Sunday, April 26, 2015

If the Princess Bride and Die Hard Had a Baby

Chuck Wendig and another Terrible Minds writing challenge. Two lists of twenty well-known books/movies/games each, two thousand words. Using a random number generator, a 20 sided die, or Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey dart game, we are charged to blend the results into a piece of fiction.

The idea being: This Story, it's like X meets Y.

Like Dirty Harry meets Harry and the Hendersons, or like Star Wars meets SpongeBob SquarePants.

My random numbers gave me:

The Princess Bride meets Die Hard.

My head just exploded. There are rocks ahead. Anybody wanna peanut?

I debated for a long time about the ethics of choosing something else, and then I debated even participating.

And then I pulled this following story out of the ass-end of my questionable ideas brain pan. Don't look too closely at the plot. I was doing good not to break into "Yippee-Kiyay" and "Inconceivable" wars in the dialogue. So. Many. Cliched. Possibilities!

Anyway, here it is, such as it is: Breaching Palace Ibarran

After six hours of daylight, the sun set, plunging the island kingdom of Belekoy into darkness. The longest night of winter was well entrenched when a wagon carrying a delivery of staples smuggled Jakome Burgoa and his brother--in--law Ximon into the Palace Ibarran. Together, Jakome and Ximon waited for the wagon driver to signal when it was clear.

A tangle of muted voices hinted at an argument. Jakome gripped the hilt of his main-gauche, prepared to bolt from the bed fighting if need be, but concern fled when the voices dissipated. After a brief moment, three measured knocks sounded against the side of the wagon bed.

The courtyard next to the kitchens was clear.

Jakome and Ximon emerged into the shadows. "Now, as soon as we're in, Alesandere, get yourself safe to the woods," Jakome whispered. “And quit altogether if danger needles you.”

He could see the scolding in her eyes, even in the dark. "I know the risk, Jakome. I will not run.” she replied, an edge in her tone. “I'll have the horses ready, I promise. Go."

While Alesandere distracted the kitchen staff, begging for help unloading the wagon. Jakome and Ximon slipped into the kitchens and through to the servants' hall unnoticed. "That was easy," Ximon said, his voice a ghost.

"It won't remain thus, I fear." Jakome squeezed his brother's shoulder. "Here's where we part ways. You go find the man who killed your father. I’ll go after Mirai."

"Godspeed my brother." Ximon paused, "Wait, we never discussed how we're even going to find them. Or once we rescue Mirai, how we're going to get out of here."

"One problem at a time. We got to get out of the servants’ wing first." Jakome peered around the corner into an adjacent hall. For the moment it was empty. As if from a distant star, the echoed memory of church bells drifted in with a draft that shifted the torch flames at their post. “Was that Vigils?”

“Aye,” Ximon replied. “That makes sense. Nine hours, then, until Lauds, and sun up.”

"Then to work. And Ximon? Try not to get yourself killed. Your sister would never forgive me."

“Likewise my brother.” They bumped fists, and parted ways.


The palace soldier had a lot of fight in him, and struggled up to the instant he died. Jakome eased the corpse into a blind corner behind a statue of Mad King Kiros, disheartened. He would have preferred the man not forced his death; if only he had instead succumbed to a black-out. He was the tenth such unfortunate guardsman, and Jakome had yet to discover where his bride Mirai or her handmaidens were being held.  Reaching another intersecting hallway, he decided a new strategy was in order and turned right instead of left.

Jakome felt the chilly air before he discovered the first of the scaffolding. Deep scars severed sections of the palace walls, and a boulder blockaded the west wing. The night bled through from the outside, where Jakome could make out the silhouette of a wheel-crane. New stone bricks lined the opening, indicating repairs were underway. Catapult damage, he thought, from the recent troubles with Basque. The Belekoy prince, forced to retreat, licked his wounds during the uneasy peace of winter. Jakome wondered if the abduction of his bride and her handmaidens was retaliation or a prelude to something else, something more sinister. Not that it mattered much. The Belekoy monarchy chose the wrong woman to ransom.

