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THE DESTINY OF ARCHER DEFT • by Douglas Campbell

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.”

“She did.”

“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.”

“Against whom?”

“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?”

“Guess.”

“No one.”

“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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THE DESTINY OF ARCHER DEFT • by Douglas Campbell, 3.4 out of 5 based on 72 ratings
Posted on February 16, 2010 in Fantasy, Stories
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  • http://www.paulfreeman.weebly.com Paul A. Freeman

    This had me completely flummoxed!

    Mind you, some classic advice in ‘Listen gravely and fart silently’.

  • tigerlily

    Surreal and silly. 2 stars.

  • http://rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com Rumjhum Biswas

    Enjoyable mostly, except at the end. I’ll probably be laughed at for writing this, but I did find shades of Rushdie here. I think this could grow into a longer interesting work, the ending of course would have to be worked out.

  • Bob

    Enjoyed this immensely. Well-told, perfect pitch throughout, nicely imagined.

    And then . . . the fizzle. The conclusion from another story tacked on, a graceless exit.

    As it is, a three. With a conclusion worthy of the rest of the story, it would have been an easy 5.

  • hank hill

    wow and wow again

  • http://www.rustlingreed.com/blog Jeff

    I thought the ending perfect for the shortness of the piece. I do hope you’re working this into something longer. It’s a wonderful world you’ve created.

  • Linda G

    Perhaps I haven’t read enough fairy tales and other imaginary stories to know that the ending wasn’t unique. And even if I had, I don’t think I’d care. I loved the story–I felt like a girl being read a bedtime story. The language had a rhythm that flowed like a song, there was enough magic to believe in, and the trolls weren’t too scary. The ending was sad and not what I expected, but…

    I know if I put my grown-up hat back on, I could interpret all the names, places, and events into real-life parallels but I don’t really want to right now. It was just nice to escape into a well-written fantasy this morning with coffee. Five Poofy Roses from me.

  • C.M. Mar

    Nothing but applause from me. Five stars. Fairy tales are not my usual feast, but I know good writing when I read it. Love the bits of humor and symbolism. Snooty Bird was my favorite character.

  • http://wwebb3@comcast.net Bill Webb

    Sorry but I didn’t even finish reading it. 1 star

  • Bob

    Linda, I should clarify my remarks. I wasn’t implying that the conclusion was literally taken from another story. My point, inartfully expressed, was that the the conclusion was at odds with the tone and tenor of the rest of the story.

  • J.C. Towler

    Absolutely brilliant. A five star effort. I’m with Linda (6), particularly on the rhythmic language. It felt like the writer managed to cram a 5000 word story into a 1000 word box. For its originality and prose, this is going to be one of my top ten EDF stories for a long time.

    –John

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    So boring I could hardly bring myself to read it through.

  • http://teenangel.netfirms.com Jim Hartley

    Too much! Too much! This read like a horribly over-written parody of an Oz book. The language just got out of hand in places (a LOT of places!)..

    Best I can give this is two Poofy Roses.

  • Brian Dolton

    Interesting how this one is splitting people.

    I agree that the ending didn’t quite have the punch the story warranted, bu the journey up to that point is so wonderful – a heady mix of fairy tale, Carroll (mostly Lewis but almost a hint of Jonathan), subtle satire and flat-out joie-de-vivre that I gave this five stars anyway. One of the best stories I’ve read here in months.

  • http://mickeymills.wordpress.com Mickey

    I have to say my feet are firmly planted in the middle on this one. Originality and prose gets high marks. Execution and story are fairly average. My guess is Fairy Tales are inherently difficult to write anyway, so I applaud the writer for even setting out on the path.

    Snooty Bird ate the fifth Poofy Rose.

  • laura

    loved the sarcasm.

  • http://tyreanswritingspot.blogspot.com/ Tyrean

    I liked it, but I wanted more . . . of something. Maybe seeing Archer Deft follow that gread advice “listen gravely and fart silently” would have helped, or having the Snooty bird actually give his life to save Arthur’s. I would have like to see either a character change, or get their comeuppance.

  • Margie

    Snooty Bird was my favorite character, and “listen gravely and fart silently my favorte line.”

    The rest was horribly boring! 2 stars for the two things that I liked about the story.

  • http://www.deborahblood.com Debi Blood

    Snooty Bird deserves a story – or perhaps even a novel – of his own. What a great character!

  • http://everydayprose vondrakker

    Nicely written…..BUT
    Fairy tales have happy endings
    DONT’ THEY????
    4 ****

  • Mary B.

