Friday, June 24, 2011

#FridayFlash: The Seventh Sage

An embarrassment of riches: I came up with three stories over the week, and still have a fourth in my head. But I’ll gladly take the hassle of having to choose which of several to post, rather than scrambling to get something — or worse, admitting defeat and skipping a week.



The Seventh Sage

Dobo grunted and cursed as he scaled the final barrier. “All your riddles… your puzzles… have not stopped me!” he panted. Looking up, he could see the keep once more.

At last! He threw himself up and over the edge of the precipice, onto a narrow path leading upward. He drew his sword, but sat himself in the shelter provided by two boulders. The gods provide, he thought: he could catch his breath and watch both ways along the path without being seen himself. Before him, the Snagtooth Mountains pierced the sky, disappearing into mist, uncounted miles away.

Dobo drank his last two swallows of wine, then clambered to his feet. Sword in hand, he marched up the rocky path. “Four years I have spent on this quest,” he muttered. “Four years. And soon I will fulfill the oath I have sworn —”

Standing before him in the path was a man much like Dobo himself, perhaps a little older. He was armed with a sword, but it was sheathed and he stood with arms folded. Behind him, an open portal.

“Stand aside or die!” Dobo shouted, raising his sword. “I am Dobo of the Northern Reach, and I will not be denied my destiny!”

“You seek the Great Treasure of the Ancients?” the man asked. “Of course you do. I am not here to oppose you, but to lead and guide you. I was once called Marsten of Gran Isle, and I will answer to that name. I remember the Northern Reach well, a land of honest and sturdy people. Come with me.” He turned and walked through the portal.

His innards shouted Trick! Trap! but Dobo was driven by his oath. He scowled and followed, watching everything. No boiling oil fell upon him as he approached the portal. No arrows hissed from hidden openings inside. No pits opened beneath his feet. Still the passageway continued, Marsten leading at an unhurried pace.

The narrow hall ended in a great room, well lit by means Dobo could not see. Armoires stood along the walls, seven in all; two stood open and empty. Hallways led left, right, and straight on. His — guide? host? walked to one of the open armoires and removed his sword belt and mail shirt. “That one is yours,” said Marsten, nodding to the other open armoire.

“I will remain armed, thank you.”

Marsten shrugged. “It is your choice.” He walked to the center of the room, where awaited two divans, facing each other across a low table. A bottle and platter graced the table. “Meat and drink? I suspect you have not had much of either this day. Or are you impatient to claim that which you have striven so long to find?”

Dobo nearly drooled at the sight of meat, but held firm. “We seven swore an oath that only death would stop us from beholding the Great Treasure! Snares and treachery have claimed the others, and only I remain. I may not leave this keep alive, but I will behold the end of our quest — then will I eat. And whatever trap you have set for me? I will face it.”

“There are no traps here.” Marsten pointed to the door opposite. “Through there. Then return and dine.”

Dobo growled, but crossed the room. Again, no traps or snares impeded him. No lightning flashed as he touched the door. He pushed and entered —

A vast library, with more books than Dobo thought existed. As in the great room, the lighting was hidden, and seemed to come from everywhere.

“This… this is the Great Treasure?” he asked the room. Then he considered: books were rare and valuable things, and books of the Ancients would be much more so. He could only carry away what would fit in his pack, but that would be enough to purchase a life of comfort. The Seven Sages and their guard could object, but would not stop him —

He turned at a sound. A group of men and women, including Marsten, stood watching him from just inside the door.

“Then you must be the Seven Sages,” he said, and they nodded as one. “But I count only six. Where is the seventh?” He looked around quickly lest their comrade lie in ambush.

“He lays dying,” said one of the Sages.

“He stands before us,” said another.

Dobo sighed. “Is there no end to riddles? Give me a worthy opponent to fight!”

“Did not dragons or demons stand in your way?” asked Marsten. “And what of men?”

“Not a one! As for men, only brigands and highwaymen sought our blood! Yet every step forward was bought by riddles and puzzles, riddles and puzzles — fatal to those who could not answer them! This was no quest for a man of arms, but a sage!”

“And here you stand. If it takes a sage to find the Great Treasure of the Ancients…”

“I? A sage?” Dobo gave a hearty laugh and sheathed his sword. “A fine jest, my friend! But do I look like a sage to you?”

“Look beyond our title,” said a woman. “Do we look like sages?”

Dobo shrugged. “I see four men and two women, sturdy and foursquare, some older than others. None of you would look out of place in a cohort. So how did you become the Sages?”

“By solving riddles and puzzles, finding our way to the Great Treasure. All began with companions, but all arrived alone.”

“Our lives here are long,” said Marsten, “but not eternal. Always, as one of our number dies, another comes.”

“And how do you eat?”

“We lack for nothing here. We live lives of comfort, studying the books that are the Treasure, and keeping our fighting skills sharp that we may defend this place if needed.”

Dobo remembered the armoires. “This is not what I expected.”

“Nor did we. So we welcome you, as those before welcomed us, as the Seventh Sage.”

