Warning: Undefined array key "status" in /home/corinneoflynn/www/www/wp-content/plugins/cookie-notice/cookie-notice.php on line 293

Warning: Undefined array key "subscription" in /home/corinneoflynn/www/www/wp-content/plugins/cookie-notice/cookie-notice.php on line 296
REN3 Blogfest - "Long List" Finalist! - Corinne O'Flynn

Happy Friday people! Good Stuff: I woke to learn that my short story, which was written as part of the Rule of Three Blogfest in October, was “long listed” among 11 finalists (out of 69 entries!). Having read all of them (hats off to the judges, that was a lot of work) I must say how humbled I am to be chosen as a finalist. There were some fabulous stories entered.

The long list will be whittled down to 6 on a short list next week, and then open to voting to choose a winner. For those of you who missed this back in October, The Rule of Three Blogfest had a lot of different requirements and all the stories took place in a fictional town called Renaissance: Population 333. Everyone has a secret!


I have consolidated the stories here for you to read… enjoy!

Part 1 – Godwin’s Tale

A strange noise through the woods caught Godwin’s ear. He could move silently through the forest, but he stilled himself to listen. It was rare to encounter anyone on his pre-dawn patrols of the Upper Culdees. Poachers and outlaws usually stayed well south of the forest’s Villein road. He nocked his arrow all the same.

“Dearest Lord, help me.” The woman’s voice was hoarse and tempered by her crying. Godwin wasn’t sure if this was another trap laid by poachers to rid the forest of its woodsman, so he approached slowly, his arrow at the ready.

The ground ahead sloped downward toward a stream. Godwin crept up to the rise and peered down. A woman sat against a redwood, her skirts pulled up around her waist, her bare legs and womanly parts exposed. All stealth forgotten, Godwin dropped his bow. It clattered against a tree.

The woman turned and locked eyes with Godwin. Her face was flushed and rosy with exertion, her dark hair had fallen from the coil on her head and her cheeks were lined with tears. Godwin had never seen anything more beautiful in all his days.

“By God, you must help me,” the woman cried. “My babe, it’s to be born.”

Godwin wiped his palms on his cloak. “Can you bear to be carried? We’ve a midwife in town–.” Godwin made sure to keep his eyes on the woman’s own. Hers were warm and brown and betrayed her fear.

“No! No midwife, please.”  The woman pressed herself into the firmness of the tree and groaned.  Godwin steeled himself against his frantic heart and knelt in front of the woman. He was unsure how to help but familiar enough with what needed to be done.

The boy child arrived as the sun broke over the horizon. With the babe at her breast, Godwin bundled the woman in his cloak and carried her through the woods to his small house on the eastern edge of town. Godwin lay the woman in his bed near the fire.

As she fell asleep she spoke softly. Godwin received her words with a chill.

“They’re coming to kill the child.”

 

***

Later that morning, Godwin watched his brother the blacksmith prepare the fire in the forge. “She didn’t say anything more.”

“You can’t keep them hidden in your woods-shack forever. Someone’s bound to notice a babe’s wailing in the night.” Godwin knew he was right.

They were interrupted by thundering hooves that sounded through the town.

Godwin walked to the shop door and watched a dozen men on warhorses crowding the square. They wore the livery of the Northern King.

“People of Renaissance!” a horseman bellowed, “I am King Ansel.”

Gasps were heard through the gathering crowd as the people began to bow uncertainly. This was their King, although his rule had never taken hold in the far reaches of Renaissance.

The King continued, “My sister, the Princess Cassandra, has died in her childbed. Her son, my nephew, the prince and heir, a wee babe has been kidnapped by his midwife. We’ve tracked the outlaw through Heriot’s Pass and into your woods. We require a guide.”

All eyes turned to Godwin, the only woodsman in the Upper Culdees. The King’s words startled Godwin, but not because he was being called upon to help.

Godwin knew the King was lying. And he wanted to know why.

Part 2 – King Ansel’s Tale

 

After three days of hunting in vain for his runaway sister, King Ansel reluctantly followed the advice of Sir Willem, his only remaining advisor, who urged the King to seek help in the tiny outpost of Renaissance.

He couldn’t tell the people that it was their Princess who had escaped. Even though they’d never know her by sight, it wouldn’t do to admit her identity. That would require more explanations than he was willing to give. No, the story of the midwife and the kidnapping was the only way. His pride demanded it.

He’d been surprised when the old witch had come to him last winter with the prophecy.

