The Fall

               The mountain rose out of the clouds, a silent island adrift on white sea-billows stained crimson and violet by the setting sun. Limbs shaking, weak from exertion, he dragged himself onto the rocky ledge. Jagged black walls surged up to the rugged peak, looming over him. For three days he had climbed, driven by desperation, clinging to the bare rockface as desperately as he clung to his last shreds of hope. Now, without wings, he could go no higher.

                “Is anyone here?” His voice shuddered against the rock, lost in the whining wind. The mountain stood silent. “Please!”

                A flurry of wings beat against the wind, and he turned to see a great bird, cloaked in scarlet feathers, alight on a boulder at the edge of the shelf. Golden talons gripped the rock, and golden eyes peered out over a golden beak. He knelt in the creature’s shadow cast by the setting sun.

                “I come to make my plea to you, wings of the mountain.” He fought to keep his shaking voice steady. “I have heard that a request may be granted to those with the strength to climb and the courage to ask.”

                He awaited the bird’s response, but it only turned its head to fix its golden gaze upon him, and around them, the wind wept against the stones.

                “Please!” he cried, beating his fist against the passive mountain.

                The bird clicked its beak, and he fell silent. “Many come,” it rasped. “Seeking power. Seeking riches. Peasants, beggars, kings, and lords of men come to make their pleas. Which are you?”

                “I have little gold and less power. But tell me your price, and whatever I have, I will give.”

                The bird shook its crimson feathers, beating its wings and throwing its head to the sky. Its harsh, barking cry reverberated off the mountainside. “What use is gold to a mountain? or the word of men, fleeting as the clouds?”

                “Then tell me the cost. There is nothing I would not do!”

                The bird examined him before turning to gaze out over the darkening clouds.


                “I’ll die,” he protested, but the bird gave no response. He stood, walking to the edge and gazing down to where the wind stirred the clouds over the rocks. Frustration overwhelmed him. Three days he had climbed, three days wasted. “I have scaled the mountain!” he yelled over the wailing wind. “I do not have time for riddles or tests! Tell me your price!” The bird only stared to the horizon, its feathers ruffling beneath the fingers of the wind, and his shoulders sagged in resignation. “If I do this, will I be granted my wish?”

                The golden gaze turned upon him again. “There is no courage in the asking, only in the taking.”

                Staring into the gathering darkness, he willed himself to leap. It was that he feared, not the fall. He had only to jump, to force his feet from the rock, then there would be no turning back, only the inevitable embrace of the earth. And even if this was the price, he couldn’t turn back now. Closing his eyes, clenching his fists, he jumped.

                Nothingness surrounded him, the wind whistling in his ears. He waited for the jarring end, but when it didn’t come, he opened his eyes. He stood in the meadow at the foot of the mountain, the peak lost in the blanket of clouds. The breeze that stirred his hair was only the wind that rushed through the valley and past the tossing trees. His legs gave out, and he fell to his knees, all strength leaving him in his despair. He had failed. The mountain had refused his offering. He pressed his forehead to the earth, ripping at the grass, his wail of anger lost in the wind. The sun disappeared behind the trees and the shadows lengthened as he lay in the grass, hollow with grief.

                Pulling himself up, he turned his feet toward the small house at the edge of the meadow. The last light of day faded as he passed through the low door. Inside, his wife sat in the shadow of the dying fire, her head bent, weeping, the cascade of her hair hiding the small bundle in her arms, and his heart crumbled within him. He knelt next to her.

                “I’m sorry,” he choked, his hands shaking. “I tried.”

                When she lifted her face, he saw that she wept not from grief but with joy, with relief after long suffering and the passing of a shadow after lingering in darkness. In her arms, the tiny face once flushed and mottled was clear, and the dulled eyes were bright. Her sob choked with laughter as a tiny hand reached up to her chin.

                He sagged to the floor. The mountain had heard his plea. He tried to wipe the tears from her cheeks, but his hand passed through her as through a fog, and when he called her name, she paid no more attention to him than the rustling of the trees. At the flutter of wings, he turned to see the bird perched on the foot of the bed, its crimson form immense in the tiny house.

