Thursday 31 March 2011

Friday Flash - Losing Battle

Gwinn didn’t want her father to die. 

She cowered in the corner of the hovel, trying to keep out of the way. Her father lay on the low table near the empty fireplace. An arrow pierced his side, just below his ribs. Blood oozed around the shaft. He kept scrabbling at the arrow, yelling curses when he touched it. 

His hound sniffed at the air, and whined, pawing at the rough earth floor of the shack. Gwinn worked her fingers into his fur, trying to quiet the dog’s whimpers. Gwinn whispered in his ear, trying to reassure the dog as much as herself. For all of her fourteen years, she felt like a child. 

The old woman hunched over the table, slapping her father’s hands away from the arrow. She hummed a melancholy tune and examined the wound. Gwinn could smell the bad blood. Dafys, her father’s best friend and commander, slammed his fist on the table. The impact made her father cry out.

“What are you waiting for, woman? Take it out!” shouted Dafys.

“All in good time,” replied the old woman.

She leaned forward and wrapped her gnarled fingers around the arrow. Gwinn’s father shouted another curse, and his hound howled. Dafys whirled around, his blue eyes blazing.

“Can’t you shut that dog up?”

“I’m trying, sir-”

“Try harder.”

Gwinn wrapped her hand around the dog’s muzzle and brought his head close to hers. She slung her other arm around his neck, and held him close. He shivered in her arms, his howl dissolving into whimpers. Her father screamed again, and Gwinn buried her face in the dog’s fur.

“One more should do it,” said Dafys.

Gwinn looked up, straining to see through the tears. The old woman gave the arrow a final tug, and it tore free. Black blood spurted from the wound, splattering the old woman’s faded apron. The stench of decay hung heavy in the air.

“There you go, Merryd, it’s out,” said Dafys, leaning over her father.

“Beggin’ yer pardon, sir, but this arrow...” said the old woman. She peered at the jagged head. Gwinn’s stomach rolled at the thought of the metal lump buried inside her father.


“Did it come from a forest dweller, or a bandit?”

“A forest dweller. Lord Tulloch had us chasing poachers ,” replied Dafys.

“I thought so. This ‘ere’s been dipped in brax berries.”

Dafys stared at the old woman. Gwinn’s heart dropped through her rib cage, hitting her stomach with a thud. Brax berries. Poison. Her father groaned, writhing on the table.

“Can you do anything to help him?” asked Dafys.

“I can try, sir, but it’s fair advanced now. I’ll do what I can,” said the old woman.

Gwinn tried to stand, but her legs buckled beneath her. She slumped to the floor. Her father’s hound licked at her face. She pushed him away. He whined, looking from Gwinn’s tear-stained face to his moaning master and back.

“Is my father–” she began.

“Not now, girl,” said Dafys.

The old woman bustled around the room, throwing dried herbs and foul-smelling oils into a bowl. She pounded the mixture with a stone pestle. The acrid smell of the paste made Gwinn’s eyes water. The hound backed away and forced himself between Gwinn and the wall.

“Is this legal?” asked Dafys.

“This ‘ere is a ‘erbal remedy, sir. T’ain’t magic, if that’s what yer thinkin’,” replied the old woman. “No one can do magic theirselves.”

Gwinn’s father gasped behind them. He wheezed, fighting to get air into his failing lungs. Gwinn rushed across the room and grabbed a pale, clammy hand. Her father shifted, trying to look at her. 

“I’m here, Papa,” said Gwinn.

The old woman slapped the stinking paste onto her father’s wound. His eyes flew open, bulging in agony. He screamed. The paste sizzled and spat where it touched the oozing black blood.

Her father’s body shuddered. Gwinn sobbed and squeezed his hand tighter. She wished that she could somehow will the poison out of his body. The hound sat on his haunches and let out a single banshee howl. Her father shook in one last spasm, and lay still. 

Gwinn stared at the body. She told herself that the white, haggard face did not belong to her father. A stranger lay on the table, not Merryd Twildir. The old woman rolled her eyes skywards and muttered something under her breath. Dafys stifled a sob. The hound collapsed in a fit of whimpers in the corner.

Gwinn pressed her lips to her father’s hand, and laid it on his chest. She turned and sat on the bare floor. The strength of the table against her back reassured her. An eerie silence descended on the hovel, broken only by the stamp of horse’s hooves in the cold mud outside. Gwinn looked out of the window. A crow sat on a post just beyond the glass. It gave a single caw, and flew away towards the trees.

Gwinn didn’t hear Dafys’ promise that she would be taken care of. The old woman’s apologies and platitudes fell on deaf ears. All she could think of was how she would break the news to her brother.


Anonymous said...

A very different setting this week Icy, but just as convincing as always. I liked the small details of the crow and the horses stamping outside.
A touching tale made more poignant by the melancholic ending.

Chuck Allen said...

It's impossible to read this and not feel Gwinn's pain and dread. I love the way you brought the dog into it as well. Great job!

Laurita said...

You have created a very sombre mod in this one, Icy. The girl, the dog, the wound going from bad to worse, all a part of a rich scene.

John Pender said...

I like the way you told this one. I could see the arrow and feel his pain. Made me think of a movie, but I can't remember the name right off hand.

Larry Kollar said...

Convincing, that's the word. The sounds, the smell, the fear, led to the only way it could end.

Sam said...

