The Duke and the Thief

I’m doing a blog challenge put on by Amanda McCormick. She gave this prompt: a stolen ring, fear of spiders, and a sinister stranger. I’m writing a fantasy novel, and I thought this blog challenge was the perfect opportunity for me to write a short story from the universe in which my upcoming novel takes place. I offer it to you here, for free. Sort of to give a taste of the kind of writer I am when I’m not cramming ideas into a hundred words.

Enjoy!

 

Molly

 

All she could determine about the shrouded figure in the corner was that he was a man. She considered her options. The ring she’d pilfered from her lady’s coffer was in a pouch tied to her garter—the garter she’d taken off so she could sleep comfortably.

Stupid. On the run from the duke’s guards and she thought of comfort? She shouldn’t have dreamed of being comfortable until she was over the border into Amerilis. What kind of thief was she anyway, to have fled only two town over before stopping to rest?

A piss-poor excuse of a thief, even if she’d only even taken the job out of desperation.

The ring, rumored to be magic and protective against liches, was the only target of her caper. First, she’d been instructed to take a job working for Duke sil Varstra’s daughter, his heir. The sil Varstra child had the ring, although to Molly’s reckoning she’d had no idea of its power. She’d be off to university soon, and Molly hadn’t had time to grow attached.

She was an odd child anyway. Fourteen and colder than ice, and she always peered at you so strangely, glancing above your head before she’d answer any questions.  It gave Molly chills just thinking about it.

So she’d taken the ring. She made it two villages over, with barely ten miles to the border of Amerilis, and she’d stopped. She’d stopped! What kind of fool was she to think she could steal from sil Varstra and get away with it? An uneducated girl like Molly could have married a farmer boy and lived life in blissful peace, but no.

No, for the sake of her piece of shit brother, she’d taken this gamble. Her once-in-a-lifetime gamble to square all his misbegotten bets. And based on the way the stranger in the corner was watching her as she pretended to be asleep, she’d lost.

The man wanted the ring. Molly was sure of it. If it came down to it, if she could just get to the window across from the ring, she could throw herself out of it. She’d break a bone or two on the way down, but she’d come away with her life. More than she could say if the man had his way.

Dressed in only a pale pink shift, Molly quietly took a deep breath and rolled out of bed, landing on her feet in a crouch on the left side of the poorly stuffed mattress. She lunged headfirst toward the window open to the summer night.

The wind was knocked out of her as someone grabbed her shift from behind, pulling the collar tight against her throat. She reached for the window in desperation, her eyes watering.

Now she’d face her doom.

Instead of a knife to the throat, the hooded stranger tossed her back onto the bed. “Where is it?” a smooth, deep voice asked.

This wasn’t Molly’s fight. She knew not why the yellow priest from Amerilis wanted the ring, and she wasn’t about to die for his chance to have it. She gestured to the foot of the bed. “On the floor there. In a pouch. You can’t miss it.”

The man moved so smoothly he seemed to shimmer as he took two long steps to the foot of the bed and bent down. He held up her garter with one black-gloved finger. She blushed. “Just take it,” she said urgently. “I’d rather not die for it. I won’t say anything, I swear.”

The man deftly untied the pouch from the garter and pulled out the ring. Content that it was the same ring as the one she’d stolen, he looked back at her. He watched her for a long moment, as if he were deciding whether or not to kill her.

“Please,” Molly begged. Her fists tightened, clenching the threadbare quilt covering the mattress.

The man reached one hand up and pulled his hood off his head, exposing a familiar face above a glowing pendant shaped like a tarantula.

Molly’s jaw dropped and she frantically scooted back on the bed against the headboard.

“Why did you take it?” Duke sil Varstra asked. His salt-and-pepper hair gleamed in the moonlight.

“Someone paid me to do it. They said they’d get my brother out of jail and pay his debts. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and I don’t want to die. I just wanted to give my brother a chance to see his family again, though I curse him for his sins,” Molly said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

The duke would kill her now that she’d seen him. There was no doubt about it.

“Is your brother so good to you, that you would risk your life for his?” the duke asked, having dropped the garter and was tying the pouch to his own belt.

“It doesn’t matter. His family needs to eat and without him, they’ll starve,” Molly weeped. “Please, I can find another way, but they’ll die if I can’t find a way to feed them, either by getting him out or by sending them my wages.”

“You’ll never get any wages from my House,” sil Varstra said plainly. Molly’s face fell. A thousand crowns for two months work—gone.