                “Is this death then?”

                The bird cocked its head, the pupil black in its unblinking golden eye. “Does it feel like death?”

                He remembered the darkness that had come over him at the foot of the mountain, when all hope had vanished and he had tumbled into the blackness of despair.

                “No,” he said, his cheeks wet with tears.

                He kissed their foreheads as best he could before passing back into the shadows of night. As he walked to the mountain, the great bird wheeled far above him, glinting crimson in the moonlight, and behind him, upon the windowsill, lay a single crimson feather.

Whatever I’m reading tends to seep into my writing, and this week is certainly no exception. I’m halfway through Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. The writing adventures continue…

~ R. E. Rule


The Cat’s Eyes

                I slid through the open window, dropping to a crouch in the darkness. A dying fire hissed on the hearth and the wind whispered against the stone walls of the tower, but the room lay still. I pulled myself to my feet, pushing back my dark hood as my eyes adjusted from the bright moonlight outside.  

                The room was half-circular, the straight wall dividing the tower in half. Bunches of drying herbs and roots hung from the heavy beams running across the ceiling. Rough wooden chairs sat before the fire, draped with woven blankets, and shelves lined the walls, piled with books and plants and other objects I couldn’t even begin to identify. Among them, a deep blue sphere on a metal stand was glowing softly. I examined it curiously, rubbing my rough jaw. When I poked it, the light shuddered to green, and I yanked my hand back. I quickly poked it again, sighing in relief when it returned to glowing blue. A skull with enormous fangs sat next to it, but I dragged my attention away. I was getting distracted.

                Across the room, something stirred, thumping to the floor, and I whirled, yanking my dagger from my belt. I fumbled behind me for the sphere, holding it up to flood the room in faint light. Pulsating blue and green shimmered between the shadow of my fingers.

                I crept to the far wall where a heavy curtain obscured half of the thin bed and yanked it back. Nothing. But the blankets felt warm under my hand, and I hadn’t imagined the sounds. I wasn’t alone.

                “Show yourself,” I hissed.

               There was a solid thump on the table behind me, and I whirled to see two luminous green eyes and a pink nose set in a fluffy face. With a sigh, I shoved my dagger back into my belt.

                “Hi, kitty.” I scratched behind the ginger ears with my forefinger. It stared at me, unblinking.  

                I put the sphere on the table, turning my attention to the door set into the straight stone wall. There was no mechanism, just a latch and a keyhole, and the resident hadn’t left a key. I dropped to one knee, fiddling at the lock with the picks I’d slipped out of my boot.

                “I’ll only be a minute,” I said to the cat, who was still watching me from its perch.

                With a soft click, the lock released and the door creaked open into a thin hall falling away at one end to the stairwell that wound down through the tower. Across the hall, another door led to a smaller room, but it was just as locked. Balancing the sphere on my knees, I set to work again. A single emerald eye was peering around the doorjamb at me.

                “I thought witches had black cats.”

                I closed my eyes, letting my fingers do the work, one hand on the latch, the other working the mechanism. “It’s very hard to concentrate with you staring like that,” I mumbled through the pick in my teeth.

                The latch shifted, and the door opened into a black maw. For a moment, I thought the floor had given way and a bottomless pit swallowed me whole, but as I lost my balance, the sphere shifted on my lap and blue light shimmered across a stone floor and windowless walls. Inside stood more shelves piled with sacks and crates and chests. I fumbled in my pocket for my instructions, smoothing the wrinkled note against my chest before squinting at my client’s neat hand.

                “Storage room. Black chest.” I glanced around at the indistinguishable containers. “Any ideas?” I asked the cat.

               It was sitting in the doorway, tail curled around its feet, the tip idly twitching. It had no answer, and I began perusing the shelves, making my way from one end of the room to the other.

