Hi all. Just found out my story Against the Grain, first printed in Shadows & Light: Tales of Lost Kingdoms and reprinted online by Golden Visions is no longer available. I thought I would post it here rather than try to get it published again. Enjoy!
Against The Grain
By Alva J. Roberts
Gareth ran his hands over the unfinished wood, feeling for any rough spots or irregularities. The chair he was working on would be his master’s piece. It had to be perfect—every seam joined flawlessly, the ornate work on the back and legs carved with a master’s touch. He was in the final stages of creation.
Grains of saw dust drifted down from his dark brown hair. So intent was he on his work, the world around him fell away. He loved working with wood, watching as the things he crafted took shape beneath his fingertips, as if they were his children, and he was breathing life into them.
Almost three hours later, he sat the chair on top of his work bench, almost done. He needed to stain it in the morning, but for tonight, he was finished.
His master, Norman, left hours ago.
Gareth snuffed out the candles gleaming around the room, making sure they were out. Few things could ruin a furniture shop faster than fire. A single mage lamp illuminated the shop as he left. The magical lights were expensive, but Norman liked a steady light when he carved a piece. He closed the door behind him, welcoming the air thick with the chill of coming winter.
“Gareth! You’ve been in there half the night,” Jora’s called out accusingly.
“Jora, don’t be like that. I have to finish my master’s piece. How else will I support us when we are married?”
“Hmph,” she grumbled. “I have no problem with you finishing your master’s piece, but you said we would have dinner together. If you were going to be in there all night, you should have said so. I’m starving.”
Gareth looked down, avoiding her eyes. He had said they would eat, but he got so wrapped up in his piece that he had forgotten.
“I’m sorry, Jora. It will never happen again.”
“You don’t mean it. This is the fourth time in the last three weeks. If you want to be my husband, I have to be more important to you than wood.”
Jora turned away, marching down the dark cobblestone street. Even in the half-light of the new moon, he could see how angry she was.
“Jora, wait!” Gareth called.
A scream echoed through the village, and Gareth could hear men yelling. He watched as Jora turned toward the sound.
There was a blinding flash of light, and Jora’s body flew through the air, smashing into the smithy. Gareth stared at here prone form, shock filling his entire being.
He sprinted foward, his hands shaking as he turned over her body. Let her be alive, by the four Gods, let her be alive. Gareth felt a lump form in his throat as tears ran down his face.
She was breathing. His hands came away sticky with blood, but it was too dark to see from where it came. He picked up her body, running for the workshop.
“Hey, where do think you’re going? She’s ours!” an angry voice called after him.
Gareth ignored the voice.
When he reached the workshop, he sat Jora down as gently as he could near the door.
He fished his keys out of his pocket, and hurled the door open.
He tossed the chair, his master‘s piece, to the side like it was scrap lumber. It clattered against the floor, and Gareth did not care if it broke.
In the pale green glow of the mage light, he could see a large gaping wound the size of his fist in her side. Blood flowed from the wound in a thick, crimson river.
“Jora! Jora! Wake up!” Gareth screamed, ripping off his shirt, pressing it against the wound to staunch the flow of blood.
“Gareth? It hurts. It hurts real bad,” Jora cried in a weak, pain filled whisper.
“I told you she was ours!” an angry voice shouted. “This whole village is ours!”
Gareth looked over his shoulder, keeping pressure on Jora’s wound. Three armor clad men stood in the door. They shimmered, reflecting the fitful light of the mage lamp.
“Let me get him,” one of the men snarled.
“No, look what you did to her. Dachis has a deft touch, and it’ll last longer,” the first speaker said.
Dachis lifted his hand and pointed at Gareth. There was a flash of bright light, and then something struck his chest, flinging him through the air to smash into his master’s workbench. Tools of every sort clattered to the floor.
He could not breathe and sucked hard at the air. His chest throbbed as if he had been kicked by a horse. Blood ran down his torso from a small, blistering burn over his heart.
“You see what I mean, Halthin?” the first speaker asked.
“Whatever, I tagged her. So I get her while she’s still breathing. You two have your fun torturing the carpenter—I’ll have my fun with his woman.
Jora! Gareth struggled to his knees. His hands snaked out, picking up a hammer and a chisel, and then he sucked in a deep breath, readying himself.
He surged to his feet, the hammer flying from his hand with all the strength he could muster. The ungainly missile flew through air, spinning end over end, cracking into Haltin’s head.
Gareth rushed forward, swinging his arm out wide in a roundhouse swing. The chisel sank up to the handle in Dachis’ stomach. Dachis brought up his hand, engulfed in a pulsing blue fire. Gareth grabbed the wizard’s wrist and forced his arm to the side.
Gareth’s big work-calloused hand connected with Dachis face, knocking him to the ground, and then he turned to face the last intruder. The man stood in front of him, his arms crossed.
“You are very resourceful. You killed both of my Sparks with… carpenter’s tools. But I am not as foolish as they, and I am not a Spark!”
The air around Gareth turned solid. He yanked and jerked, but could not move. Everything below his neck was trapped.
