I wrote this for the BL bolthole
monthly 850-1150 words competition. The theme was Torment and there are some cracking stories (by other authors) that deserve a read.
All C&C is welcome. Thanks in advance.
Seer Graal was awoken by a strike to his stomach; his first inhale of breath came to nought, winded as he was. His assailant was a shadow upon him and he spoke the common tongue of one of the people. ‘Witch. Filth. Failure’, the attacker whispered in his ear. He had no adequate reply. In his frail state and fearful of death, he simply closed his eyes to block out the world and, on catching his breath, whimpered, ‘let me be’. The shadow ran from the rock-carved dwellings and into the night; on his leave he knocked over and crushed vials of precious tonics underfoot. Graal whispered the prayer of communion over and over again, but he received no answer.
It had not always been this way.
Graal had never been a normal man. He knew he was special; he was the Wise Man, the Divine Sage, the Seer. He had the knowledge and talent to commune with the gods. This ability gave him status and respect, but more so it gave him purpose. He was responsible for his people.
When the winds blew from the north and the Hruskans marched into their lands seeking their own sort of glory, Graal had offered his son to the Blood God and in return he was gifted with the ability to place, with the touch of hand, the undying fire of war into the hearts of the men of the village. The sacrifice had been difficult but proper; his son’s blood to save the lives of many. The Hruskans came for everything and got everything they deserved.
In the fifth season of the long cold, when the line of man was found to be weak and many mother lost their child to the bite of Lady Winter, he had made his pact with Lady Passion, the mistress of fertility. He flayed himself until nothing remained of his manhood; Lady Passion took pleasure in display and did not fail in her part of the bargain. When the ice thawed, the bellies of many a woman were filled with strong boys, heroes and warriors yet to be.
So when the gods shed a single tear of fire that fell to the east, he was not surprised that the elders had sought his guidance. However, no matter which incantation he recited, not even the Master of Fate answered his calling; he was left like a blind man in the wilderness. Being unfamiliar with failure and concerned with what this might mean he simply counselled the elders to send a score of warriors to investigate, with spear in hand and their hunting dogs at their feet.
Three days later the dogs returned, alone. Compelled by honesty and faith that they were fair, good and grateful for past deeds, Graal spoke to the elders and admitted that the gods had gone away. Graal regretted his truthfulness almost immediately; he felt their accusing eyes touch upon him and their silence spoke many words; he did not require his preternatural gift to sense their doubt.
In the following days, as his impotency became common knowledge, he was spat on in the street and villagers shouted vile curses at him as he came by. He was driven away from the centre of the village to live on the outskirts, but it did not stop there. He received nightly visitations resulting in beatings that revealed how far he had fallen in the eyes of his fellow men. Some told him that he was a liar, a charlatan that had never had anything true to offer the village, others blamed him for the deaths of their sons and fathers, others still said that he withheld his knowledge to punish the elders for some disagreement. The truth was worse; the gods to which he had sacrificed his body and blood has cruelly betrayed him.
As the days went on Graal heard that further men were sent to the east with none returning. It was not long before the elders returned with their desperate pleas. ‘Go to the east to appease the gods’, they said.
Each step he took from the green lands of home to the deserts of the east was a step closer to collapse. He had taken this journey naked of possession, save his light white robe, but a weight lay on him, slowing his every step. The chance of redemption was the only thing that kept him going.
As night fell Seer Graal felt the gaze of a malevolent monster on him despite every direction revealing only a barren waste. The hair on his arms prickled up, detecting what he could not see and when he tried to block it out and take a moment’s sleep he dreamed of a beast of metal that enveloped him in its claws and ripped him back to the world.
As the second day of his journey came to an end, a smell of burnt flesh entered his nostrils and spread into his lungs. Like a dog he followed the scent of death to its source. As he came closer to the peak of a dune, he saw the tip of a metal construct, incongruous to its surroundings, and as he met the highest point he saw that this metal object was like a parody of a flower in bloom instead of sweetness to its scent there was a choking aroma of fire and blood, borrowed to it by the bodies that lay at its base. He realised, with no doubt, that within the centre of this construct lay the source of his torment.
He drew closer with trepidation and anticipation balanced perfectly. As he put his shaking hand to the construct he wondered whether this would be his end or the start of something new. His thoughts were broken as the surface he touched hissed open and the hulking beast made its presence known.
It resembled a man in shape, but would easily have dwarfed any man that Graal had ever known. It was wider than an ox and its skin was made from smooth gray metal. Where a man might have eyes it wore a cold lifeless mask. It was adorned with trinkets crafted from fur and feathers and carried the sigil of the wolf on its breast.
Seer Graal immediately realised what stood in front of him and said, ‘O’mighty golem, messenger of of the gods, tell me how I may serve’.
With feral force and preternatural swiftness the creature gripped him in his arms and raised him in the air. The mask dropped and Graal came eye to eye with the beast that was somehow a man but not. It spoke loudly and with jollity, ‘when the wolf howls, your precious gods cower, little man‘. It laughed long and hard with humour that only it could understand. It then tore Graal to pieces.