aqua fortis

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Flickr Fiction: At the Sign of the Sheep

The dark-cloaked figure staggered up to the wooden building, creaking in the wind, and leaned against its outer stone wall for support. For a time, Aster did not move or speak, but merely breathed, each inhalation a struggle against the grating in his ribs, each exhalation an opportunity for more blood to trickle past his fingers, out of the stab wound in his shoulder. They'd almost succeeded this time. But they hadn't. If only...No. Thinking that way would surely focus his thoughts in the wrong direction, and then they'd be sure to detect him again, with their Mind-Hounds. No more.

The wind picked up, gusting into the folds of his cloak along with a spatter of drizzle, and he began to shiver uncontrollably. Time to go inside. With any luck, She would be there. That's what they'd told him. But was this even the right place? He looked up. There was a wooden sign creaking back and forth, back and forth, lit only by the glow of moonlight reflecting off the clouds. He could just make out a crude drawing of a sheep, sitting drunkenly on a barrel of ale.

He stood with his head cocked, staring for several moments. They'd told him the sign of the sheep. This was the only sign of a sheep in the town of Meadowmore, which was a mere village compared to the vast capital city where he'd spent his childhood roaming the streets. Somehow, though--the reverence with which they'd spoken of it, that hardened band of toughs who'd helped him escape the patrol of Orderkeepers and their Mind-Hounds--he'd thought it would be somehow more imposing. Not a mere public house.

Then, for just a moment, the clouds allowed a sliver of moonlight to blaze through from the Gibbous Lady, may-her-peace-shine-forever. Aster followed the beam of the Lady's gaze to where it shone upon the public house and its crude banner. And, for the space of a blink, a heartbeat or two, the wooden sign no longer hung there but a much older, rusted-metal, portentously heavy ornament, more gargoyle than sheep, its corroded chains swinging silently. The moonlight shone through its cut-out eye and came to rest in a small spot directly above Aster's heart.

Yes, this had to be the place. The moon returned to her cloudy sleep, the sign once again the crudely drawn sheep imbibing a tankard of ale. But Aster knew, as surely as he was standing there, that the Gibbous Lady herself had given him a sign of his own. He felt the first stirrings of hope he'd had in a very long time. Perhaps he was not doomed to spend his youth in an Orderkeepers' labor crew.

This week's piece was inspired by judgement day (sic - no need for that "e"!) by Flickr user columbo's dad. Sorry it's late. I'm not sure where this story might be going, but I occasionally try my hand at the fantastical... Check for more Flickr Fiction on the sites of The Gurrier, Isobel, Elimare, Chris, Mina, TadMack, Linus, and new members Neil, Valsha, and Dermot, who's still getting set up.


TadMack said...

Yeah, the 'e' made me cringe a bit, because that was one of my Spelling Bee Loser words from grade school. Erk.

I like that both you and Valshamerlyn came up with something secretive, people going away from things and coming TO the sign of the ram/sheep, as if it were meant to save them. I like that a lot, and I'd like to read background on this and see where else it could go!

Donal said...

Mindhounds! I want more from these Mindhounds please.

I liked the bit with the transforming sign too.

Donal said...

Judgement with an 'e' is acceptable usage over this side of the pond. Sea wot a wonnerful divers worlde we live inn.

a. fortis said...

Thanks! I don't know why a sheep would have weighty significance in this fantasy world, but evidently it does...

Teaandcakes said...

Nice piece. I really, really liked the transforming sign.

Valsha said...

Excellent piece. I love the transforming sign and the mindhounds and the fear.

(I think I've worked out how to leave my name at the top, but in case I'm wrong, this is Valsha.)