Absolutely fan-flippin-tastic! I adore everything about this story, the characters, the setting, the little details you've worked in. You almost had me in tears by the end. I do hope there might be a sequel?

Anonymous said...

Aching with detail; I was into it immediately, could see the man's pain, smell the blood, feel the environment. Very well done!

Monica Marier said...

Oh, that was so sad. I loved the setting, and the interaction between the characters. You always know how to paint a story so I feel IN it. The crow was a stunning touch at the end.

John Wiswell said...

The setting suited you - or you suited it. Didn't think the 'erbal remedy would fix all their problems, and was left hoping they wouldn't face an ending of Twilight Zone grimness.

Anonymous said...

I. LOVE. This. Great job on the dialogue, characters, environment, mood, everything. More? Yes, please!

Harry said...

Wow Icy! Gripping from beginning to end with such raw emotion and rich detail. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone else Icy, this is one of your best. It's the little details that make this so...believable - the crow, the sounds, the smells, all of it - wonderfully written!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic job this week, Icy. I always look forward to your stories and I agree with the others that this is one of the best.

Chloé P. Kovac said...

Poor Gwinn. This story is full of great lines. "The paste sizzled and spat where it touched the oozing black blood" being my favourite.

Joz Varlo said...

Oh, this is fantastic! I love the whole thing...all the details and especially the crow at the end. More, please!!

Tim VanSant Writes said...

Such a sad tale, but well-told.

Jason Coggins said...

Yep, the moment the crow turned up I knew the father hadn't made it. I just had a vision of you doing a Madonna and turning into a flock of crows. Cool, eh? This piece felt very true.

Anonymous said...

I think this is my favorite one! Great visuals for the connection between Gwinn and the dog. My heart pounded with hers as anxiety of his death grew deeper and more apparent.

Anonymous said...

That's a content rich narrative - love the attention to detail paid to minutiae.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully cinematic, Icy. A painful and melancholic story, but told with precision and focus.
Adam B @revhappiness

Anonymous said...

Lovely job, Icy. You had me roped in right from the beginning. I love how you had the dog be so aware of what was going on. I'm sure the dog could smell the poison. The crow at the end is a nice touch, too. Excellent!

Icy Sedgwick said...

Justin - I thought I'd done the Old West enough...time for some medieval Britain. I seem to have a thing about crows.

Chuck - I'm very much a cat person but I think there's something so admirable about the loyalty displayed by dogs.

Laurita - Yeah...was worried it was too depressing.

John - Well I see everything as a movie in my head and then describe it...

FAR - I'm a big believer in using smell in fiction.

Sam - Well you know what my plans are!

Janet - Well they do say the devil is in the this case, he's also in brax berry poison.

Monica - Thank you!

John - I realised I hadn't really done anything 'Dark Ages' before, so I decided to rectify that.

Lisa - I'm glad you liked it!

Harry - Thanks!

Deanna - I'm glad you liked it - I wasn't all that sure about it initially!

Danni - I'm really glad you enjoyed it.

Chloe - Thanks!

Maria - I don't know why I love crows so much...but I like to get them in where I can.

Tim - Thanks.

Jason - Now that WOULD be a party trick, wouldn't it? Though I'd rather turn into a flock of magpies.

Lara - Thanks! I figured the dog would help ramp up the tension. They feel things so keenly.

Leadinglight - I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Adam - Yeah, I was feeling a bit dour this week. Glad it worked though.

Rob - In my mind's eye, I could smell the poison too...and it wasn't pleasant.

Cat Russell said...

Oh that was so sad. Poor girl!

Steve Green said...

A grim and powerfully atmospheric story Icy, it has the feel of belonging to a larger piece.

Eric J. Krause said...

Excellent storytelling in this one. The pain, sorrow, anticipation, and all of it are so well described, it was as if it were a movie playing out in my head. Great job this week!

Reginald Golding said...

Great story! Very clear images, engaging, definitely left wanting more.

Stephen said...

The crow was a nice touch, Icy. There was no doubt in my mind when you revealed the crow. The father was gone for sure. Breaking the news to her brother will be a tough task indeed.

Unknown said...

I love that you went in a completely new direction with the setting this week. (I love experimentation)

Well done all around. I loved it.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Cathy - Yeah, I was feeling a bit grim this week.

Steve - It's the prelude to something else. Details hopefully coming soon...

Eric - Well that's my trick when I'm writing - I see it all as a movie in my head and then I just describe what's happening. If someone else can then watch that movie, then I've done my job.

Reginald - I'm glad you thought so!

Stephen - I have a thing about using crows.

PJ said...

Just lovely, icy - I loved the setting, the tension, the suggestion of the possibility of magic ... Very beautiful and touching. What happens next??? :-)

AidanF said...

Intriguing world that you've created here. I really feel like I'm there, and the concept that magic exists but it's outlawed is one of the themes I enjoy.

Emma Newman said...

This might be one of my favourite things you've written. It's so atmospheric, gut-twistingly emotional without laying it on too thick, and I was there with her. I loved the observation that she was worried about how to tell others... that really rang true. Loved it x

Stephen said...

Ouch - getting that arrow out was painful. Good feel of a larger world beyond the hut and evocative writing. I shall definitely take the other path *around* the Tulloch estates the next time I visit.


CathrynLouis said...

Great story. I could really see through Gwinn's eyes.

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