                “Your mistress is a clever one, isn’t she? No doors, no windows except for the one I came through. So tell me, is the door hidden or can she walk through solid walls? Gods, I hope not.” I glanced nervously over my shoulder, half expecting to see an angry, wrinkled face sneering at me, but there was only the cat. I nudged a sack aside with the tip of my dagger. “Do I want to know what’s in these? Probably not. I’ve seen worse, sadly. I was hired to steal someone’s brother back from a body snatcher. The stench, puss! You wouldn’t believe it. This is a vast improvement.” I sniffed the air. “Lavender? Your mistress has good taste for a vile, insidious— Ah! Here it is.”

                A solid, black chest was tucked away in the furthest corner of the farthest shelf. I carefully lifted it down to the floor with my cloak, settling cross-legged in front of it. Further inspection with the dim light revealed no lock, no hinges, no marks of any kind, not even a line where the cover should lift away.

                “This is a puzzle,” I sighed. “You wouldn’t happen to know the trick would you.”

                The cat had joined me, sitting by my knee, its green eyes fixed on the box. I tapped the blank surface with my dagger but was rewarded with only a dull clink. A tentative paw reached forward to bat at it, but I snatched the cat up.

                “Careful, puss,” I whispered, kissing its soft head before setting it in my lap and absently scratching its ears. “No telling what your mistress has up her sleeve. I suppose I could toss it out the window and pick up the pieces at the bott— Ow!”

                I winced as the cat dug its claws through my breeches into my leg.

                “No? Fine. No guarantee that would work anyway.”

                I cautiously laid my hand on the surface, hoping the leather of my gloves would protect me from any curses. The fingertips had been cut away for climbing and lockpicking, and the cool metal pulsed under my skin. I tugged off my glove with a sigh.

                “Here goes nothing.”

                The cat meowed softly in response. To my amazement, my hand sank through the black surface. When I pulled it back, my fingers had closed around the thin chain of an amulet. I held it up in front of my grinning face, the wrinkled black stone glinting in the green light.

                “Found you. Who’s the clever one now?”

                I tucked it into my pocket and shoved the chest back where I’d found it.

                “I’m tempted to take you with me, kit,” I said when both doors were locked, the sphere had been returned to its proper place, and all that was left was to scale back down the slick walls.

                With a soft chirp, the cat trotted to the hearth and leapt into a chair, wrapping its ginger tail around its feet. My foot was halfway to the sill when a soft voice spoke behind me.

                “Stay for a cup of tea?”

                I froze, my fingers gripping the edge of the window until my knuckles whitened. When I turned, the cat was gone. In its place sat a woman, watching me with the same green eyes, a ginger braid wrapped around her waist. She lifted a kettle from the hearth, kept warm by the dying coals, and the heavy smell of hydrating leaves filled the room.

                I looked longingly over my shoulder to the open window, the cool air seeping through taunting me. I could throw myself into the night and undoubtedly break my neck. If I took the time to climb down properly, there was no telling what she would do to me before I reached the ground.

                “Tea?” she asked again, holding out a chipped cup to me.

                “Is it poisoned?”

                She laughed but gave no answer, and the cup stayed stubbornly extended. I cautiously took it, lowering myself into the chair across from her, my eyes locked on her. She had a sharply pointed chin, high cheekbones, and soft freckles that had taken the place of whiskers. The cat seemed to still hover there, just below the skin. She didn’t look how I expected a witch to look, but this could be a trick too, putting on the façade of a pretty face to make men who had weaknesses for such things let their guard down. I had no intention of being one of those men. Her gaze flickered down to where my hand was nervously playing with the hilt of my dagger.

                “I frighten you.”

                “You’re a witch.”

                “You’re a thief,” she retorted.

               “You turned into a cat,” I said darkly, leaning forward, and she mirrored my movement.

                “You climbed a tower with sheer walls.”

                I had done that, but no matter how proud I was of that fact, I wasn’t going to let her distract me.

                “You live in a tower with sheer walls.”

                “I like the view,” she said with a dismissive shrug.

