For SPFBO 9 I’m returning to my old tradition, where I offer to the authors in our batch a spotlight on Queen’s Book Asylum. While in previous years I created a new feature, this year I let them choose between all of my available ones: What the Hungarian?!, Tales from the Asylum, Stuck in the Pages, Party with the Stars, To Be Continued…, as well as the regular author spotlight options of an interview, and a guest post.
To my delight, several of the authors wanted to take part in To Be Continued… So much so, that we won’t have one, but two stories for you, each consisting of 4 parts! Story 1 is titled Something Twisted This Way Comes. It’s time for part 3, written by C. Litka, the author of Beneath the Lanterns.
If you are new to the To Be Continued… feature, here is how it works:
- the authors taking part have to write a short story based on my prompt, which for this SPFBO 9 Special Edition is illusion and dream in a carnival setting
- the authors taking part don’t know about each other
- each author has 2 weeks to write their part (after receiving the previous one(s))
- each part is somewhere around 1500 words, although some tend to be longer
Fun fact: I based this prompt on two Poets of the Fall songs, Illusion and Dream and Carnival of Rust (which happens to be one of my favorite songs). I was super curious about what the authors will make of this prompt. Something Twisted This Way Comes went in a wildly different direction than I expected, but that is what makes this feature fun. So, let the story to be continued!
I write adventure romances. Romances in the old sense of novels that depict settings and events remote from everyday life. The fact that my stories are set in imaginary times and locales, mean that they can be considered fantasy or science fiction. Over the years I’ve enjoyed many other types of novels, including detective and mystery stories, humor, adventure, military, and sea stories, most of them written in the first half of the last century, which undoubtedly has influenced my writing style. My stories are first person narratives featuring likable characters, lighthearted and realistic adventures, told with humor and a bit of that other type of romance as well.
When first I started publishing my work I decided to value readership over revenue, so I sell them at my cost. Because I can produce my books entirely in house, with the help of volunteer beta readers, I can sell ebooks for free everywhere except on Amazon which requires a non-free price and may price match, or not.
I live in a medium-sized Wisconsin city. I’ve been married for as long as I can remember, with two grown children and a couple of grandchildren. Besides writing, I sometimes paint impressionist landscapes and ride my bike outside when it’s warm and, during the long Wisconsin winters, inside, with the bike on a stand while exploring Europe from the cabs of trains via YouTube.
Connect with C. Litka
The story so far…
The Mad Master toyed with a silver binding amulet that he wore around his neck. Hedgerow magic, to be sure, but it had bound Trisfan to him, and the other boys who he had recruited to join his carnival of killers by kidnapping them. There was no escape, save death. The magic always brought them back, no matter how far they ran. Still, all the others had escaped. Trisfan knew that now was his time, one way or the other to do so. He looked up, grabbed a breath and lied. “I returned to kill you.”
It wasn’t much of a lie. It had been his dream for the last ten years. And now, having killed Jackal and let the lad escape, there never looked to be a better day to kill the Mad Master, or die trying. He would escape today either way. “Roll the damn dice, Trisfan,” he told himself. “Kill him or be killed. I’ll be free.”
“Really, boy?” The Mad Master smiled, the cracks in his white painted face made him look ancient. Evil was a given.
Looking up to meet the Mad Master’s eyes, dark against his painted face, Tristfan forced his mouth into what he hoped was a grim grin, and said, “Yes, really.”
The Mad Master twirled the amulet, raised a painted eyebrow, and waited.
Trisfan drew another breath, slowly stood and drew his bloodstained rapier, much to the Mad Master’s amusement.
“Really, boy, is that wise? Am I to lose two of my clowns in one day?”
“You’re about to lose far more than that,” rasped Trisfan, but having drawn his rapier, he stood, still catching his breath, still hesitating, even as he knew nothing was to be gained by delaying — and much could be lost.
He glanced about the village. At the far end he saw Pretty Prince, Mad Master’s faithful toady, step out from one of the abandoned homes, while the one-eyed Deadeye emerged from the bushes, both their blades red with blood. Trisfan knew from past challenges to the Master that Pretty Prince would almost certainly come to the aid of his Mad Master, in the unlikely event that he would need it. And while Deadeye would likely only watch, and perhaps kill the survivor, Trisfan could not give either of them the opportunity to interfere. Now, breath caught or not, was the time.
With the speed of that desperate thought, he lunged for the unarmed Mad Master, his rapier, a ruddy streak, before him. There was no chivalry in this band of killers.
The Mad Master, with deceptive casualness, stepped aside, untouched. He leered at Trisfan with disdain, letting the amulet fall, but not bothering to draw the knife at his belt. “Oh, my foolish boy… Reconsider…”
“No,” but that was only a thought as he swung to face the Master and lunged — now close enough for his blade to actually reach the Master — but only as a feint. As his fore foot landed, he pivoted on it, around to his back side; to place his rapier’s point where he expected to find the Master. He and his blade found him, the tip of his blade tearing the fabric of the Mad Master’s jerkin at the shoulder — drawing blood, even as the Master sprang back and away.
