Why Grandma, What A Big Mace You Have – Flash Fiction Piece
Friday again, and time for another Chuck Wendig Flash-Fiction challenge. This week we visited a fantasy character generator and selected one of the five sentences generated to base a story on. I decided to be contrary and incorporated elements of all five into a single 996-word story.
And as for the story, I give you:
Why Grandma, What A Big Mace You Have
The heat was intense. I could feel my skin blistering, the fire building inside my plate-mail armour. Though I couldn’t see my hair, I knew from the acrid smell filtering down through my helm that it wasn’t faring any better than my skin.
“We’ll halt here for five minutes, take a breather and have a drink.”
I stopped walking immediately, casting my silent mental thanks at the old lady who led us. Her cheeks were a mixture of red from the heat and black from crawling through narrow tunnels, her curly dark grey hair was frazzled and dry, and her blue eyes—a milky cataract film covering them—were beginning to water. But there was still a spring in her step which I admired; she alone seemed unphased by the toil of this quest.
With unspoken relief I removed my heavy steel helm, relishing the freshness of the hot air. Grandma—for that was the only name she had furnished us with—grinned at me. She put down the heavy mace she carried easily over one shoulder, resting it against the tunnel wall, and rapped on my chest-plate with her gnarled, arthritic knuckles.
“Bet you wish you hadn’t brought that along with you, eh, tin-man? You look like a baked potato… almost as wrinkled as me!” She cackled at her own joke.
I didn’t dignify that with a response, because she was right. This was my first adventure, and I knew, just as everybody knew, that a knight who goes on a quest to fight a dragon has to go wearing full armour and riding a gleaming white horse.
My gleaming white horse had died of colic two days into our journey, and inside the confines of the dragon’s lair, heated by its deep, heavy breaths, my armour was acting as a sort of mobile aga. In fact, I probably would have been more comfortable in an aga; none of the stories about knights and dragons ever mentioned the fact that plate-mail weighed about a hundred and eighty pounds and it chafed something dreadful.
I took out my canteen and took a few sips of warm water which tasted suspiciously of sulphur. And as I drank, I glanced around at my companions, all of us hired by Grandma to help her complete her quest. Nyla, despite being a thief, was surprisingly honest about her motives. She wasn’t here for dragon-treasure or glory; this was merely a waypoint on her true quest to find the Labyrinth of Insanity. It was the ultimate proving ground for a person looking to take the title of Master Thief, which was currently held by a man named Moffat. He’d gone into the labyrinth thirty years earlier and come out gibbering about flying squirrels. He hadn’t been right in the head ever since, but Nyla was more confident about her own chances.
The situation between Uther, the burly, loin-cloth wearing barbarian from the Black-foot clan, and Brevik, his young warrior-in-training, was a little more complex. They were both here to prove themselves to their desired mate. What they didn’t realise was that they both wanted the same woman – Rilva, chieftan-daughter of the Red-fox tribe. I foresaw violence in both men’s future, when they found out. Hopefully that wouldn’t be until we were on our way home.
Last was Kiran’Timal’Plox, a brilliant sorcerer from the faraway land of Minn. Spirits from the demon-realm walked in his footprints, hounding him constantly, trying to lure him over to ‘their side.’ It was only through sheer force of will and strength of character that he was able to keep them from touching him and claiming his soul.
We’d had another companion, early in our quest. William had been a plain and simple wood-cutter, and was Grandma’s unofficial protector. He’d died three days ago, sacrificing himself to the hungry mountain-giants so the rest of us could escape into the dragon’s lair.
I heard footsteps approach, and looked up to see Nyla standing in front of Grandma, a determined expression on her delicate face.
“I need to know,” she said firmly. “Why?”
I felt the whole group hold its breath. One of the terms of our employment with Grandma was that we didn’t ask why she was so determined to undertake this insane quest. In fact, it was the prime rule. And Nyla had just broken it.
Grandma merely looked at Nyla in silence for a moment. And when the moment began to stretch out, Nyla shifted uncomfortably, her dark eyes glancing from side to side as she checked her escape routes. Unfortunately for her, there were none.
“Do you know how I got this?” Grandma asked softly, gesturing to her wolf-hide jerkin. Nyla shook her head. “I had a granddaughter, once. Red was her name. And the fool girl led a wolf to my house.” She patted the mace as it leant against the cave wall. “Luckily, I was prepared. You don’t raise six daughters and two sons without knowing how to take care of yourself and your family. But from that moment, I got the bug.”
“The bug?” Uther asked, deference in his voice. He’d seen Grandma use her mace to split ork-skulls barely a week hence.