                “If you’re so harmless, why did my client send me to steal your amulet? An amulet he said he needed to protect himself from you.”

                “Do you know what that amulet does?” She sat back, taking a sip of tea. “It wards off warts.”

                There was no hint of a lie in her green eyes, and I yanked it out of my pocket, staring at it. “Warts?! I risked my life for this thing! Why by all the Gods would he need that?”

                “Because I gave them to him,” she said, laughing into her cup.

                That was hardly reassuring, and she sighed as I narrowed my eyes at her.

               “He said he was tired of looking at his wife, she was getting old and could I please do something about it. So I did. I made it so he couldn’t see her. The poor dear, I think she actually enjoyed it. As long as she didn’t make a sound, she could creep out of the house while he rambled on thinking she was there all the while. I expect she was just as tired of listening to him as he was of looking at her. Well, he was rather peeved and told me he wouldn’t pay until I fixed it, and I said I had done exactly as he asked. He called me a hag, and I may have been rather petty.” She twitched the end of her braid between her fingers. “I covered his feet in warts, the insufferable old pig. Told him I’d give him the cure when he paid. But I suppose he decided it was easier to hire you.”

               “Then why turn into a cat?” I demanded.

               “I was scared! It’s rather alarming to wake to a strange man crawling through your window!”

               All in a moment, I realized her feet were bare, she wore only a nightdress, and that I was not the victim in this situation but rather an armed man creeping through darkened windows.

               “I… I’m sorry I frightened you,” I muttered, rubbing the back of my neck.

               “No harm done. I realized you weren’t here for me. And I suppose I like being called clever, even if it is a thief doing the calling.”

               Everything I’d done with the cat beside me came flooding back, and I stared wide-eyed into the fire, excruciatingly aware she’d heard everything and there was no way to hide the kiss I’d placed on her ginger head. Her smirk told me she had guessed my thoughts, and I quickly cleared my throat.

               “That’s quite a trick. Think you could teach me?”

               She narrowed her eyes. “You’re already much too adept at getting into places you shouldn’t. I’m not helping you along.”

               She took another sip of her tea, her nose twitching slightly as she stared into the fire. I set my own untouched cup aside, pulling myself to my feet.

               “Well, I suppose I should be off then before the sun rises.”

               I still wasn’t sure she was going to let me leave, and my heart sank as she jumped to her feet and yanked a key from her pocket.

               “Wait,” she told me before vanishing through the door into the dark hallway.

               I could hear her rummaging around and was contemplating making a break for it when she reappeared with a vial in her hand. “Give this to the wife and tell her she can drink it whenever she wants him to see her again, though I wouldn’t blame her if she never did.”

               I tucked it into my belt, breathing a sigh of relief as I finally made it back to the window and the night air seeping in.

               “How did you get up here?” she asked, leaning over the windowsill to stare down at the sheer walls.

               “Maybe I have a little magic of my own.” I grinned, winking at her.

               Wise or not, my fear had vanished, or maybe whatever charms her thin face held were working on me. I had always had an unhealthy penchant for danger. She pursed her lips at me, but the corner of her mouth twisted into a rueful smile. “I don’t get many visitors. Witch and all that.”

               I gazed out the window, looping my thumb through my belt. “I suppose I could stop by again, if I’m in the area. Just to make sure you haven’t fallen down the stairs and broken your neck.”

               Her laugh followed me as I climbed into the darkness, feeling for holds on the slick surface as I slowly descended.

               “You could use the door next time,” she called, leaning out the window.

               I grinned up at her. “Where’s the fun in that?”

               When I looked again, a ginger cat sat on the sill, watching me, idly flicking its tail, its green eyes glowing in the moonlight.

The Fog: Revisited

I thought we’d dip into the archives this week. Please enjoy The Fog, first published in March 2020. For more stories, visit my archives here.