Voices flowed in the hall like waves against a coast. Jakome climbed the scaffolding, at first just to secure his cover as servants passed through, and followed the frame along the distressed wall. He couldn’t believe his fortune; the scaffolding ended in a sharp pitch and with a simple jump, and he was able to scramble up and through a hole in the wall and onto the rafters of the great hall.

Below him, a young man in gold silk sat on an ornate mahogany throne. The prince, Jakome thought, inching forward on the maze of gigantic beams that crisscrossed the ceiling. A handful of sour men sporting chains of office lingered at the dais. Acoustics funneled frantic whispers up to Jakome with the clarity of Venetian crystal.

“What does your highness hope to accomplish?” one advisor spoke with animated hands. “Capturing the helpless—“

“The women were far from helpless, Lord Bruchhorst, The one killed a man with her hairpin,” another chain of office interjected, while the prince remained silent. “And I don’t see the harm in ransoming them back to their Basque lords. Call it a bonus, really.”

Bruchhorst snorted. “A bonus, he says. Five ladies screaming, begging, pleading…and we have to feed them.”

“Amberg has the right of it. Why not use them to advantage?” a third advisor, with a Sicilian or Corsican accent, stepped forward. “Your highness, my spy tells me the women belong to a border lord, and as he has not scrambled his bannermen, it is unlikely that he is yet aware they are missing. Now, we’ve been at war with Basque for eons…what if we could divide their forces?”

The one addressed as Amberg folded is arms, “You have an idea, Maximiliano?”

“I do. If we were to plant evidence that the Holy Roman Empire was involved instead…”

Amberg snapped his fingers, “You know, that’s clever. Shifting the blame to the Spaniards should be easy enough. Basque will look to the empire, find their women dead, then declare war. In the meantime, we’ll still have the dowry chest and no one will be any the wiser.”

The prince giggled. “We love this plan. Do it. Make sure Spain is implicated.”

The advisors bowed and left. The prince rose from the throne and hummed. He danced about with an invisible partner. Jakome leveraged his weight, swinging out, and vaulted onto a set of  heavy drapes that divided the wings from the hall. Climbing down, he landed behind the dancing prince, and drew his sword.

The prince spun, dipping his pretend partner and came face to face with the dangerous point of steel, and dropped to his knees with a whimper. “Don’t hurt me!”

Jakome raised an eyebrow. “Where are the women being held?”

“They’re in the feast hall.” The prince pointed to the door behind the dais. “Through there, turn right.”

Jakome shook his head, and pushed the tip of his sword into the prince’s cheek, drawing a tiny bead of blood. “Lying to me is ill-advised.”

“N-no, I swear, on my mother’s grave. I swear.” The prince closed his eyes and folded his hands together in a white-knuckled plea.

The door behind the dais cracked open and Jakome froze until he saw who entered. “Brother?”

Ximon smiled, a hand was stuffed into a blood-soaked hole in his tunic. “Father is avenged.”

“You don’t look so good,” Jakome said.

“This? A scratch. A flesh wound.”

“And your feet?” Jakome tilted his head at the floor. Ximon’s feet were bare and bloodied. “What happened to your boots?”

Ximon groaned. “Long, embarrassing story that started with a chamber maid and ended with a broken looking glass.”

“You didn’t happen by a feast hall, did you?”


The distinct stench of urine rankled Jakome’s sinuses. He returned his attention to the prince in time to see a damp spot growing across the inner thighs of the silken trouse. “Did I not say that lying was ill-advised?”

“I-I know.” The prince’s eyes shot open wide with fear. “You’re going to kill me. Don’t kill me. Please. I’ll give you gold, do you want gold? Rubies? Land, how about land? Peasants like land.”

Jakome leaned forward and hissed. “I want my wife back, you son-of-a-bitch.”

The prince pointed to the doors his advisors had exited through. “Through there, turn left. Third alcove down on the right. I swear!”

“You swore your last lie was truth.” Jakome thought for a moment. “Is there food? What did you serve them to eat?”

The prince seemed taken aback by the question. “Food? Of course we fed them. We’re not monsters. Pheasant and boar and these adorable little lemon cakes from Seville—“

“Thank you, your highness.” Jakome struck the prince across the temple with the pommel of his blade. The prince collapsed unmoving in a puddle of golden silk.

