I wrote this short story recently; one of several this year that has been rejected. I’m looking for some concrit or advice on it as not much is provided these days to struggling greenhorns. I was quite happy with it, but after it was returned, my writing career is in tatters and the whole Earth has sunk beneath a cloud of gloom. Obviously it hasn’t – but if you can offer any helpful comments to why or where I might be going wrong it’d appreciate it.
So, here it is! I’ll not set the scene for you, as I hope the characters relationship with each other becomes evident over the course of the story.
The warrior came at dawn. Out of the long night, he came to the wizard’s fire, with none of his own. The wizard watched him, through the ebbing dark, forging for the flames through stagnant mist. He prowled this way, then that; ill-at-ease in the presence of his auld enemy. The wizard watched, as a wizard does, yet spake no word. Between them fire crackled — beyond them — only the wild wastes of the Bleaks; loneliness, and the cold sting of the orphaned wind. The wizard nodded an acknowledgment of sorts, and warmed his hands. The warrior watched, and waited, shivering; ever cautious of the ol’ dog’s sly cunning. The wizard warmed his hands a little more, glancing round into the waning dark as if he were only just waking to his surrounds, and upon noticing them, appeared all the more grateful for the fire before him. He bedded down deeper into his cloak, settled a little closer to the flames. The misery of the wastrel wind stirred thereabouts, as snow began to fall. The warrior gazed deep into the fire with the same longing he had for roasted meat, or the thighs and bosom of a lusty woman. The flames danced a little higher then, and the wizard’s good eye gleamed a little brighter. The warrior grunted in resignation, squatting crudely to let the fires heat soak him to the bone. It crackled between they two, snow fell, and the wind whistled almost amiably as it passed — and strangely — nothing untoward happened.
The warriors furs steamed — and stank, while he warmed, and the wizard began to fidget, for he wished to smoke. The warrior watched, but said nothing, only smiled a little as the wizard rifled through his cloaks, and plumbed his murky pockets with frantic, scrabbling fingers; but he had no shag left to fill his pipe. The warrior, now much warmer than before, offered the wizard the last of his own blackleaf — thanks for the fire they shared. The wizard’s eyes flared with indignation at the sight of the blackleaf; a rainbow of snakes flashing across those spheres unknown. His scowl darkened, his brow furrowed, and he muttered dark words beneath his sallow breath. The warrior felt invisible strings coil tight within himself, the palm of his hands began to itch with a familiar sting that came just before he drew his sword — whilst the wizard blustered up like a storm before him — and then the wizard laughed; not a hollow booming laugh like thunder in the mountains, or a deep ache in the earth, but a tired old chuckle, frayed and faded; thin yet warm. He took the warrior’s blackleaf, and they both sagged back into the halo of the fire; grateful for the warmth between them, as the wind moaned over the grim land, whipping the falling snow into drifts before it. They were too tired, here and now, to oppose each other anymore. The wizard poppled on his pipe, almost a happy man, and the warrior sprawled out on a bed of tepid ash at the fire’s edge, like a hound at the end of a long run.
As he thaws by the wizard’s fire; the warrior remembers. He remembers the wizard, the wizard’s name. He remembers the words — things the wizard told him once, long ago. Things the warrior once knew; things now forgotten, stolen and unknown. The wizard remembered the words also — for he had never forgotten, and thus, as he spoke them once, he did so again:
“A man comes.” the words stiff and gnarled with time’s long waste, sounded unfamiliar, grinding from his throat. “A man comes whose name is to be greatest; most grim of all. A slayer; carnage incarnate.” his voice trailed away, snatched up by the starving wind. The warrior’s gaze wandered after it, far away beyond the flames.
“The legend no longer means anything, no longer has power.” he began. “That name is just a foul old word now; a bitter curse behind my eyes, only fit for souring my own spit.” he glared up at the belly of the hollow sky, as if daring thunder, or expecting it. The sky did not oblige. “Where they ever real?” he asked the wizard, sullen and afraid once more; just a man again now, after many long years wandering. The wizard suckled his pipe, thought, spat.
“Who? The gods?” he asked. The warrior nodded in agreement. The wizard shrugged. “I’ve never met one — not that I’d want to.” he continued, smoke burbling up from the corner of his lip. “It’s best not talk of them — they’d listen, but would’nae speak. The gods promise only lies. A man has no fate, but that of his own making.”
“What of mine, wizard? What of the fate you foretold!” The warrior was back on his haunches now, ruddy and animate. His eyes darting, voice thickening into a squall, rising from some deep hollow place within. The wizard poked at the fire with a stick, as the warrior cursed him, before slumping back into a sulk, brooding like a dog gnawing a bone long after the meat has gone. The fire between them crackled and sparked, the wind crooned round about. “Your prophecy was fallacy.” muttered the warrior, and then fell silent.
Presently: “A river flows where it chooses.” riddled the wizard, in sagacious tones.
“A river is not a man.”
For once in his life, the wizard had to admit that the hoary old fury beaten into the shape of a man was, strictly speaking, correct. Though; of course, such men often lack a wizard’s reasoning.
“The war for the stars is over lad, and lost. Be at peace with it, if you can.” he offered. Much blood and time had flowed between them. It seemed now though, that neither cared to remember why, for neither had much blood or time left anymore to spare. The warrior softened then, as his eyes sighed with the bitter water of old rues.