The tiny village nestled in a valley carved between two rugged mountains. Forest blanketed the rocky slopes stretching endlessly away from the small clump of huts. For as long as she could remember, a heavy fog had laid over the land. The residents of the village moved always in a hazy mist, their clothing and hair wet and limp from its cloudy blanket. White sheets hid the tops of trees, and she moved through the forest as if through a great hall, with a ceiling of cloud, pillars of wood and bark, and a soft carpet of moss, damp and silent, beneath her feet.

She tugged her furs more tightly around her shoulders and readjusted her grip on the leather-wrapped handle of her bow. Since the first gray light of dawn had filtered down through the mist, she had been out in the forest hunting. With any luck, she would return with a few hares or grouse, their downy and feathery coats dark and slick with moisture.

The sound of steps on leaves floated through the trees, and she froze, crouching in the underbrush. The steps stopped, and she held her breath in the silence as neither hunter nor prey moved. A soft chuffing floated through the trees. Deer. Her grip tightened on her bow. Scents hung heavy in the mists, and deer usually avoided the forests near the village, but a harvest like that could feed them for days. The chuffing stopped, and the steps resumed. Through the mist hanging between the trees, she could see a dark form moving slowly up the slope. Antlers glistened white in the occasional flicker of light that filtered down to the forest floor.

Her arrow would never reach its target through the thick undergrowth, so she quietly followed, drawn forward by the occasional chuffing and the sound of hooves on damp leaves. A soft breeze brushed her cheeks as it floated down the slope toward her, carrying her scent away from her prey. The stag moved slowly onward, occasionally stopping to lift its great head to the wind and inhale, its grunting breaths making her hold her own until their journey resumed.

The ground became slick and the air heavy the further up the slope they went. The fog grew thicker until she could barely see the wet leaves beneath her leather shoes. An occasional snort and the sound of shifting undergrowth through the fog led her forward with timid steps. The heat in the air grew stifling, and the mists swirled around her like phantoms. She was about to turn back, giving up all hope of bringing down the stag, when the rushing roar of water caught her attention.

Curious, she fought her way onward through the mist, the roar growing to an earth-shaking thunder. A loud snort rang out behind her, and she whirled to see the stag watching her. He turned and darted back into the fog. A gust of wind sent the mist swirling away from her revealing a deep chasm carved into the earth, the edge inches from her feet. A rush of water cascaded into it. She grabbed a nearby tree branch and leaned out to gaze down into the pit, the scorching mist burning her face. At the bottom, dizzyingly far below, a red mass heaved and spat as the water poured into it. Billows of steam belched up toward her. She stared into the heart of the earth until her eyes ached with the heat.

The stag had seen her, and the morning had long since passed, so she turned her steps back toward the village, searching for the steady decline of the ground under her feet. Her hair hung loosely around her face, and her furs were drenched. She shivered as the air began to cool around her, chilling her damp clothing. The trees grew tall around her again, but she recognized none of them. She fought her way onward, more and more disoriented, until she had little hope of finding her way back to the village.

She stopped to free a pebble from her shoe, and when she looked up, the stag was standing at the edge of the swirling mists, staring at her. With a loud snort, he spun, rushing into the fog. She stumbled onward drawing up short when she saw the stag again standing at the edge of the fog. With another snort, he retreated into the white mist, and she found herself led onward by its ethereal form, the ground gradually sloping away beneath her feet.

The trees suddenly ended, and she stumbled into a familiar clearing. It was the spreading field of browning grasses around the village, their blades wilted beneath the heavy fog. The stag stood at the edge of the trees, watching her, the tall undergrowth brushing the wet fur of his belly. Dropping to one knee, she notched an arrow and drew back her bow with cold fingers, the tip trained over the creature’s heart. For a moment, they stared at each other before she let the string loosen and dropped the bow to her side. With a snort and a toss of his head, the stag galloped back into the forest.

Leaving the Mountain

            There were six of us in our little tribe, when we were young and ran free across the mountains like a pack of wild things, feet muddied, hair tousled, cheeks reddened by the wind as we planned our next great conquest. We ruled with the order of the innocent, strict but merciful. Then we turned thirteen, and our fate was stamped onto our skins.