“The child is quick in your sister’s womb,” the crone’s voice was small, childlike. “She will bear the kingdom a son. A king. Beware your majesty! For this child shall strike you down and take your throne before he comes of age.”

Foretelling the death of the King was treason enough. Predicting his sister would bear a bastard heir who would strike the death blow crossed the line into treachery. The King smiled as he wondered if the old crone’s ability warned her she’d pay the ultimate price for her gift. Her head would remain on its pike at the Kingsbridge until well after the thaw.

They left the castle the night the witch told him his dark future. He sent Sir Bonacre, his most trusted advisor, to remove Cassandra from her chambers. She was bound hand and foot into the royal coach. The King would be away visiting the far reaches of his realm, ostensibly to connect with the leaders of these rural communities. The other plan—to await the birth and then dispose of the child’s body in the vast Schiavona Desert—was known only to himself and Bonacre.

It was Bonacre who suggested the old route through Heriot’s Pass.  The King should have known then that Bonacre could no longer be trusted. Of all the routes through the mountains, Heriot’s Pass was the least secure. Which also made it easy to flee. He wondered how long his sister had been taking Bonacre to her bed.  He’d been blind.

After several skins of wine, Bonacre continued to serve the King and his men until they were so far into their cups they slept well into midmorning.  When they woke the next day, groggy and head-sore, they found Bonacre dead in the woods, having fallen on his own sword.  Princess Cassandra was long gone.

 

***

The woodsman, a quiet, brooding fellow named Godwin, was willing enough. But damn if that man wasn’t the worst tracker in the realm. If the King didn’t know better he’d swear they’d been traveling in circles through the Culdees Forest.

The King insisted they return to where Heriot’s Pass spilled into the Upper Culdees and begin tracking from there. For all his stealth, it seemed the master woodsman was good for tracking pheasant and nothing more.

“It’s been a fortnight, Your Highness,” the woodsman said. “Are you sure the midwife traveled as far as the forest? There are many routes along Heriot’s Pass.”

“Aye, I tracked her myself. A wet nurse in the Heriot village claimed to have fed the child on the first night.”

The King saw a shadow pass across the woodsman’s face.

“You doubt your King.” It wasn’t a question.

“No sir, it’s just that there has been no sign.”

“Carry on, woodsman. There are always signs. Our search will cease, and you’ll be released from your duty, when your job is done.  We must find the child.”

Part 3 – Cassandra’s Tale

 

Four weeks passed when the woodsman returned to his shack on the eastern edge of town. Cassandra had grown so used to solitude. She marveled at how easy it had been to adjust to a commoner’s life.

“Come in,” she whispered.

“My apologies, your highness.” Godwin stood near the table holding his hat.

“Please, call me Cassandra.” She looked at the man to whom she owed everything. He was clean shaven, his hair combed to one side. He looked like a child about to give confession. She dropped to the floor, kneeling before Godwin. She kissed both his hands.

Cassandra had been careful to remain indoors during the daylight. She only left the shack at night, and then only to use the outhouse. Fear of being discovered by her tyrant brother was fear enough. Eleanor Blacksmith visited daily with food, water and clean linens for the child. She also brought gossip from the town.

Cassandra looked forward to Eleanor’s visits. They talked together and both remarked at how peaceful the child was. His cries were easily tended. Each day, Cassandra thanked God for sparing them, for the kindness of strangers, and for keeping the people of Renaissance in the dark.

“You’ve spoken to your brother?” Cassandra asked.  “About his plan for me, for us, for the three of us, I mean,” she stammered.

“Aye, I’ve just left him. Eleanor sends regards,” he smiled. Godwin shuffled from one foot to the other, looking at his boots. “It’s a wise plan. After a month on this hunt with his Highness, it might be your only hope. He is set on finding the child. His party has taken a new guide to the north. He’ll be back, he swore it.”

Cassandra laughed. “Swore it, did he?” She lifted the sleeping babe from his basket. Her pride swelled as she shared her son with Godwin. She couldn’t ignore the feeling of deep fellowship connecting her now to this gentle man.  She wondered if Geoffrey’s plan would be the end of them both. Godwin put his large finger in the babe’s hand, letting the child grab hold with tiny fingers.

“Geoffrey will receive the letter tomorrow,” he said. “No one in Renaissance knows that we don’t have a brother living south of the Culdees so news of his death will be received without question. I’ll leave the following morning to tend to my dead brother’s business and return in a week’s time with his bereaved young wife and new babe.”  The way Godwin spoke to her, Cassandra wondered if he was having second thoughts. Everything depended upon the will of this man and his family. She felt vulnerable.