“The hunting bug!” she old woman said. “Wolves, mountain lions, forest-eagles… even slew myself a manticore, six months ago. But I’m not as young as I used to be. I have a sickness which is slowly killing me, and I know my time grows short. This is to be my last hunt. A dragon-head will look nice mounted on my cottage wall, pride of place above the mantle, and the treasure-hoard will see my family right for generations.”
She picked up her mace, hefting it over her shoulder, and rapped on my armour again.
“Come on, tin-man.” Her nick-name for me, but she meant it fondly; since William’s sacrifice, she’d nominated me her new protector. “We’ve got a dragon to meet.”
Really enjoyed that!
I’m like you–when life gets hectic, flash-fiction is a wonderful way to keep writing without it being another overwhelming thing. And Chuck’s challenges give me an excuse to mess with different genres and styles.
Thanks! And yes, I totally agree about Chuck’s challenges. I find myself writing things I never would have even considered before. And who can say ‘no’ to a challenge?? 🙂
Great tale. There’s definitely a Pratchetesque vibe running through this.
Loved the way you weaved in all 5 characters. Kinda wished I’d done that now.
Thank you! I was trying to give Grandma a bit of a Granny Weatherwax personality, I’m glad you picked up on that vibe.
I think my favorite character is the Grandma. She reminds of an old lady I used to live next door to.
Thanks, I like Grandma too. She just wrote herself… if that makes any sense.
Since you used all five I gave myself permission to use two—and you did so much with your five! I love how perfect your humor is. It can sometimes be difficulty for humor to translate in writing—at least in my experience—but you seemed to have no trouble! There’s so much about these characters that begs to be revealed and you gave just enough while leaving me wanting to know still more. Great piece.
Thanks! Glad you liked it. Must admit, I’ve been so hectic IRL this weekend that I haven’t had chance to see what many other people are coming up with, but I’m looking forward to having a good read of everyone’s stories over the next few days.
Lucky for me—or unlucky for me—work looks to be pretty slow this week, I’ve read the ones posted so far but I’m looking forward to the next batch as well.
Is the “aga” here supposed to be a reference to the AGA cooker? It’s the only thing that’s really making sense to me.
Indeed. Sorry if that wasn’t clear from the text.
Well, it was mostly unclear because the AGA feels like it’s an invention out of time for these plate-wearing pseudo-medieval characters on a quest to kill a dragon. That particular oven wasn’t around prior to like… what, 1930 or 1920?
I enjoyed the varied cast of characters, but I think trying to cram them all into a 1,000 word writing prompt makes them all suffer. Instead of truly learning anything about any of them, we get a lot of narrative exposition about their backstories, because there’s just no room for them to do anything or have actual conversations that last more than a line or two.
Thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate the depth you’ve gone into.
My previous flash-fics have involved one or two characters at most, and been rather detailed with regards to those characters. For this particular fic I wanted something a little different and more light-hearted. The characters I ‘rolled’ on the generator seemed very stereotypical, so I put a tongue-in-cheek spin on the typical dungeon-crawling adventure party and took a cheeky poke at genre fantasy with a fairytale twist. Obviously this sort of humour is more suited to a niche audience, so if that isn’t your thing, I completely understand.
As it stands, I really enjoyed writing this story, and holding myself back from going into *too much* detail, as I have a habit of doing. Tis all a learning curve, and I felt that I really learnt something from it.
Perhaps the aga is a bit of an anachronism, but it’s what popped into my head when I thought ‘tin-man’; just the shape and style of it was reminiscent of the mental image I wanted to evoke. I’m sorry this hasn’t worked for you. And again, I really appreciate your constructive feedback.
Hey, no need to apologize. Everybody’s mind works differently, so what works for you may not for me, and what works for me may not for you. People and their layers, I tell ya…
And as I said, the aga just seems a bit out of time as far as “technology” would go. But who knows what kinds of strange advances would be made in a world where dragons exist, and presumably, some kind of magic?
I can see what you’re saying about the aga, and if I could have found something that conjured the heavy, blocky, cumbersome mental image more suitably I definitely would have used it. Next time I’ll try to consider whether throwing in an anachronism for the sake of image evocation is worth it, so thanks 😉
(and to answer your question, yes there is magic, but more akin to the ‘Granny Weatherwax headology’ style of magic, which is about 45% common-sense, 45% psychology, and 10% actual magic)
Quite fun, Spaceman! Great work again this week.
Thanks, I’m glad you liked the ‘fun’ element of it; it’s what I was going for. 🙂
I’m jealous. I just finished last week’s yesterday. Nice tale you have here.
Thank you! My secret is writing during my lunch hour. I can just about squeeze in a ~1000 word story, editing and uploading during an hour, but sometimes I feel a bit rushed.