            Mitra, the bravest, always the first to plunge into dark caves or scamper across fallen logs, who planned the assaults of our imagined foes, was told she should be meek and her voice hidden away.

            Ordin, the gentle one, who kept bugs in his pockets and nursed fallen baby birds, who tended bloodied knees, was told to pick up the spear and take his place as warrior.

            Tiva, the fair beauty, with her gentle voice and dexterous fingers, who sang with the birds and wove crowns from tender vines, was taken to labor in the fields.

            Nex, the strong one, who carried us when we were tired and knew the woods like a wild animal, was locked away with parchment and quill.

            And Salin, keeper of my secrets, who fought back to back with me against our invisible foes, would stay while I was sent away to learn to mend and tend. We were told we would meet again, would spend our lives together, but when we did, I could not look him in the eye nor speak without invitation and all my secrets must be mine alone again.

            So, we left the mountain, leaving behind only muddy footprints and the echoes of our laughter.

**Today’s short story was based on the prompt: Young. Wild. Free.**

~ R. E. Rule

Where She Walks

Roses bloom from her palms,
Orchids tangle in the vines of her hair.
Where she walks, life awakens.

Bees and butterflies, her aura.
Pools of water, her eyes.
Her skin, the earth.

Thorns adorn her limbs.
Nectar drips from the well of her lips.
Life to some; to others, poison.

Death and beauty, embodied.

This poem was based on the writing prompt: flower power.


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~ R. E. Rule

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32. The Fruits of One’s Labor

The writing prompt for today’s story was: “All good myths begin with a red apple.”

Once upon a time in a small kingdom, there lived a prince. The kingdom possessed neither wealth nor great knowledge, and its people were not known for their beauty or skill. So, when the daughter of the wealthiest king in the land was offered in marriage to the prince of her choosing, the prince’s father sent him to ask for her hand so they might improve their standing in the world.

The prince set out, pondering as he traveled what he might offer to the woman he hoped to make his bride. They had nothing of value to give, and he knew that princes would be coming from near and far with gifts of splendid riches. As he walked, he chanced upon an old woman resting next to a stream and stopped to join her, enjoying a drink of the clear waters and a moment away from the hot sun and dusty road.

“Where are you headed, young man?” she asked.

“To win the hand of the princess… Though I have nothing to offer her except myself, and I am afraid that is precious little.”

The woman looked him over then leaned closer.

“There is a legend of an apple, beautiful beyond compare, that grows within the mountain beyond this forest. It is said that retrieving the apple gives its eater true enlightenment.”

“Within the mountain?” he asked doubtfully. “How could an apple grow inside a mountain?”

“Those who have seen it know, no one else.”

The prince pondered this for a moment, gazing thoughtfully into the stream. When he turned to ask the old woman how she knew this, she had vanished. Refusing to step before the princess empty-handed, the prince set off toward the distant mountain. When he reached its foot, he could see far above him a cave cut into the mountainside but saw no way up the sheer cliff. Still, he refused to turn back and slowly began to climb.

The rock crumbled and broke beneath his fingers and he bloodied his hands on the sharp stone, but every time he considered turning back, he looked up to find the cave slightly closer and pressed on. The sun fell in the sky, darkness came over the land, and the moon was high above when his bruised and calloused hands finally grasped the ledge at the mouth of the cave. Exhausted, he fell into a deep sleep, and when he awoke, the sun was rising, spilling its red light over the misty forest.

“I have never seen a view more breathtaking,” he marveled, the pain in his hands forgotten. “If not for the princess, this would be reward enough.”

But he could not forget his errand, and he plunged into the darkness of the cave. The light of the sun was soon left behind as the mountain swallowed him up, and he wandered, lost, guided only by his sore hands on the slick walls. The air became dense and musty, and his eyes ached from the blackness. He considered turning back, but each time, he could only wonder if the tree would be around the next curve and struggled onward instead.