The thick paint of the Mad Master’s face hid the brief look of surprise but it was reflected in his eyes, only to be quickly replaced with that taunting smile, which was quickly wiped away, as Trisfan lunged again. There was no time to think, you finish death matches as fast as you can… Instinct and a sudden desire to live drove his every move.
Once again, the Master leaped back and away, drawing his knife. He shook his head sadly. Losing two of his company was a steep price to pay for this worthless village, but it appeared that it had to be paid. Hell, hired blades were a crown a dozen.
Trisfan lunged again — cursing his weapon and wishing for his heavy saber on a rack in the caravan. A rapier is a point weapon, good enough to stick into villagers, but ill suited for either war or duels without rules, like this one. Still, he had no choice but to relentlessly attack in the hope that the Mad Master, armed with only his short blade, might not be fast or cunning enough to kill him.
But the Mad Master was fast and cunning enough.
He swayed back to let Trisfan’s blade tear along the front of his jerkin, his left hand grabbed Trisfan’s blade hand, while his own blade hand struck for Trisfan’s chest as his lunge brought the knife within reach. It skidded a little as it struck the mesh armor under his jerkin. But the force of the blow forced it through the chain mail. It would’ve found a home deeper had it not struck a rib and had Trisfan not been able to clutch the Mad Master’s wrist and hold it from finding a way deep.
Their collision spun them half around. Trisfan, blocking the Mad Master’s knee to the groin with his own leg, flung them around, and then down, Trisfan managing to land atop of the Mad Master. The fall sent the blade in his side a little deeper, but Trisfan was beyond noticing, even as the madly grinning Mad Master, his eyes bright with delight, twisted the knife.
Trisfan spat in his bright eyes, and struggled to get the rapier’s pummel into position to pound that painted face into ruin.
The Mad Master cursed, heaved and twisted his powerful body to gain the upper position. As Trisfan struggled to stay on top, he saw a shadow in the dirt above the Mad Master’s head. Glancing up, he found Pretty Prince looming over them, his blade held over his head, his eyes in the mask wide and mad – madder than usual.
Instinctively, Trisfan let the Mad Master roll on top of him as Pretty Prince’s blade sliced down, landing with a “thump” and bathing him in a rush of liquid warmth. The Mad Master uttered a low, surprised “Uhh…”
And died, with a curse.
Trisfan quickly pushed the heavy body of his now late master off, and rolled frantically away in the dust of the road, clutching his blade, fearful of another blow by Pretty Prince.
But he needn’t have been. Pretty Prince, his face hidden by his half mask, was frozen, his blade still sunk into the half severed neck of his master.
Trisfan climbed to his feet, this breathing hard, and stared at the body as well, as the warm blood of the Mad Master soaked into his jerkin and shirt — as well as his own from the wound in his side.
Deadeye strolled up, glanced down at the body, then at Pretty Prince, and finally at Trisfan. A dark, half smile crossed his shadowed lower half of his face. “Looks like Mister Pretty Prince here is our new boss, unless you care to challenge him as well, Grinner.”
Trisfan shook his head. “No. Pretty Prince is welcome to it. He’s the one who killed the Master.”
“I didn’t mean to!” exclaimed Pretty Prince. “He just…”
“So you say,” growled Trisfan. “But you killed him, which makes you Master.”
Pretty Prince shook his head, “I don’t want it.” He knew he wasn’t strong enough to keep it, even if he had wanted it. It would be his death warrant. “Besides, it was Grinner who was fighting him, I just…” Pretty Prince paused, looked down at the sword in his hand and added lamely, “He can have it.”
“I’m too young and inexperienced,” replied Trisfan, with a shake of his head, knowing that it would be his death warrant as well. ‘When the rest have finished with their pleasures, we can all decide who will lead us.”
“To the last man standing?” laughed Deadeye. “That won’t leave much of a company to command.”
“We can vote to select a leader. Other companies do, you know,” replied Trisfan.
Deadeye merely shrugged. ‘We’ll have to decide that as well. But first things first. Give a hand, Grinner. If the pretty boy will remove his sword from his neck, we’ll drag our late master into yon hutch, and burn it down as a funeral pyre. He deserves a proper send off to hell. Damn me, we’ll burn down the whole damn village, he was the devil himself.”
Trisfan nodded, and sheathed his blade. He stepped over, and after Pretty Prince wrenched his blade free of the late Mad Master’s neck, he reached down to grab a limp arm and flipped the body face up. Crouching, he found and yanked off the silver binding amulet that had bound him to the Mad Master. Looking up, he gave Deadeye and Pretty Prince a sharp look. “This is mine..”
Deadeye shrugged. “Fine with me. You’re a man now, I guess.”