21 comments:

  1. Oooooh I like this. The idea of a library being a treasure hoard appeals to me. More!

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  2. Echoing Icy on "Oooooh". Love the atmosphere, and the relaxed attitude of the host is eerie

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  3. A library is a great treasure, greater than gold and jewels. We are wisest when we understand.
    Adam B @revhappiness

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  4. This is awesome! I love the idea of not only a library being a great treasure--they really are--but also the quest where only one survives to arrive at this place to become the seventh sage. Well done!

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  5. A sweet gig if you can get one. I wonder if I look like a sage.

    If you've got so many story ideas, just write them out and post one a week. Presto, a month of #fridayflash coasting!

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  6. Nice one, FAR. Neat idea and great execution. There's a great deal of character to Dobo, too. I wonder how long it will take him before he's really rid of the paranoia.

    If you've got more flashes in mind (or on paper/ hard drive), either save them for a dry week, or maybe think about submitting them somewhere? =)

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  7. ohhh I like the idea of a library as the treasure. And the seventh sage - like that idea too! Far better than any teen romance could be!

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  8. This is one of those cases where you as a writer made a promise to us that there would be some epic battle and lots of swordplay, but you broke it in a way that made this piece really work.

    Bravo.

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  9. Hi everyone, and thanks!

    Icy, that's what I thought when the idea downloaded into my head — cool!

    Mazzz, perhaps that's one of the first things the new Sage will learn? Those who lived to reach the keep were those who thought with their brains, instead of just drawing swords and hacking, so Marsten knew how to handle Dobo.

    Very true, Adam.

    Cherie, welcome to the free-range insane asylum! While I wrote this I was thinking, "this has to have been done to death," but maybe it hasn't.

    JohnW, you write like a sage. If you can climb a cliff, you're there! Posting one a week is pretty much what I had in mind. Although I don't know how much "coasting" I'll do, if the stories come I'll write them down.

    JohnX, that's what I had in mind too. I need to build up my list of submission venues to make that more likely.

    Sonia, glad you liked it. [For those going "hunh?" I asked on Twitter last night if I should post a short White Pickups spinoff or a "teen romance with a touch of post-apocalyptic" and Sonia voted for the latter. Then I remembered I had this one.] I'll post the other one next week.

    Michael, how epic can a battle be in 1000 words? The big gunfight scene in White Pickups is over 1300. ;-) But I'm glad to hear it worked anyway!

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  10. Cool concept, FAR! I echo everyone's comment about the library as treasure, and mazzz's remark on the host is right on spot!

    On another note, I've accepted defeat many times and I sort of envy you for not having to. ;P Good for you though! :)

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  11. What I like most about this is the theme. You may think you are on a quest for a treasure hoard and that bravery and brawn are the traits of the hour, but if you path leads elsewhere, only those with the right skills will survive.

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  12. Very cool - knowledge being the treasure and in the same token knowledge being the key to freedom, freedom to make an informed choice.

    I loved the scene you painted with words here and felt his wonder at finding the library.

    I think Dobo finally understood don't you?

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  13. I liked the inversion of the questing trope by placing more emphasis on brain over bicep. That said I would have simply loved to have seen some of the riddles and cunning puzzles Dobo overcame to reach this sagely point.

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  14. Morning (in the east US)!

    Mari, it's feast or famine for me. I suppose if I start doing this for a living, I'll have to learn how to get control of it and write more consistently.

    Aidan, yes… and it can be frustrating to those who survive and win their way forward by means they don't consider honest labor. ;-)

    Helen, I think he understood when he realized where the other Sages came from.

    Jason, maybe some day I'll come up with a novel (or novella) for this. But it's way back on the list right now.

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  15. Glad I stopped by, the story was well worth it! A vast library is my kind of treasure! And conquering with wit and wisdom over brawn and swordplay rocks too!

    Great story!

    It sounds like your self-discipline when it comes to writing is as bad as my own!

    Stacey

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  16. I like this a lot. Good concept and well-executed.

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  17. The whole way I thought Dobo would meet a sticky end and he didn't! A breath of fresh air to the say the least.

    Dobo, might not be too pleased with his new role, but I think he will take it over being poisoned or falling into a spike pit.

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  18. Books are indeed the real treasure in life! I smiled when I read it was a library. Books = wisdom. Well done!

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  19. Hi Spot, welcome to the free-range insane asylum! Glad you liked it, there's plenty more to read here if you'd like to stick around. ;-)

    Thanks, Tim.

    Craig, you are so right — I think Dobo will come to understand that this was his destiny and accept it.

    Thanks, Maria — of course we'd think that wouldn't we? *big grin*

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  20. Very cool! Love the idea of the books being the treasure and love the nice little twist at the end.

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  21. Loved this. If I can't write a story myself this week, at least I can read an excellent one. Great atmosphere in this library. I didn't have to go nearly as far to get into y local library this week (although had some small difficulties with the electronic, automated dispensing device).
    @flyingscribbler

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