At last, he came to a wall of broken stone where the ceiling of the cave had fallen, sealing the passage. He sagged to the floor, exhausted and wondering if he should finally give up. Days could have passed while he wandered in darkness, and he didn’t want to miss his opportunity to ask for the princess’s hand.

“But it could be there,” he said. “Right on the other side of this pile of stone.”

Determined not to go to her with no gift, he set to work moving aside the rocks, carrying each one away to clear the passage. They were heavy, and his back ached from the work, but as the stones moved aside, a ray of light shone through, and he rejoiced at the sight.

“I forgot how beautiful light was,” he wondered. “And the joy of clean air.”

With renewed vigor, he hauled away the stones until he was able to squeeze through and found himself in a cavern. At its center, bathed in light streaming down from cracks within the mountainside, stood an ancient tree. From its gnarled branches hung a single red apple, and at its base flowed a stream. The prince eagerly drank from it, washing the blood and dirt from himself before carefully picking the apple.

Certain that the princess would be pleased with his gift after all he had endured to retrieve it, he hurried back through the dark caves, down the cliff, and onward to the kingdom.

When he arrived, the castle was overflowing with princes there to present their tributes to the princess and ply for her hand. They presented her with gifts of gold and song and knowledge. One gave her a beautiful poem written by the finest writers in his kingdom, another an intricate gold statue shaped by the most talented craftsmen, and still another a treatise on wisdom written by the wisest philosophers. When it was his turn, he reverently placed the apple at her feet.

“My lady, I have traveled through hardship and suffering to bring you this.”

He told her the tale of his journey, of the beauty of a sunrise, and the joy of light.

“This is all you brought?” she asked when he had finished. “One apple?”

She kicked it away in disgust, seeing only fruit where he saw his toils, and instead chose to marry the man who had brought her dresses fashioned by the finest weavers. The prince took up the apple, carefully wiping the dust from it, and returned to his father’s kingdom. When he arrived, his father asked if he was successful in winning the princess’s hand.

“No, Father, but I brought something better.” He held forth the apple. “I climbed a cliff, wandered through darkness, and with the sweat of my brow retrieved this apple of enlightenment. Take it.”

His father sighed, patting his son’s shoulder with a shake of his head. The prince, dismayed by the poor reception of the gift he had toiled so hard for, decided to eat the apple himself so he might gain its enlightenment and see his foolishness as others did. But when it was gone and only the core remained, he felt no different.

“Perhaps the old woman was mistaken,” he sighed. “But I feel no poorer for having retrieved it.”

He planted the seeds, and from them grew a tall tree that produced many beautiful apples. Its children were cultivated into large orchards providing sustenance and shade to the kingdom. In the years that followed, whenever the prince looked at the tree, he remembered his journey and smiled.


When the world was young and still barren, Arbora alone walked across it. She wandered the dry expanse, reveling in the earth beneath her and the heavens above her. From afar, they watched her with joy, though she did not know they were there, and earth guided her steps across his lands.

One day, light fell upon the earth, for the sun had taken his place in the sky. His glory awed Arbora, and she turned her face to him, stretching her arms to the heavens where he sat and crying out her adoration.

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~ R. E. Rule

29. Writing Prompt – Don’t Let It Fall

The urn shattered, fragments of broken rock and precious gems clattering across the stones. Ehrik, Knight-Guardian of the Realm, who had just dispatched the last of the temple guardians, froze, sword still held aloft.

“You dropped it, didn’t you?”

His squire stared, mouth agape in horror, at the remnants of the intricately carved vessel. His hands hovered uselessly inches from the pedestal where he had intended to place it.

“It…slipped, sir.”

“The precious artifact… The most important quest of my life… The object we carried through the shrieking forest, across the wailing sands, over the devouring waters, and you drop it?!”

His voice reverberated through the cavernous chamber, and he hurled his sword against a crumbling wall, but the squire ignored him, frowning down at the shards.

“Wasn’t something supposed to happen? End of the world or the like?”