Ximon scoffed. “He calls us peasants and you address him ‘highness’? Why don’t you just kill him?”

“The boy just pissed himself. The coward's not worth the effort.” Jakome eased his sword back into its sheath. “Come. A feast like he described should have a fine smell.”

“Follow our noses to the ladies? The old wives always said the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach.”

“Rib cage,” Jakome said, losing his humor. The prince would not remain unconscious forever. They were running short of time.


The prince hadn’t lied this time.

Jakome and Ximon gave their prey little time to react. They crashed through the heavy wooden doors and made quick work of the few guards stupid enough to attack. And Amsberg and Bruchhorst drowned in their own blood. The man called Maximiliano, however, grabbed the woman nearest him and backed towards the stained glass window at the end of the chamber.

The woman he threatened was Jakome’s beautiful Mirai.

Jakome approached with caution, watching Maximiliano’s eyes for signs of intent, while Ximon moved in his peripheral into a flanking position. Maximiliano snarled, “If you wish her dead, by all means, keep moving forward.”

Mirai craned away from the knife at her throat. “I did warn them. I told them you’d come for me.”

“Always,” Jakome said, inching steadily onward.

Mirai hissed when Maximiliano’s blade drew a whisper of blood. “Never test a Sicilian, Gentlemen.”

“Never underestimate the Euskaldunak,” Jakome replied.

Ignorance glinted in Maximiliano’s eyes. “The what?”

“Basques,” Mirai translated and sank her teeth into her captor’s wrist.

Maximiliano cried out and shoved Mirai aside, all the opening Jakome needed. As Ximon threw a dagger that struck the man’s shoulder, Jakome rushed him, sending Maximiliano through the window in a shower of painted glass shards.

Jakome fetched Mirai up from the floor and embraced her. “Are you hurt? Your neck?”

“It’s not deep, I promise,” she said. “But those assholes ruined my wedding day. And I lost my favorite hairpin.”

He laughed. “I’ll get you another one. Come on, Alesandere is waiting for us with horses.” Jakome released his bride and signaled her handmaidens to gather. He turned to his brother—in—law who stood at the broken window. “Ximon?”

“Just admiring your handiwork. The Sicilian makes such a lovely corpse. All that red and blue glass glinting in the torchlight,” Ximon sighed. Church bells rang in the distance. “That would be the Lauds office. The dawn is coming.”

Impatient, Jakome waved him over. “Yes, and we still have a fight to get out of here. So let’s move, yes?”

Ximon nodded. “As you wish.”

As they left the feast hall, they paused for Ximon to steal the boots off of the dead Amberg. Jakome made a mental note to ask later about the chamber maid.

Well, that's what I had this week. Feel free to comment as you wish. If you don't want to, that's okay too. I appreciate you stopping by!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Touched by the Gods

Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds a week last Friday asked for opening sentences, the intent of which was to provide the prompt for this week's challenge.

We are to pick someone else's sentence contribution, and turn it into a story. The good news is Chuck gives us 2k words this week instead of his standard 1k. The bad news?

There are over 400 opening sentences to choose from.

Quite the challenge. But since I donated an opening sentence last week, I feel obliged to provide a story this week.

So I chose the following, a donation from Susan Adsett: They said everything went right the day his mother died.

And after binge watching episodes to get caught up on Vikings from the History Channel, I could not help but use the show for additional inspiration.

So without further ado, I give you: Touched by the Gods

"They said everything went right the day his mother died." Earl Hugi pointed to a red-headed youth splitting logs into spears for the repair of the village’s fortifications. "As if her death was a good omen."

Ricci raised a hand to shield her eyes from the summer sun, "That is a cruel thing to say."

The earl cracked a half-smile. "Oh they never say it to his face. That lad has been a force to be reckoned with since he kicked free of his mother's womb. During his eighth summer, he killed the man who butchered his brother. With his bare hands, they say."

The red-head dripped with sweat, but he seemed focused, driven. The stack of logs at his feet dwindled at a quick and steady pace. "You speak of what they have said. But have you seen him fight, Uncle?"

He nodded. "He may not have the stature, but the lad's part bear. His hide is unmarred not because he runs from a fight, but because nothing can touch him."