The duke turned squarely to face her, taking one step toward the bed. Molly flinched.

“Who was it who hired you?” he asked. Molly couldn’t find a reason to lie.

“Some priest in yellow and blue robes. He was Amerilian. He didn’t offer his name,” she spat desperately.

Duke sil Varstra nodded and untied a pouch from the other side of his belt, opposite to where he’d tied the ring. He tossed it onto the bed, where it clinked. It was practically overflowing with crowns. “Feed your brother’s family. Find work. Don’t step foot in my duchy again,” he said, his baritone voice dripping with disdain.

With that, he left.

Molly let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding and began to weep anew. She’d escaped with her life, but at what cost? She didn’t know, but she wasn’t about to find out. She dressed quickly, tying the new pouch to her garter.

She had a second chance. She wouldn’t waste it.

 

©2018 Heather Stephens

Rain

The prompt was rain, and it made me miss Washington yet again. I miss it so much. While it’s nice to be able to have access to a sandy beach with actually warm ocean water, I’d much rather reserve California as a place to visit. Not a place to live. Not for someone like me, with a soul like mine, that craves the rain. That craves the shadows under dark clouds.

Someone who hides from the sun.

It overwhelms me. I despise it here. And I just don’t understand how I could ever be happy here.

I’m dying a little with every sunny day.

 

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My mother told me it would be cloudy today. It is. The sky is dark, and it rumbles deeply, shaking my bones.

It’s a comfort.

The clouds opened up five minutes ago, and already the parched earth is coming back to life.

So am I.

I’ve always had an affinity for water, and when it falls from the sky, it cleanses my soul as much as it does the air and the earth.

This time, the rumbling makes the whiskey in my glass shiver like Jurassic Park.

The storm grows closer. I grow more comfortable.

Evolving with the ever-changing storm.

©2018 Heather Stephens

I am a Writer.

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I think it always sounds so pretentious when people call themselves a writer. I don’t know why, but whenever I do it, I feel like a fraud. Yes, I write 100-word stories semi-regularly. Yes, for several years I made my living content writing on a freelance basis. But I know in my heart that what I really mean by “I am a writer” is I am a novelist.

I have not yet completed a novel, so I don’t think I really am one.

But I want to be one, and They™ always say “Fake it ’til you make it.”

So that’s what I do. I write because life is too hard for me, and I want to create worlds in which good wins. I write because I have regrets and I want to create characters that find redemption, even when I, myself, don’t know if I’ll ever find my own. I write to be heard. Doesn’t everybody just want to be heard?

I’m taking part of a blog challenge run by Amanda McCormick. I have trouble keeping up with this blog (in so small part because I want to update it and expand it but I can’t afford someone to design a good website for me. Even if I purchase a premium theme I’d need help actually using it and I can’t afford to pay someone to do it) and I think it would help me connect more with readers and, honestly, myself if I updated my blog more often.

Don’t worry. Everything I post here will be relevant to writing or reading or me. It won’t be a spam dump just to attract views. I promise. PINKY promise.

Stay tuned!

 

Bubble

This one is autobiographical.

I despise where I live. I want to move back to Washington, where communities have grown more organically, not as much of a bubble as where I live now.

I don’t belong here.

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Traffic at one o’clock?

Undoubtedly. The schools get out at 12:58 PM on Wednesdays. Everyone is picking up their children.

There are three elementary schools within a mile of my house.

I gave directions to the sweet lady at the grocery store. Which way to the Marriott? Oh, just take Street 1 to Street 4 and turn right. The road will bend, and you’ll see it on the right.

Yes, ma’am. Very efficient.

Yes, ma’am. My husband’s commute is only fifteen minutes. Everybody in this town also works here. No reason to look elsewhere.

Master-planned lives in a master-planned community.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Windows Update lost my files.

 

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Over the years I’ve heard all sides of the Mac vs. PC debate. I’ve never been a fan of Macs, being raised on PC at both home and school. I’m 30 years old, and I’ve been loyal to PC the entire time. Microsoft has never screwed me over, to be honest, and in fact, I’m even a fan of Windows 10.

Until.

A recent Windows update over the past week gave me a fright when I couldn’t find my folder of documents for my collection of flash fiction that I’ve been working on for a year. I know, I know. I can hear you screaming at me to back up my work. I will from now on.

The update made it harder for me to find documents saved solely on my PC, only giving me quick access to my OneDrive documents.

“But Heather,” you ask, “If you can save to OneDrive, why wasn’t that folder saved there too?”

Good question.