“Are you sure you’re prepared to keep me as your wife?” She asked. I know it is custom in these parts for a man to take on his brother’s burden, but can you live knowing it is all a lie?” Cassandra tried to keep her voice steady. She knew the people of Renaissance would never know her on sight, and without all the jewels and fancy garments of the royal house, she could pass as a peasant with ease.

Godwin cleared his throat and looked into Cassandra’s eyes. “I’ve never married. Not for lack of want, but because no woman stirred me deeply enough to capture all of my heart. And then I beheld you in the forest. For the first time, I am alive.”

A different fear gripped Cassandra’s heart. He was so earnest. She wondered if perhaps she was the one to worry about. Could she hold up under this ruse? She tried to smile.

Part 4 – The Prophecy Unfolds

 

Three months passed, and with each moon so did King Ansel return as promised to the tiny outpost. Against the urging of his advisor, Sir Willem, the King refused to let go of the witch’s prophecy. He made good on his vow to continue scouring the lands until he found his sister and her bastard prince. They couldn’t hide forever.
Godwin stopped on the edge of the woods and let the meager sun warm him. Winter had a tight grip on the land now and he and Cassandra found comfort in the knowledge that travel was all but impossible over the mountain passes between Renaissance and the Northern Kingdom. Mother Nature had granted them a small reprieve from King Ansel’s visits, at least until Spring.
Cassandra had settled in to her new life quite happily, and was growing warm to the idea of a life with Godwin.  Now that she was accepted in the town as Cassandra Woods, and Godwin’s exuberance had been tempered by time and his professed desire only to make her happy, she realized that he was indeed a man she could love, in time.
Cassandra had returned from the market where she and her son, Roland, had spent the afternoon shopping for fresh winter vegetables and some of Eleanor Blacksmith’s preserves. She watched as Roland crawled near the table after a wooden top Godwin had whittled for him.
Feet stomping at the door made her curse herself for lingering too long gossiping in town instead of tending to their meal. She felt it was a small kindness to have a hot dish ready for Godwin when he arrived home from his patrol.
“You’re home early,” she said as she opened the door.  Her smile froze on her face as the icy air blew over the threshold.  Two strangers in hooded cloaks stood in the doorway.
“Cassandra?” The smaller man removed his hood. Sir Willem. That meant the hulking man behind him could only be—
“Step aside man, your King is beside himself and wishes to sit down,” King Ansel spoke in a menacing whisper. He sat down heavily near the fire. “I knew Godwin was a better tracker than he led us to believe. Last month I met some men of the Assart. They spoke of Godwin’s performance at the games each year and I said, ‘no… not my man, he couldn’t track a dead goose.’ But it got me thinking.  Willem didn’t think it was possible. But who, if not a woodsman, would you have ever met in the forest?” King Ansel’s smile was cold. Cassandra picked up Roland.
Willem gasped. “Cassandra, the child—”
“Willem, hush,” Cassandra began to weep.
King Ansel looked at Willem and back at Cassandra and beheld the babe, whose eyes were the exact brown shade of Sir Willem’s. “Willem, all this time I’ve blamed poor Bonacre. Did you drop him on his own sword then? You sly devil.”
The King drew his sword, it seemed enormous in the tiny house. “I’ll cut you down and await Godwin, shall I?”
Roland started to cry. Cassandra gripped him tighter. The child threw his wooden top across the room. It hit the King’s ample belly and rolled onto the floor. King Ansel stepped forward, raising his sword for a mighty blow. He stepped on the child’s toy and found himself reeling, arms thrown sideways, sword forgotten. He fell backward onto the hearth. Godwin’s iron fire poker—a gift from his brother—protruded through the front of King Ansel’s neck.Willem broke the silence, “The King is dead. Tell no one.”

About the Author Corinne

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. There was a longlist? No one told me~ ;)

    Good luck to all of the writers (I can’t be comment specifically). I was thinking I should put my four together, to see how it reads.

    Stuart
    co-host REN3

  2. I had read the first couple excerpts; but somehow in all the reading flurry I missed the last two. I love a self fulfilling prophecy :) So Shakesperean; though this smacks of a snow white tale without the dwarves . .

    Congratulations on making the short list Corrine.

    …..dhole

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Free!

Book [Your Subject] Class!

Your first class is 100% free. Click the button below to get started!