"Why do they never take him raiding, I wonder?"

Her uncle shrugged. "The men grumble that he does not play well with others. Possibly they just feared his mother's curse." 

She turned and fetched up her water pitcher. "The man looks thirsty, does he not?"

"His name is Vegard," she heard Hugi say as she climbed around the moat, "and you're welcome." 

The mud sucked at her feet as she crossed the field to the lumber stand where Vegard worked. Ricci circled around him until she made eye-contact. "Water?"

His storm-colored eyes measured her. He tacked his axe into the log, a makeshift frog to free his hands, and slipped his drinking horn from his belt. "Thank you."

She poured a ration into his horn. "My name is Ricci."

"I know who you are. Princess." He cocked his head towards her uncle. "You and the king’s brother have been watching me. Am I a concern or a curiosity?"

"Perhaps you are both." She tapped her fingers against the pitcher she held, debating. "If you know me, do you know my intent?"

He gulped from his horn and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "The villagers say you are to make the pilgrimage north, to pray at the shrine and offer sacrifices to the gods."

"I am."

"Dangerous, this trip," he said.

"It is."

He finished his horn's portion and secured the vessel back to his belt, waving off her second offer. "So why do you watch me?"

"I am not defenseless, but undertaking such a journey...It is wiser to have an escort, someone to help get me there and back." She chewed on her lip, hoping.

He removed his axe from the stump and resumed his work, splintering a plane from the tip of the log with ease. "Does not your father have warriors?"

"They are raiding still."

"And your betrothed?" His look was challenging, daring.

"Yes. Yes Lunt has warriors."

He hoisted another log to position with a grunt. "Well?"

"I do not trust him or his men," she said. 

"A dilema, that." He settled in with a rhythm to both his breathing and his axe strokes, sharpening the log into a dangerous point. He spoke words between breaths like one reciting an edda. "What has this to do with me, I wonder? Why is it you watch Vegard the Cursed, hmm? What is it you think I shall do for you?"

"Will you go with me?"


His refusal stung. She stifled a sigh. "Then I am sorry I disturbed you. May Odin be pleased with all your victories."

She walked some paces away before she heard the axe sink into the stump again. "Wait, Princess."

She turned. He mopped sweat from his brow and sauntered toward her. She held her ground, even as he stopped within inches of her, his eyes boring into her soul. "What?" she asked, unflinching.

He said nothing, but reached out to tuck her hair behind her ear, exposing her deformity and her reason for seeking the gods’ favor. She tried to turn away, but he gripped her chin and twisted it to the light. At the edge of her vision she could see his stormy eyes inspecting the mark on her cheek, where the cruel hand of Fate had touched her. There was something soft in his expression. Understanding? Or maybe pity? Did he pity her? "My advice, Princess?” he said. “Do not spurn the gift the gods gave you."

"You think this scar a gift? A blessing?" Her gut simmered with anger.

"I do, and yet you hide it behind hair."

"It is ugly."

"It is different."

"Our people look upon me with dread and fear. My father is all too happy to rid himself of his ugly daughter. So I am to wed Lunt, and he shall bring me to his mead-hall where I shall have no father and no friend." She blinked her tears back. She would not cry. "I will go to ask Freya for protection and hope she takes pity on me."

"And I say let them fear you if that is their only ability." He let go of her chin and took a step back. "It is not so bad to be cursed. There’s power in that. Embrace it and they can’t hurt you.”

Water splashed from her pitcher as she pulled her hair back over her scar. "I thank you for your advice," she said and turned away, tears scalding her cheeks.

Her uncle joined her as she approached his longhouse. "He refused?"

"He did. But I don't need him. I don't need anyone. I can make the journey fine on my own."

"Wait, Ricci," he grabbed her arm. "Just wait. Your father should be back soon. The raids will have put him in a better mood. Let me speak with him again. He is not an overly cruel man. He will listen to reason."

"It could still be several days before his homecoming, and yet several days more before his final decision is proclaimed. If I want to make it there and back before the first snows of winter fall..."

"Please, Ricci."

