Fortnightly free Wyldblood fiction: subscribe here.
Ruby Throat and Gold
Seated atop the highest tower, the mage Thij contemplated auguries of smoke blowing into his valley. Nyal the Younger’s army was preparing to move. He’d soon put a stop to that.
A figure emerged from the smoke, falling gently like a milkweed seed. Thij smelled sweet wine grapes.
Thij took a moment to observe his former apprentice skating across the tall wild grass as if it were ice. Such confidence. Did Vadim suspect?
Curiosity roused, Thij descended worn stone steps, calling on invisible servants to set out brambleberry tea and a loaf of rye bread, a gift from a grateful neighbor for finding a lost ewe.
His visitor crossed the drawbridge and knocked on the main gate: three sharp taps from a brass-shod staff. Thij whispered the servants away. With a gesture, he opened the gate.
He offered tea to his visitor. “Well met, Vadim.”
Vadim dropped his staff, which vanished, and accepted his cup with both hands in the manner of his people. “Well met, old sir.” He wore a silk outer coat stitched with seed pearls and gold thread. His wooden shoes were painted with grapevines entwined with flight runes.
Thij lowered himself with great care onto a padded chair. “What brings you to my refuge?” He tore off a chunk of bread.
“War.” Vadim slurped his tea loudly and nodded his appreciation. “The Opal Duchess means to take the throne from King Nyal.”
Thij shrugged. “It doesn’t matter if Nyal or the Duchess sits on the throne, as long as I’m left alone. War is no business for proper mages.”
“So you have said before.” Vadim reached for the bread. “But the Opal Duchess has gathered a substantial invasion force, and King Nyal now asks all the realm’s mages for help.”
“Has he now?” Thij raised an eyebrow. “My mind isn’t as sharp as it used to be, but I think I would have remembered that.”
“He sought out your former apprentices first,” admitted Vadim. “As much as King Nyal fears the Opal Duchess, I think he fears you more.”
“You’re probably right,” said Thij with a chuckle. “I have a formidable reputation, or least, I did.”
Vadim leaned forward. “Listen, Thij, I respect you. We all do. But it’s a disgrace that a mage of your skill and experience should live like this.“
“You don’t care for my tapestries?” He waved at faded images of peacocks hanging from smoke-stained walls.
“The moths certainly enjoy them. And your robes.”
“They keep me warm enough.”
Vadim said, “You deserve better.”
“I have everything I need,” said Thij. “I am content to pursue my studies.”
From a pocket of his coat, Vadim produced a golden mechanical hummingbird. It fluttered about the room, its tiny sapphire eyes flashing. “From Ikalis. I remember your love of birds.”
Thij raised an index finger. The hummingbird alighted. “My, how lovely.”
“And there’s more.” Vadim described other inducements: a hundred perfect black pearls, rare codexes, exquisite wines, and even a choir of extraordinarily beautiful, talented young women. “All of these will be yours when you support King Nyal.”
“My birds provide me with all the music I need,” said Thij. “However, the rest is quite intriguing.”
“So you’ll assist us?”
“Walk with me while I consider my answer.”
Thij whispered to the hummingbird, which gave a very human nod, then darted off.
Vadim’s eyes widened. “It requires a unique command charm. Why does it respond to you?”
“Flesh or metal, all birds understand me.”
Torches sprang into life as they strolled through hallways. “Let me speak frankly, Vadim. You aren’t the first to approach me.” A door to their right swung open, revealing a chamber filled with wine racks. “Nico came first, bearing a case of dandelion wine. Would you like some?”
“No, thank you. The first time I sampled it, I lost my wits for a week.”
The next chamber contained bookshelves so overfilled their contents spilled onto the floor, hiding the rugs beneath. Vadim ran his fingers along the spine of one large volume bound in dragon skin. “Wait. Is this…?”
“Indeed. Sugyn’s Meditations on Demon Summoning,” said Thij. “Orla delivered it just last week. Would you like to borrow it sometime?”
Vadim’s hand lingered on the cover. “Absolutely.”
The third chamber was crammed with chests. When Thij touched one, it unfolded like a flower, revealing emeralds the size of hen’s eggs. “Wafiya won these from a dragon in a chess game. She’s quite clever.”
“Yes, yes, she is.” Vadim touched them, eyes hungry.
Thij hid his disappointment. Vadim was so concerned with baubles he’d lost perspective. A shame. “Come on.”
They entered the garden. “Here is my true joy.”
Amid fruit trees and fragrant bushes sat an enormous hemispherical cage of fine mesh. Inside, dozens of birds perched and fluttered: warblers, cuckoos, and robins being most prevalent. In one corner, though, three yellow parrots huddled together, their feathers patchy and dull. They began screeching when Thij approached. “My newest acquisitions. Despite their wretched appearance, they are quite valuable.”
“That’s hard to imagine.”
The smallest parrot locked eyes with Vadim. He gasped. “Orla?”
The parrot squawked. “Vadim!” The other parrots pecked and clawed at it, adding their voices to the cacophony.
“Stop, Wafiya, stop!”
Vadim stumbled backward, shock and horror warring on his face.
The golden hummingbird appeared, launching itself at Vadim’s face. As he uttered the command charm, the first syllables of Thij’s spell washed over him.
Vadim summoned his staff but lost his grip as his body began to shrink.
His fingers thinned into tiny claws. His lips fused into a beak. Feathers pushed through his skin. Before he could fly away, though, Thij thrust him into the cage.
“The Duchess said if I helped her, she would avoid my valley forever, which is all I ever wanted,” he said. “Once Nyal is defeated, you’re all free to leave.”
The mages screeched their betrayal.
“Or stay,” said Thij. “I dare say you still have much to learn.”
October 20th, 2023
more stories here
Also look out for:
Madalena Dalezou’s Master Craftsman’s Apology, a twisted fantasy tale of revenge and regret
Lyndsey Croal’s – Space for One, a sci-fi tale about hard choices and living with the consequences.
Holley Cornetto’s The Orchard of Dreams, a wistful fantasy.
Y.M. Resnik’s Magic is Like a Box of Chocolates, all about how tough life is for trainee magical heroes and the difficult choices they have to make.
Robert Bagnall’s I Was Just Doing What You Asked, a salutary tale about being all wiffly waffly when there are robots around.
Or over a hundred other free flash fiction stories.
Nine great new short stories and two drabbles in a fine new collection from Wyldblood. These stories cover death (and its aftermath), identity (and its pitfalls) choices (and their consequences) and much more. We have aliens with time travel machines and buildings that want you to stay just a little bit longer – like, forever. Thought provoking fantasy and science fiction available in print and digital formats.
From the Depths
Our latest anthology is packed with tales of the murky deep. We’ve got fifteen stories stuffed with selkies and sea monsters, pirates and meremaids, intrigue, adventure and more. Available in print and digitally.
Follow us for new flash fiction and updates here.
Download a free sampler of Wyldblood Magazine here.
Buy the latest Wyldblood Magazine here or get a six issue subscription here.
Read an interview in Black Gate with Wyldblood editor Mark Bilsborough here.
Read the Milford blog about Wyldblood here.
See us reviewed here and here.