This is an idea I was kicking around for a while, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it as a flash fiction piece or build it up into something more elaborate. In the end, I really liked the simplicity of it, so I just wrote it as I imagined. I’ve wanted to write more fantasy for a while, but my goofy Terry Pratchett infused childhood always takes over. This was an attempt to keep it (reasonably) serious. Let me know what you thought.
It had been many seasons since he last set foot inside The Jolly Toad. The inn lived up to its name in only one respect, its landlord was a bug-eyed old sod who, sadly, was anything but jolly. But an inn was an inn and after he returned from the longest of his travels in a long time, he was happy for a bed and a mug of beer. With or without the smile. The place could be a little rough, he felt his hand rest on his sword instinctively. He pushed open the heavy oak doors and was pleased to see it was almost empty. Business was slow since Winter set in, but as long as he kept the fires burning, there’d always be enough coin to keep the lamps lit.
It was a small place, smaller than he remembered, and the floors hadn’t been swept in a long time. The old man ran it himself, too cheap to pay for help. He caught the old man’s eye, who returned a curt nod and then waved towards a seat in the corner. He felt the ache in his legs set in as he made his way to the seat. It would be good to take the weight off. His bags dropped with a clank, he unclipped his sheathe and let the sword lay on the table. If anyone wanted to fight him for it, let him. This would be his last trip out beyond the Forest. With any luck, he need never draw a sword again. Once he pulled off his battered gloves, he could feel the warmth of the fire return to his fingers. The old man dropped a mug of beer on the table with a slop. He slipped a hand inside his bag and dropped a purse of coins on the table. The old man took it. He would worry about collecting the change in the morning.
As he rested his eyes, he became aware that someone was moving around him. Whoever it was dragged something. He opened his eyes groggily, he must have fallen asleep. In front of him was a boy, no more than seventeen. He must have come through the snow, but he wasn’t dressed for it. He looked like he’d come straight from the stabled. Only his hat, wide brimmed and falling under its own weight, looked touched by the weather. Behind him, he dragged a heavy wooden chest, braced with Iron. A sturdy lock over the latch. The boy reached out a hand and smiled.
“The innkeeper says you might be able to help me.” But the old man was nowhere to be seen. “You came from past the forest, right?”
“Aye,” he nodded. “But I won’t be going again.”
The boy shuffled into the seat opposite, keeping an eye on the old chest at all times.
“That’s a shame, Swordsman. I could make it worth your while.”
“I’m no swordsman. Just a trader.”
“Come, come!” Said the boy. “A trader beyond the forest is like a Knight in the capital.” He fished out a coin purse of his own and dropped it on the table, beaming. “I’m willing to pay handsomely for a guide, and an adventure!”
The boy’s eyes lit up, but he’d seen it all before. Thrill seekers from the city, he’d be dead within a week. He tried to change the subject.
“What’s in the chest?”
“Caught your eye did it?” The boy looked afraid for a moment, then grinned. “Spells! From the Old College.”
He laughed. “The college is a myth.”
“Oh it is,” the boy ran a hand along the chest. It seemed to make a noise, like music. “But I’ve been there all the same.”
“Sorry kid,” it was time to end it. “Not interested.”
The boy was crestfallen. “Fine then.” He bit his lip and lifted his chest like a child cradling an anvil. He turned, but lost his footing almost immediately, stumbling towards the fireplace. He grabbed the boy just before the flames touched him, but the chest landed right in the middle.
“No!” The boy screamed, but it was too late. A noise filled the air, like voices. Whispers filled the adventurer’s ears and the boy ducked and hid under the table.
The boy scuttled away to the other side of the bar, leaving his would-be guide alone, staring into the flames. As they consumed the chest, the noises grew louder. Colours exploded from the fire, but he did not duck or flinch. He reached for his sword, but he was glued to the spot as the contents of the chest were burned. He definitely heard music now, a half forgotten melody from his childhood, but he didn’t just hear it. He could feel it, swirling around the tips of his fingers like a dream. And then a nightmare. Visions of monsters, of every fear escaping from the flames, while the walls around him seemed to melt away. Then everything went black.
He opened his eyes. Something was not right, he looked around, but there was nothing but snow. The inn was gone, and wherever it was, it left nothing of itself but the fireplace. Standing perfectly, every brick with the mortar between, stood alone in the snow. A fire burned in it, but he could feel no warmth. Without thinking, he reached for his sword, but he hands felt wrong. He looked down and saw not feet, but the hooves of a horse. He tried to speak, but the words caught in his throat and a mewling whinny was all that emerged.
A voice whispered just behind his ear. “Now, now.” He felt a hand down the back of his neck, and then a weight. Something was on his back. The voice whispered in his ear again. “It looks like we’ll be going on that adventure after all.” He felt the boy’s feet kick at his side, and he started running towards the forest.