Deep in the Forest of Awe, Archer Deft walked alone, seeking the Exalted Destiny his mother had predicted for him. He was traveling on a Right Way, of that he felt sure; Poofy Roses bordered the path, shooting out their plump, silky faces, pummeling him gently and leaving him aglow with grace powder.
Rounding a bend, Archer met a Snooty Bird, three crows big, in the middle of the path.
“Don’t you fear wolves?” Archer asked.
“Ridiculous. No Snooty Bird has ever been wolfed,” the Snooty said, an insufferable egotist like all his species, overly proud of their wings, which enabled them to soar high and view vast panoramas. But after quickly scanning the woods on all sides, the Snooty fluttered to a low maple branch.
“There’s a first time for everything,” Archer said.
“A cliché,” the Snooty said. “You wingless blankhead.”
“Does the Forest of Awe go on forever?”
“Of course. But you don’t. Neither do I, sadly.” A tear sagged from his round black eye. “Imagine a world without me — oh!”
“But I have a Destiny,” Archer said.
“Ha! That’s what everyone thinks. Your mother told you that, no doubt.”
“Ugh — mothers.” The Snooty shook himself with a great flap and ruffle, looking spiny and vulturous. “Can’t live without them, I suppose. But they exude silly love.”
Chortle Daily, Maximal Jeweler, read the sign on the log house situated beneath a broad and most unusual tree. Chortle himself stood on the porch as Archer approached.
“I’m Archer Deft, sir.” A blueberry muffin dropped from the tree onto Chortle’s roof and rolled into a locust-wood gutter already brimming with muffins. “And quite hungry.”
“Help yourself,” Chortle said. “Up that ladder there.”
“Thank you, Chortle,” Archer said. “Such a marvelous tree!”
“Only one in the Forest of Awe. Confectious singularia. So the Knowfolk call it.”
“Why classify what there’s only one of?”
“Never question the Knowfolk, son. Listen gravely and fart silently. Come now, see my work.”
Magnificent jewelry of every description hung throughout Chortle’s house. A hook holding turquoise and silver necklaces drew Archer’s attention.
“Unicorns ordered those,” Chortle said.
“I’ve never seen a unicorn.”
“And you never will. They’re shy beasts.” Chortle studied Archer closely. “Look at you — drenched in grace powder. Destiny written all over you. You must join our Revolution, under General Greathorn.”
“Dweeble, King of A Whole Lot.”
“Is that where I am?”
“Indeed. Feeble-minded Dweeble assigned the surveying of his kingdom to Clan Torpid. Night owls. Sleepyheads. Never accomplish anything. So Dweeble finally posted his proclamation: ‘I Hereby Declare Myself King of A Whole Lot.’”
“It sounds rather uncertain.”
“Isn’t everything, lad?”
“What’s Dweeble’s crime?”
“He’s grown old. Gone mad. Sleeps with a goat, now his queen’s dead. Lives on nought but goat cheese and wine. The King’s Cudgelers confiscated every goat in A Whole Lot for the royal pastures. He’s imprisoned his beautiful daughter, Princess Cornucopia, beloved by all, who opposes his madness. We want our goats back and a new king!”
“Count me in, Chortle. I fear no cudgeler.”
“Ah, but Dweeble’s hired the Trolls of Dementium to fight us.”
“Nasty, are they?”
“Unspeakable brutes! Teeth and claws like wolves. Hideous faces, squashed and furrowed by rage, lust, grief. Scaly, cold skin, slick with blood and tears. And no two the same. Reason wears one handsome face; madness takes a thousand shapes.”
Hearts afire, the peasant army marched forth, and bold ballads echoed through the Forest of Awe. Archer asked General Greathorn about the women marching at the rear.
“The Chosen Mothers,” Greathorn said. “They nurture and solace when you’re shivery with fear.”
“They exude precious love?”
“Precisely! And cry when a soldier dies.”
“But who hears them?”
“Precisely! How else could we go on fighting?” Greathorn rested his hand on Archer’s shoulder. “You’re surpassingly clever, lad, for one so young. Would you agree to be King of A Whole Lot? With a beautiful princess?”
“I would indeed, sir!”
“If we carry the day, so it shall be, Archer.”
A king! A princess! Archer’s brain roiled and churned. His Destiny, surely!
For one endless year battles raged through forest and glen, with broadswords and bows, axes, cudgels and spears. Cries of rage and agony haunted the sky, and many brave men grew shivery with fear, facing those Trolls, so savage and ghastly. Archer fought at the vanguard of every fray, swinging his ax, tireless and brave, but kindly Chortle died, stricken headless. On those acres of sorrow the very trees rained tears.
At last the courageous peasants prevailed. With his favorite goat, Dweeble ran from his castle, and the Trolls fled away toward Dementium. Archer and Greathorn burst into the castle to free Princess Cornucopia. But the dungeon sat empty, the door wide open.
“Where is our princess?” Archer cried.
A scream arose from the rear of the castle — Cornucopia, with two Trolls of Lust dragging her toward the forest. But before Archer and Greathorn could move a muscle to go to her rescue, a wondrous sight met their eyes: a herd of unicorns, charging forth from the trees, resplendent in necklaces of turquoise and silver. They butted and kicked the trolls, who released Cornucopia and ran for their lives. Then, as quickly as they’d appeared, the unicorns vanished.
Glistening with grace powder, Cornucopia lay beneath a Poofy Rose, where she’d fallen. She struggled to sit up, and Archer ran to her aid, while from the edge of the forest a Troll of Lust launched one parting arrow of madness. It wavered strange through the air but flew true to its target, and Archer fell dead, pierced through the neck.
The Chosen Mothers wailed as Greathorn knelt beside Archer and the peasant army gathered round. “Fearless and wise,” Greathorn said, touching Archer’s motionless breast. “Our would-have-been king.”
Cornucopia’s grace powder vanished on the wind, and every last man, those scarred by battle and those unmarked, wept for the aching wound they shared.
Douglas Campbell‘s fiction has appeared online and in print, in publications such as Literary Potpourri, Flash Me Magazine, Every Day Fiction, Slow Trains Literary Journal, and Jabberwocky. His flash fiction “Accidents” won the 2007 flash fiction contest held by Many Mountains Moving magazine, and his short story “Something Like That River” won the 2008 Dame Lisbet Throckmorton competition sponsored by Coffeehousefiction.com. Douglas lives in southwestern Pennsylvania.
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