    I have no idea why I loved this one. It isn’t my cup of tea at all, but I just loved it.

    Listen gravely and fart silently. Sage advice for us all to live by.

    Five Poofy Roses!

  • http://wordsinplace.blogspot.com/ gay degani

    I love the tone and feel of this whole piece.

    Favorite lines : leaving him aglow with grace powder.
    Three cows big! (gorgeous image!!!)“Dweeble, King of A Whole Lot.”

    Sly humor and whimsy on a Carrolinian level (spelling intentional). 5 from me.

  • http://www.michelleklein.com Shelle

    This story was a lot of fun to read. It reminded me of Oz, Wonderland, and an odd little book by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro called ‘A Baroque Fable’. I like the tongue-in-cheekness. I almost saved it to read to my son, but you killed Archer in the end, and I can’t read the boy the sad tale of his own demise.

    Sincerely,
    Archer’s Mom

  • Christopher Floyd

    I hate commenting negatively.
    I couldn’t get past the first paragraph. It didn’t grab me. It actually turned me off. I couldn’t finish it.

  • E. Creith

    Loved the silliness – kinda reminded me a bit of Monty Python. Fairy tale-type stories are difficult to write. They don’t all have happy endings, either (The Little Mermaid, for example, the Steadfast Tin Solider for another). Poofy Roses! Snooty Bird! Ha!

  • Kathleen

    This is a wonderfully written story.

    I especially loved these lines: “Reason wears one handsome face; madness takes a thousand shapes,” and “On those acres of sorrow the very trees rained tears.”

    Well done. A fine job indeed!

  • Len Joy

    Nice work, Doug. And the comments were interesting, too.

  • Lucinda K

    Ah ha! An allegory! We nimbly fly[archer] towards fate, wanting to be sated by love [Cornucopia] and boom, don’t get it! On the way we encounter Snooty Bird, the cynic, that warns us [universal Archer] that we are deluded by mother love – Ha! This reminded me of Through the Looking Glass; the playful language bounces offs the page. The darker undertone balances the fun with a rather, profound message. High Five Stars Clapping. And SB[Snooty] is a character that deserves a whole story of his own[Reminded me of David Foster Wallace’s referring to language nerds as Snoots!]

  • C. Litz

    * * * * *

    A true literary tale about mothers and their sons.

    “They exude precious love?”

    “Precisely! And cry when a soldier dies.”

    “But who hears them?”

    “Guess.”

    “No one.”

    “Precisely! How else could we go on fighting?”

  • Sherri

    You have such a lovely and endearing way with words that makes this story such a charming and entertaining tale. Memorable characters and lots of fun. Well done.

  • Dawn Allison

    I’m so glad I didn’t miss this story, it brightened a miserable stinking day. Thank you. I am going to try out “snooty bird” and “troll of lust” on my significant other soon, great for insults AND compliments! Gotta love killing two snooty birds with one stone.

  • Jeanne Holtzman

    Archetypal journey, charming language, wonderful characters and several insightful references to mother love! Five big stars!

  • Rob

    I’m glad so many *other* people loved this story. I hate to be the downer, but I waited for it to do something or go somewhere that caught my interet, but it just didn’t. Sorry. (Only personal opinion)

  • http://zabe.net Zabe

    The beginning of the story was a bit hard to get into, but I’m glad I made it through. The humor in places actually made me laugh out loud (the ever so popular “Listen gravely and fart silently.” and “Dweeble, King of A Whole Lot”), while in others I felt it was a little forced (the exchange with Snooty Bird, though it’s a great name for a character!).

    Though you did put asterisks between sections, they felt a little too disjointed. Maybe a bit more transitioning between the first and second section as well as the second and third section. I felt the transition between three and four was perfect.

    And I commend your ending. That’s what made the whole story worth reading. It was that little UMPH at the end that makes one think, “Oh, didn’t see that one coming!”

    Someone said the ending wasn’t original and didn’t fit with the rest of the story. Regarding originality – nothing is TRULY original these days. As for not fitting the rest of the story, somehow, I think that was the point.

    5 stars.

  • Pingback: A couple stories I would have been sorry to miss. « Hanging Laundry in the Rain

  • http://whizbyfiction.blogspot.com David Erlewine

    Nice work, Doug. Enjoyed it.

  • Pingback: Podcast EDF025: The destiny of Archer Deft • written by Douglas Campbell • read by John Towler | Every Day Fiction - The once a day flash fiction magazine.

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