And the only answer I have to that is I suffer from extreme laziness. A byproduct of disability. When you spend so long not even being able to do anything, you grow accustomed to it. So while I am physically incapable of doing things like workout for an hour or go to work consistently, I also have developed a preference for the quick-and-easy solutions to all of my problems. It’s a learned mindset, and one I do not want to teach my children.

But the good news is I found the folder and I’m back at work on my Little Book of Flash, as well as my horror short stories. While I intend to finish the two novels that I’ve started, I think at this point of time in my life, big projects that are easily broken up into smaller pieces are the way to go. Each 100-word story I finish will boost my motivation to write more, which will lead to the bigger victory of finishing the book. Every horror short story I post and narrate will do the same.

I feel good about this. My body may not want to cooperate most of the time, and my mind is even less generous, but at least I have goals.

Maybe someday I’ll reach them.

Spring

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I have posted. Executive function is something I lack immensely, and I haven’t been motivated to write. When I have been motivated, I’ve worked on my novel. It’s shite, but I’m writing it anyway. I’ll post more often. It only takes a few moments out of my day to write a 100-word story, so I can. I will.

The prompt was springpexels-photo-156203.

The stirrings of the season made themselves known in the beat of her heart. Crocuses pushed through the earth, birthed like other forms of carbon-based life, yet different in subtle ways.

Yet like the green things that blanket the planet,  she too draws sustenance from the strengthening sun. The light is not a meal for her, but it gives her energy of another kind.

Deep within her heart, a seed of magic is beginning to grow. Now is the time for forging her own world into existence, leaving the shadows for later. Their time will come.

But for now, life.

© 2018 Heather Stephens

Past

The prompt was Past.

This one is autobiographical.

 

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It weighed upon her like so many rocks, stifling her breath, taking away her ability to think straight.

It wasn’t painful. It was more like breathing in toxic air every time she inhaled.

She inhaled more anxieties. She inhaled more poisonous memories.

Without an acute sense of identity, she was lost. Fallen to the ravages of time not well-spent.

What did she have to show for it? Not much.

A home of strife, burnt to the ground. It was never perfect, but it had been hers.

Her life was like that. She’d never build a better one on broken foundations.

© 2017 Heather Stephens

Lost

The prompt was Lost. I could have gone a million different ways with this, but I chose this way. I hope it’s coherent and my point comes across clearly. If you’ve read my other posts, my 100-word stories are always a little bit abstract, but I wasn’t sure if this was too abstract. My husband says it’s coherent, and that’s good enough for me. Here you go!

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Basically, she couldn’t find it.

She’d looked for it everywhere. Everywhere. She’d looked for it in Greece. She’d looked for it in France. She’d looked for it at every job she’d held in the past two years, and she’d had too many of those.

Giving up was not an option, so she kept looking. Desperately, fiercely, painstakingly searching for it everywhere she went. In flower shops and cafes, in bookstores and shopping malls.

It wasn’t until much later that she realized she’d been picking up pieces of it all along.

It was up to herself to put it back together.

© 2017 Heather Stephens

Diary

The prompt was Diary.

This is my favorite thing I’ve written. It is very dear to me.

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She didn’t weep as she wrote her miseries onto the paper. Her tragedies were her own, internal, and she had no desire to give them up. Speaking them out loud would set them free, and that would end her.

She held on to those miseries as if they were lifelines. Her regrets were strength. If she could build up a kingdom for a life on top of the ashes of her dreams, she would truly have won.

She didn’t feel like she was winning.

And as she scribbled down her melancholy, she swam in the warm comfort of her struggles.

 

© 2017 Heather Stephens

 

Water

The prompt was “Water”.

Water is always blissful for me. I love being near it. Whether I’m at the beach, looking out on the Pacific Ocean with a thousand other people or I’m walking along a river or I’m gazing at a lake, I find peace always.

Water calms me. If I’m feeling capricious or my mental illnesses are too much to bear, I know I can at least find some semblance of focus.

I love being near water.

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The lake always gave her tranquility.

And it was a gift. Tranquility was something she did not usually possess. Yet as she sat on the shore, a blessed calm passed over her, blanketing her in warm silence.

Her mind, too, was quiet.

So she relished this, away from the pressures of a life gone horribly wrong. A life that could have gone a thousand ways, but had chosen a harsher course.

Still, she had the lake, and all that it gave to her. Strength could be found in its peaceful waters.

Heeding the wisdom of the still water, she survived.

© 2017 Heather Stephens