind. "Rise, good servant." The king said gruffly. "Send word that all are to gather in the banquet hall within the hour. I must, now, speak to my daughter."
His son stood and all discussion ceased in the hall when the king entered. He was composed, but it was evident from his demeanor that the news was not easily received by his daughter. Emotionally drained and feeling all of his five and a half decades, he dropped into the large cushioned seat in the middle of the long banquet table; with a wave of his hand, he indicated that all who stood in attendance, should sit. "Father, will she be alright", the prince leaned in and whispered? He nodded an abbreviated half-nod to reassure his son.
All the choices were before the king, and he knew that a decision would need to be made quickly.
He looked, first, down the table to his left. There sat his minister of finance, the deep sense of unease clearly readable in her eyes. She saw his contemplative stare and quickly glanced down to the sheets of parchment on the table before her. She shuffled them about and acted as if she was reading them, hoping that this would divert the Kings attention elsewhere. Her lead accountant sat to her right, careful not to look up from his own notes. To her left sat her chief economist, blissfully unaware of the tension.
He then looked down the table to his right. His minister of trade sat between two of his long time friends, the guild masters of the bakeries and the blacksmiths.
Between these two groups were arrayed the various other ministers and advisors.
The king signalled to his steward who rang the dinner chime and the room was suddenly filled with servants rushing about to get the various platters and tureens onto the long banquet table within three of the kings deep, steadied breaths; they knew that he was counting, and were too familiar with the results, if the count was too long. The food on the table, the servants disappeared as quickly as they had come.
"Eat", the king declared when the last of the servants had left the banquet hall, "This was to be a celebration banquet, after all." He looked at the steaming entrées, a look of dismay growing on his face; sweet and sour soups, candied yams, and chocolate fondues. He looked at his ever expanding waist and at the dinner service again. 'All sweets', he thought, ' not a savory choice on the table. No wonder I'm getting so fat!'
He looked up from his evaluation of the table to see his dinner guests; The entire entourage sat, motionless, waiting for the king to be the first to eat; someone's stomach groaned loud enough for half the table to hear.
The noise startled the king from his contemplative stasis. With a heat he hadn't expected, he growled at his advisors, "Make your selections and eat. With an invading army approaching our lands, we've many decisions to make this evening, and none of them are savory." He slammed the table for emphasis and picked up a honey coated date ball to throw, sullenly, into his mouth. The dates were crunchy and sweet, yet difficult to swallow.
They all began to eat cautiously pondering the steps that must be taken to prepare for war.
Last weeks prompt was 'Cloud Storage'. I called my story 'The Shaman'. Here it is:
The old man was as grey and immobile as the granite on which he sat. His eyes were a shocking blue that matched the sky on clear winter days; clear and piercing like the icy crystal pools in high mountain streams. His skin hung loosely on him, as a robe many sizes too large.
Ancient. The oldest man's grandfather spoke of him as old. So old now, that he could not speak. Too old to raise his own hand to feed himself. Young men and women were sent from the villages to feed and care for him, and to hold his arms for him.
Every day, from spring equinox to that in the autumn, two young men came for the villages to place the staff in his weak and gnarled hands, and raise the old mans hands above his head, and hold them there.
Proud parents raised their boys to be strong and patient and prepared to raise the old mans hands. Boys and young men of all ages could be found as they walked from place to place, with their hands above their heads, holding a staff, increasing in strength and endurance, hoping to one day be selected to raise the old man's hands.
He sat on the granite ridge one thousand feet above the villages of the fertile plain. As he sat, hands folded neatly in his lap, he scanned the summer sky. As always, it remained clear and blue and still.
Young women, pure and chaste, fed him each morning, he didn't require much to sit and watch the sky. They brought him water and washed and trimmed his hair. They brought blankets for him when it was cold, and shaded him from the heat of the summer.
And each day, two young men; young, though physically mature; knelt at each side. Supporting elbow and wrist, they raised the old mans hands and staff over his head.
And held them there. Sometimes, they needed only hold them mans arms for a short period, but more often the task reached an hour or more.
As the arms were raised, the wind would rise in concert. The young men would lean into the wind to maintain their hold on the old man and his staff. With the wind, as it crossed the broad plain below, came clouds, boiling up to block out the sun and cast the earth into darkness; and rain.
The deluge was sudden and complete, creeks and rivers swelling and overflowing their banks. The old man with his attendants holding fast, chilled by the sudden downpour, searched the distant horizon, for the sign. Finding a break in the clouds, the afternoon sun peaked though, and the old man sighed; the cue to his young assistants that the days task was complete and they may relax.
Lowering arms and staff, the young men got to their feet, the clouds thinning suddenly and blowing away, leaving in its wake as sodden stillness, pristine and new. The young women came out to assist the young men. They worked together to dry the old man and help him into a clean robe.
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