She shook her head. He meant well, but he could not protect her forever. "My betrothed made it clear that he is disappointed with my face. I have no choice if indeed my father insists on this marriage. Look, they have the grain stores and we have the warriors. It is a good match withal, good for our people. The gods have to intervene. They have to.”

He frowned, sorrow lining his face. “In my experience, the gods don’t have to do anything.”

A commotion broke out behind them. Ricci wiped her tears away and took a breath before turning. A crowd had already formed a line and blocked her view. But above a wave of cries and shouts, she heard Lunt call someone to combat by blood right.

“That can’t be good,” Hugi said, nudging Ricci’s elbow. “Come, I am the law while your father is away.”

Ricci set her pitcher down and jogged after her uncle to the circle where they clawed their way through to the middle. There, Lunt hurled insults with puffed chest and wild arms at the red-headed Vegard, who stood steadfast and silent at his lumber stand. “I will not allow such an insult from a Leiding to go unanswered” Lunt held a hand out and asked his shield-brothers for a sword. “I shall teach this one the consequence of seducing another man’s wife.”

“I think he’s talking about you, Ricci,” Hugi whispered before stepping into the ring. “I am the earl and I am the king’s voice while he is absent. You will tell me your grievance and I will tell you what action you can have as retribution.”

“Only moments ago, I caught this man touching my bride, your own niece, as if he had liberty to do so.” Lunt made a show of testing the balance of his sword, dancing it between his hands.

“The princess is not your bride. Not yet.” Hugi twisted about, addressing those gathered. “It is true our king intends for his daughter Ricci to wive this man. The bond will unite two communities and make them stronger. But, it is not yet official and such a union cannot and will not be held in the king’s absence.”

“That man's intent was to despoil my property before I receive her,” Lunt growled. "I will have justice."

Ricci caught up, shaking her head free of confusion. “I assure you, my husband, my future, Vegard has done nothing—“

Her intended interrupted, “You are fortunate that I will still champion you. That mark on your face will earn you no other suitor as fine as me.”

“I do not need your protection, Sir,” Ricci shouted, unable to swallow her anger any longer. “I am a shield-maid in my own right and--”

“Oh shut up! All of you,” Vegard broke his silence and stepped forward, still unarmed. “If this man is eager to die, let’s just get on with it.”

Hugi shook his head. “Vegard, my word—“

“I said shut it. Let the bastard spill my blood if he thinks he can.” Vegard spit. “Ordinarily I wouldn’t waste my time on his ilk, but I haven’t killed anyone since the quarter moon, so why not?”

Before either Ricci or Hugi could protest further, Lunt, a great beast of a man, lunged toward Vegard like a bear at a hound, his sword raised for a swipe down across the shoulder blade. Unarmed Vegard stepped forward and twisted, wrenching away Lunt’s blade with his right hand while his left elbow struck Lunt’s nose. The sound of breaking bone resonated and Lunt pitched to his knees. Vegard plunged the sword down into Lunt’s neck, completely severing the spinal cord.

Lunt was dead; his body a sheath to his own blade, the hilt jutting out atop blood--soaked shoulders. Vegard nodded and took his axe up at his lumber stand, 

The people dispersed. Lunt’s shield-brothers glowered at the red-headed Leiding, but made no additional challenge as they collected their brother’s corpse. Hugi looked bemused. “Well. That’s one solution, I suppose.”

“Provided Lunt’s cheiftan does not retaliate.” Ricci watched Vegard for a time considering their conversation and the advice he gave. With dexterous fingers, she plaited the hair she once hid behind. 

“When Father returns, Vegard will want for nothing.”

“My brother will not like it.”

“He will have no choice. You and I will show him he has no choice.”

“And how exactly do you plan on convincing him without getting us both executed? It was a good union for our people. Our warriors. Their grain stores.”

Ricci smiled, no longer burdened by Fate. “It is a simple matter, Uncle. We appeal to Father’s blood lust. We have warriors. We will have their stores.”

“You speak of conquest.” Hugi chuckled. “My brother will wonder why he did not think of that in the first place. And your pilgrimage?”

“It is no longer necessary. I have already been touched by the gods.” 

So that's what I got this week. Feel free to leave comments or constructive criticism if you would like. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.