The campfire, built by Nog and Bog, the two carnival wagon drivers, it’s flickering light, almost as bright as the light from the burning village beyond the low hill, illuminated eight unpleasant men lounging in a wide circle around the fire drinking the meager liquid loot of that burning village.
“We can’t wait for Jackal all night,” growled Pegleg. “Let’s settle this without him.”
“Can’t settle it without Jackal,” said Sir Rici. “He and Deadeye here are our most experienced men. We must give them the chance to settle it between themselves without killing each other, mustn’t we, Deadeye?”
Deadeye grunted. “We’ll settle it one way or another, no fear of that.”
Trisfan knew that they’d have to wait far longer than all night to see Jackal again. But the only other person who knew that was a heap of ash in the burning village beyond the hill. Trisfan took another slug of cider and said nothing. There wasn’t enough cider, beer, and wine in the village to get him drunk or dull the pain in his side. But Trisfan wasn’t thinking of getting drunk. He was, quite uncharacteristically, thinking about his future. He had one now, with the binding amulet in an inner pocket. Looking around at the dimly seen faces, Pegleg, Sir Rici, Maddog, Deadeye, Pretty Prince, Redbeard, and Blade — Nog and Bog were unseen in the darkness and their black garb — he knew he didn’t want a future with these people. He never had. But he never had a choice. Now, with the Mad Master dead, he did.
But what was it? All he knew now was soldering, and killing. There were plenty of other companies that he might hire on with, but none likely better than the Mad Carnival Company, and plenty that were worse.
Ah, but there was one other way, and he was contemplating it. It involved coins, and lots of them. Gold coins in sufficient numbers can wash a plenitude of sins from one’s soul, or at least give the appearance of respectability. They had been hired by enough rich princes for him to know that. He knew there was a heavy iron box under a certain floorboard and the thin cot of the late Mad Master, and it was filled with gold and silver coins. Enough coins to wash enough of his sins away to start a new life – if he could come by it.
He looked around. They’d all taken off their masks, but their weathered, horror hardened faces and sin-filled eyes were still masks that gave nothing of their thoughts away in the ruddy light. Certainly he wasn’t the only one thinking of the gold coins of their late, little lamented boss. But would any of them dare to sleep in the Mad Master’s bunk to guard them before a new master had been officially decided on — by vote, or, more likely by combat?
To do so, without the approval of the company would risk a knife in one’s sleep. With the Mad Master gone, the next leader would be one by consensus, at least until he grew as cruel and mad as the former master of the carnival. But that approval wasn’t going to happen tonight, as only Trisfan knew, so the issue would likely remain unsettled, and the bunk in the caravan unoccupied while they waited, and drank. Would any of them attempt to steal it? He would, but it needn’t be tonight, Trisfan told himself, still… Trisfan took another sip of the sour cider and decided that yes, it would be tonight. Lady luck was smiling on him.
They all seemed drunk and asleep under their great coats – black lumps in the tall grass around the dying fire. Some were snoring. Others not. All were still. But perhaps some or all were waiting, like Trisfan, for the darkest hour to make their move. Or perhaps they were all sleeping. It had been an eventful day, and they’d consumed a village worth of spirits, as poor as it was, to be well drunk and asleep. Plus, most were stupid and lazy even when awake and sober, Trisfan told himself. He’d be asleep himself, save for the pain in his side, and perhaps a touch of fever as well.
He cautiously stirred to look around one final time. No one else moved. Grabbing his saber beside him, he slowly rolled into the tall grass, and then, after no one else moved, he carefully unsheathed his blade and crouching low, shuttled towards the dark shape of the caravan outline in the cold, cloudy moonlight. Nog and Bog would be asleep below the caravan, but they were the servants of killers – they knew enough to mind their simple tasks, which did not include guarding the Master’s treasure.
He reached the rear door, and eased it open. It squeaked much too loudly in the silence of the night, but that couldn’t be helped. Stepping up on the steps to enter the caravan, the wagon shifted and groaned softly and just as loudly to his ears as the squeak of the door. Even his heart was beating way too loudly, in the dark silence. But there was nothing to be done about either. He crawled into the pitch black interior, finding the cot by feeling alone. He swung it up, and bracing it with his shoulder, felt for the knothole in the floor board that could be lifted. Finding it, he lifted it, and slid it away from the opening. Nog and Bog were likely awake now below the caravan, but it didn’t matter, there was only one way to go now – forward. He placed his saber next to him, and reached in with both hands to lift the heavy iron bound chest out of its hiding place. Gold made it very heavy, but he’d carry it despite the pain in his side. Tucking it under his left arm he picked up his saber and its scabbard, and turned to crawl out.
“Thank you, Grinner. I’ll take that chest now,” said the low voice of the shadow shape in the caravan doorway.
To Be Continued…
C. Litka‘s SPFBO 9 entry is Beneath the Lanterns. Make sure to check it out!
For more To Be Continued… stories, check out this page!
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