“The court wizard claimed it contained a powerful evil threatening the royal line, but clearly, he’s as useless as you.” Ehrik sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose with a heavily armored hand. “Clean up your mess, and fetch my sword. I’m getting out of this stinking cave.”

He stomped away, muttering to himself about inept squires and ill-informed wizards. The squire dumped the urn fragments into a pile on the pedestal and retrieved the discarded sword before scurrying after Ehrik, tripping over bodies and nearly impaling himself as he went but breathing a hearty sigh of relief that his mistake paled in comparison with the wizard’s.

Leagues away, across the roiling waves, past the blowing sands, and beyond the haunted forest paths, deep within the royal castle, servants ran screaming down the hallways. The princess, leaving her dolls and her nursemaid in pieces on the nursery floor, ripped the heart from one of her guards and devoured it whole.

I may have strayed from the original writing prompt a bit, but I wanted to write something fantasy and was inspired to ponder what would be an absolutely terrible thing to drop.

Editing is an arduous task but also an indispensable one and incredibly rewarding. I was able to cut thirty words and make the story more vivid in the process. Every bit helps.

More soon!

~R. E. Rule

Falgar the Great

Deep in the mountains above the kingdom, it was said a beast of unimaginable horror made its lair and that the one who could slay it was worthy of the throne. Fifty years passed, and the beast yet lived. The mountainside was strewn with the bones of those who had tried their hand, yet the crown sat forgotten and dusty. When Falgar the Great, Slayer of Derahk the Tormentor and Liberator of the Valoreth, heard of the challenge, he took up his sword and set forth.

The battle was long and fierce, but eventually, the beast succumbed and its head cut from its body with Falgar’s mighty sword, Eledeth, Bringer of Doom. Then Falgar passed back through the mountains, coming to the high city of the kingdom, and entering the great hall, cast down the severed head, crying, “Hail and take heed, for the beast has been slain, and from the shedding of its blood, a king has arisen!”

The people were awed by his mighty presence and disturbed by the severed head lying upon the floor. Miktahn, mouth of the people, stepped forward and raising his voice for all to hear, proclaimed, “That’s great and all, but that doesn’t really mean you’re qualified for a leadership position.”

A murmur of agreement rippled through the crowd at Miktahn’s words, and cries of, “we need no king,” and, “our present system of governance is adequate!” rang out.

But Falgar was dismayed.

“I have slain the beast as the legend foretold, with my hand and my sword!”

And Miktahn, trusted and wise, spoke again for the people.

“A mighty feat to be sure, but slaying beasts can hardly be compared with, say, setting a taxation policy or encouraging foreign relations.”


“And would you, Falgar the Great, Slayer of Derahk the Tormentor and Liberator of the Valoreth, even know how to settle domestic disputes between neighbors or man and state? It took us like a decade to set up a suitable justice system.”

“I, um…no.”

Elgath the Fair, who had thus far been silent and still in contemplation, stepped forward and spoke quietly with Miktahn.

“How about captain of the guard? I’m sure they can find more things for him to…slay since he’s so good at it.”

Miktahn agreed, and at length Falgar accepted his new duties. But when he turned to take his leave, Miktahn called after him.

“And take this…head with you! Leaving blood all over the place,” he muttered. “Doesn’t he know maids are expensive?”

Thus they lived on in peace and harmony, achieving a golden age among men, for a land is best governed by justice and rationality, not men with big swords. And whoever came up with that legend probably meant it as a joke anyway.

I like to call this Tolkien meets Monty Python. (“Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no system for a basis of government!” – Monty Python & The Holy Grail)

I read an article last week that said you should never start a story with the character waking up, which is unfortunate because that’s how my draft starts. But the opening sentence, “she awoke in darkness,” is possibly the most important sentence of the first half of the book. It doesn’t just describe the action taking place in the scene but also encapsulates her overarching story and the larger action taking place of which the reader is not yet fully aware! In other words, I’m keeping it.

More soon!

~R. E. Rule