A King’s Ransom

The mountain range rose high and ominous into the dark night sky, the moonlight illuminating the snowy peaks with an eerie glow. Jutting out of the side of the mountains was a wooden building known as The Refuge, and this was Bacca’s destination. It was meant to be a place of protection if ever there was war. The rich would go to the castle for protection, while everyone else would hole up here. But an evil currently dwelled here and Bacca had been sent to deal with it.

The winter wind blew cold and threatened to blow out his torch as he approached the front of the refuge. It must have been no more than 10 feet high and 15 feet across, and was easily dwarfed by the massive mountain range behind it, which stretched a hundred times taller and extended for miles.

There was usually a guard standing watch, but the king had ordered everyone to stay away until the matter of the unwanted lodger had been taken care of.

It had been a week since the king had given Bacca this task, during his 100th birthday celebrations. He was surprisingly healthy for a 100-year-old but had admitted he needed a successor. So, he gave Bacca a fine sword and promised if he could kill the evil in the refuge then he would get his daughter’s hand in marriage and his throne upon his death. The king had taken ill the very next day, once again proving his wisdom in all things.

Bacca opened one of the large—and unlocked—double doors, and slipped inside. The hinges on the heavy door squeaked as they closed. The dark warehouse spread out in front of him with only dim moonlight shining in from the windows set high up in the wall. Their cloth coverings were meant to keep out the elements, but instead they were keeping out the light.

Bacca noted barrels stacked on either side, which were full of preserved food, as well as piles of animal furs, crude blankets, and some rudimentary weapons. He considered looking through the weapons for anything worth taking, but knew there would not be anything better than the longsword already on his hip. The one the king had given him.

He moved forward through the storage house. The wooden building only jutted out of the mountain about 20 feet, so it was not long before he came to the portcullis, which was the entrance to the mountains proper. It was open and was only ever meant to be closed once everyone and all provisions were safely inside.

There was a short tunnel which led to a large open cavern, the top of which disappeared into the gloom evading Bacca’s small torch as he stepped forward. The large open space was still and quiet, the mountain cavern oblivious to the chaos of the storm outside. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom he could see there were many other tunnels and side chambers leading off from this main cavern.  There on the far side was a faint light.

Slowly Bacca creeped around the side of the cavern, sticking to the wall and making as little sound as possible. He wasn’t sure if it was the echo of his footsteps or the beating of his heart that he could hear loud in his ears as he approached the light.

Bacca stopped just outside the opening where the light was coming from. It was a small entranceway into a side chamber and had two large animal skins hanging down to form rudimentary curtains. Light escaped from where the skins didn’t quite reach the ground, and Bacca paused to see if he could detect any movement or shadows. There was no movement and there was no sound apart from a distant dripping of water somewhere off in the darkness. He took a deep breath and stepped though the skins and into the light.

The brightness of the chamber caught Bacca by surprise and forced him to almost close his eyes fully. After a moment, he was able to look around and take in the small room. There were animal firs covering the floor and many candles placed in a large circle around the room.

The only other thing in the room was a single wooden chair where a tall figure in a black cloak and hood sat. Under his hood he wore a black mask which covered his face. Bacca drew his sword.

“Draw your weapon” Bacca demanded.

“I have no need for weapons” answered the man in a rasping voice as he stood.

The king had told Bacca how dangerous this man was, so he wasted no time. He sprung forward and thrust his sword into the man’s chest.

The man did not fall, he did not cry out in pain, he didn’t move at all.

Bacca reached up and pulled off the dark mask covering the man’s face. What was underneath was confusing and horrifying. It was the king, but his flesh had rotted away and all that was left was a foul green colour, his skin hanging off in one large loose flap on his left cheek. His lips were completely gone, his eyes were white and glazed over. He looked like a corpse.

“What kind of illusion is this” asked Bacca, barely containing his shock. “What kind of demon are you?”

Suddenly smoke started to pour out of the nostrils of the man. He opened his mouth to let out yet more smoke. Bacca let go of his sword, still lodged in the man’s chest, and took a step back.

“What new trick is this demon?” Bacca said, confused.

The man did not respond, but instead fell to the ground motionless.

The smoke hung in the air like some strange black cloud and before Bacca had time to think it was upon him, surrounding him. He cried out and the sound echoed in the caverns, but there was nobody around to hear it.

Bacca fell to the ground amongst the circle of candles, arms flailing wildly as he tried to fight off the smoke. As he struggled, he could not help but breathe it in. He choked and felt the darkness closing in all around him. His last thoughts were of the sweet promises the king had made him, now so empty, so bitter.

The king rose from the ground. It had been more of a fight than he was used to, but that was a good sign, and showed promise for his new body. He pulled his sword from the now useless cloaked corpse and headed for the exit, towards freedom and his promised reward.

This week’s post is by a guest writer, James Moss, an amateur jokesmith and wannabe hermit. He spends most of his time quoting the Simpsons, watching films, and daydreaming about nonsense. He’s currently trying to turn this nonsense into story ideas.


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