“How long have I hunted you Moebius? To what end?” casting his arms wide, the wizard taking the gesture to mean the world beyond that which burned between them. “How long have you led me? The land is scoured black, the old wealds gone, and the risen seas flow over their crucible, choked upon the dead. What peace is there for us here? What peace is there when men no longer drink and laugh in common bond; when there are no fields left to plough — when only Death harvests the long furrows of the sterile earth? The peace that comes now is all that is left after even war has died.” The wizard considered this, as a wizard does, yet spake no word. The fire shifted, and a shower of sparks rose into the night, somewhere beyond, a wolf called.
Then, from beneath his ragged furs he drew the weapon. Moebius gasped, he had last seen it when the world was young — when it still seethed with the sorcery of his forge. He shuddered in its presence; this barb of iron he had worked long and hard, knowing as his sweat fell hissing into the maelstrom of its conception, that he wrought in his hands the instrument of his own death. A cruel fate, he had always thought — one that made his life a bitter irony. Their eyes locked across the fire — the wizard and the warrior — but only for a moment. Each knew too well the threadbare whisper of this futile fable, and how it would end.
“May I?” asked Moebius, his voice full of resignation. The warrior handed him the vulgar thorn, and he baulked at the weight of the thing — had to drag it through the ash and slush until he could lift it with both hands. It was a foul ol’ thing indeed, mouldering with corrosion and stained with verdigris. He remembered its name — it rose unbidden within him like a body from the bottom of a bog, soiling his tongue with its filth. And thus, as he spoke it once, he did so again:
“Woǣ!” he spat, for that was its name — with fury given unto it by himself — though it had faded somewhat with time, like that of the scars it had borne him. His ghost eye twitched at the memory. “It is no longer your burden.” said Moebius, as he laid it to one side. “I shall carry it, if only for a while.” The warrior did not protest, only held his hands a little closer to the fire, ridding himself of some deep-knotted cold that had wound itself around his bones. Moebius looked to his own hands, scrutinizing his palms intently.
“Naught now, to be read there wizard; only the calloused grime of time and toil. There are no legends left to tell, when ours comes to its end. You should know that, better than anyone.” The warrior seemed revitalised, with the weight of his burden lifted, their long tale all but told. “Does some of the old ichor still run in your veins? What fate can you weave now, within those old hands?” he asked. The fire had begun to dwindle, whilst the snow lay thick where the voice of the wind sang with the wolves.
“Perhaps a little of my magic remains, after all.” answered Moebius, a creaking smile drawing tight across his face like hangman’s noose. “The serpents in my veins awaken to the presence of this wicked relic. I had thought them withered up.” The warrior shifted uneasily, eyes flicking from the sword, back to the wizard. He wondered if he could reach it in time, before the wizard could cast the word o’ his will into the air with a flick from his cloven tongue, and before one of those snakes leapt from his open palms and sunk its fangs deep into his body. Beyond the fire in the dark, the wolves howled, much closer than before.
“What trick is this wizard? I would deliver your doom, when your sorcery was long spent — at the end of all things — was it not told, just so? Was that not your command? There is your doom! I am free of mine, at last!”
“Aye, just so lad. My doom, as you say. And when I am slain, and the fire dead — what will save you from yonder darkness and the wolves beyond? Is that the frayed and bloodied end to our tale?” Moebius rose then, like a mountain from the earth, arms raking at the skies in proclamation. “Is this our fate? Because an aeon ago the gods deemed it so?” From beyond the dead mountains a peal of groggy thunder rolled in, a slack wave upon a vigourless tide. Lightning puttered, moth-like, in the dim hollow of a cloud. Moebius ignored both and held out his hand, now faintly aglow with runnels of witchfire, to the warrior at his feet. “I’ve just enough magic left within me — take it lad, before it’s too late.” The wizard’s eyes leapt with reckless devilry, inflamed with an ardour he had almost forgotten.
“For what, Moebius?” Asked Kron, old suspicions of the wizard soured his voice. In the dimness beyond the fires’ reach, deeper shadows circled, their eyes softly gleaming with light the same pallor as the wizard’s waking power.
“Take it!” roared the wizard.
The warrior rose slowly to his feet and met the wizard’s glare — mindful of the skulking death circling in his periphery. Kron had hunted this walker of skies and smoker of souls, a drifter through the Known Realms for almost a millennia: This grand charlatan who cloaked himself within fogs of treachery — he had grown so very weary of the wizard’s tricks — and was long overdue in the halls of Valissia. He just wanted to return to the myth that spawned them both, and sleep the hallowed sleep; as the gods had deemed, and the wizard foretold when the world was young and slick with dew. The snow swirled through darkness eternal, beyond it, something growled.
“Take my hand and step behind the veil! Come back to before — before the darkness comes and the war is lost — back to the dawn! When the world was an enclave of emerald, hidden between rude pearls scattered afore the frozen dark.”
The light in Moebius’ hand began to gutter, yet the gleam in his eye grew bright. “Hurry!” he urged. “Fuck the gods!”
Glancing between the hand the wizard offered to him and the sword that still lay in the snow by his feet, Kron considered the Moebius’ words, as carefully as he chose his own.
“A river flows where it chooses.” he said. And winked.