“What do you want?” Gareth screamed, almost crying in frustration. Jora lay a few feet away, dying.
“I am not a Spark, I am a Breeze. As easily as they controlled fire, I control air. We came here to conquer. Your people will be enslaved, your valuables will be taken.” Something invisible, but hard as stone, smashed into Gareth’s face. “Amazing what can be done with air. We chose your village because you backward simpletons had never heard of elemental magic. That made your home perfect for our needs. Don’t worry, not many will die—they will be worth more as slaves.”
“Bastard!” Gareth screamed, thrashing back in forth in his invisible bonds.
The invisible club crashed into Gareth’s face again, and again. The world was spinning, and blood ran from his nose and split lip, his eyes swelling shut. The beating did not stop for a long while.
The man laughed, turning his back to Gareth. The wizard’s gleaming eyes locked onto to Jora, watching her die.
Gareth concentrated on moving, at stopping the man. Something inside of him shifted. His mind stretched as bright lights flashed across his vision.
Something creaked from the floor near the workbench. The wizard did not see it, but Gareth could feel it inside his head, as if he had grown another arm or leg across the room.
The chair he crafted so meticulously slid across the floor, tipping onto its legs, and waddled a few steps.
The man’s attention was focused on Jora, his smile joyful as he watched Jora’s blood drip to the ground.
The chair wobbled and rushed forward. Its back cracked apart into sharp points, then jumped through the air. The jagged tips stabbed through the wizard’s stomach, blood flowing down the clean wood, staining it red.
His invible bonds broken, Gareth fell to the floor, crawled through the growing pool of warm blood to the work bench. He grasped the top, forcing his tired, injured body to stand.
His hand reached out for Jora’s cheek, caressing it. He stared at her chest, willing it to rise and fall. Her flesh was cold, she was not breathing—he was too late.
“Jora! You can’t leave me. No. No. No.”
Tears mixed with the blood running down Gareth’s face. His chest thundered with pain as he collapsed to the ground, curling into a ball, sobs wracking his body.
It was too much for his strained will to take.
Blessed darkness stole consciousness from him.
Hours later, Gareth awoke. His face stuck to the dried blood on the floor when he tried to lift his head, and awareness flooded through him as he remembered the events of the night before.
He stood, up his legs shaking. Jora’s body lay on the workbench, looking as if she was sleeping, except her face had lost its color. Gareth stared at her corpse, feeling numb.
He stretched out his mind as he had the night before. The workbench clattered a few feet to the right. He watched the huge table moving. It was so easy—he would have loved to show Jora.
Tears ran down his face again as rage and sorrow burned in the pit of his stomach, a harsh bitter feeling he had never felt before.
The invaders would die for their actions. The building shook with magic as his anger swelled, growing stronger and stronger, drowning out every hurt and pain.
He kicked open the door to the workshop. Bodies dotted the street, like rotting leaves at the end of autumn. His anger built, higher and higher, as he stalked the streets.
The invaders had to still be there.
He saw them as he turned the corner onto the village green. There were at least twenty of the men in the strange armor. The remaining villagers knelt on the ground, their hands bound, their mouths gagged.
Gareth lifted his hand, stretching out his mind. The inn rumbled and shook, and with a crack, huge planks flew off the roof, speeding toward the wizards. The impact cut one wizard in half, with four of his conspirators buried under the thick wood.
Gareth’s hand slid over to the well. It groaned as the posts pulled themselves free from the ground and stomped at the men, swinging its bucket on a long rope. The wooden fence around the weaver’s shop yanked free from the earth, the boards transforming into the shapes of men and strode toward the slavers.
The Sparks shouted and fire leapt out, engulfing the well, burning it to cinders within seconds. A thick wall of air smashed the wooden men to pieces, the Breezes adding their magic to the defense. The splinters flew in a brown cloud across the green.
Gareth needed more. His hand moved back to the inn. Boards tore off the building, forming man-like shapes, faster and faster, running at the huddle of wizards. Some of the wooden structures picked up rocks, hurling them at their foes. The rocks bounced off a shield of air, and the wooden men burned to nothing.
Gareth felt something inside his head rip. Blood ran from his nose, from his ears. He glanced over at the slender delicate wood of the gazebo. The long poles snapped away, collapsing the roof. They spun in the air, shavings falling away, as the ends formed into to sharp points.
They zoomed through the air and slammed into the earth, twirling and spinning as they dug their way underground.
The wizards looked around for another attack, but none came. One of them saw Gareth and pointed. They turned, as one, balls of fire flying through the air, thick blocks of solidified air coming toward him.
Gareth closed his eyes, waiting…but felt nothing. He opened his weary eyes, watching with awe as wooden spears grew from the ground, piercing the chests of each of the wizards.
Jora was avenged.
Gareth smiled, falling to the ground. The pulsing throb of his thundering heart echoed in his ears. Pain wracked his body, and he thought his heart would explode.
People swarmed around him, but he could not open his eyes.
He would see Jora soon.
“Is he okay?” a voice asked.
“He’ll be fine with a little rest,” the village healer said.
Gareth’s awareness faded with the painful thought, knowing it would be a long time before he saw Jora again.