Seven Deaths of an Empire by G. R. Matthews

Seven Deaths of an Empire

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On Character Voice

On Character Voice


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Monthly Short Story Winner: Sports

We’ve been getting such good feedback for the short stories our members have submitted in our Monthly Short Story Competition that we have decided to post them on the main sit at a rate of about one a fortnight. We will begin with a tale that was entered last year as part of October 2013’s competition. That particular month we decided to go with something that’s, well pretty far removed from fantasy generally: Sports.

Don’t knock it – some of the best stories in science fiction, fantasy and horror have been written about sports. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, The Golem’s Mighty Swing, Summerland, all blend a modern sport with fantasy – and who can forget the Real Ghostbusters episode where they play baseball for the fate of the world? (I’ve clearly got baseball on my mind! So how about Spacejam?)

There’s the familiar fantasy sports – slightly romanticised versions of medieval ‘games’ – from the tournaments of A Game of Thrones to the duels of Sharps.

And, of course, there’s the made up stuff: Rollerball, Ender’s Game, The Player of Games, the X-Men’s Danger Room…

So, this month we want you to write a story (or poem) with some sort of sport or contest as its centre. This could be a real sport, a quasi-historical competition or something that you just full-on make up. It could be a board game, a joust, the Superbowl or the legendary Man U / Man City RaptorBrawl of 2987. Go wild.

For those unfamiliar, here are the ground rules:

1. This can be prose or a poem.
2. A sport, game or competition must be a core element in your piece.
4. Prose must be 500-1500 words long. (Yup, I’ve cut it by 500 words. I’m mean.)
5. Poetry must be 100-500 words long.
6. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That’s why they’re called limits. (Again, mean.)

You can see all the contest entries here. And here is the winning story!

– – –

“Cheating Death”
by Andrew Ward

“Step forward, foul scum. What is your name?”

Gurgle shuffled forward, squinting in the light. “I am Gurgle, from the village of Hathense.” There were boos from the crowd.

“Go back to the grasslands!” someone shouted.

The judge quieted the crowd. “Gurgle of Hathense, what crimes have you committed?”

“I sought the hand of the mayor’s daughter. He refused, and chased me off. So I bedded his wife instead.”

This got a laugh from the crowd, apart from the few blue bloods, who scowled at him from behind gilded masks.

“Such a heinous crime can only be punished by death!”

The crowd roared in appreciation.

He was the last man on the gallows. There were only going to be four this morning, and the others were all local. They probably drank together at the same tavern.

The first was a young man like himself, his legs already shaking. The second a woman, shuffling her feet and staring at the boards. The third was an old man. He was stoic, standing as still as stone. Gurgle was slightly envious; each had received cheers from the crowd. The old bastard had received more cheers than the other two. He was the one to beat.

The judge continued to rant, a tale that Gurgle had heard a hundred times before. The crowd hung on his every word. There in the crowd Gurgle saw Crix, his squire. His shaved grey head glinted in the morning sun. He looked sullen, but winked when he caught Gurgle’s eye.

Having finished his speech the judge pulled his black hood on, transforming from the judge to hangman. He called his ropeboys forward, and Gurgle felt the rope slip around his neck. He glanced down the line at the others. The youngster was sobbing gently, fat tears rolling down his cheeks. The lady was mumbling something, a prayer. The old man just looked up at the sun, unblinking.

The rope was heavy around Gurgle’s neck. Fear had set in now, but he managed to keep his arms and legs from shaking. He glanced out at the crowd, but Crix was gone.

Don’t struggle. Remember not to breathe.

The judge-hangman pulled the leaver; Gurgle took a deep breath, and fell.

The roar of the crowd filled his ears, and he desperately tried to concentrate. The rope was tight around his neck, he couldn’t breathe. He felt his heart slow as the veins in his neck were squeezed shut. Gurgle tried not to struggle, to keep his arms by his side and legs still. Spots danced in his vision, the thump-thump of blood in his ears drowned out the roars of the crowd.

Don’t shake. Conserve your energy.

He lost control of his legs, and once the dance starts there is only one way it stops. His shoes slid from his feet, banging onto the cobblestones below.

Don’t try to breathe.

His chest burned, but he kept his mouth shut, but he couldn’t hold on forever. There was a sudden crack, the breaking of his neck. Pain flowed through him, but he desperately tried to hold on. It was too much.

Dangling on the end of the hangman’s rope, Gurgle died.

* * * * *

Gurgle awoke. There was a foul taste in his mouth, like swallowing a pint of marshwater. He coughed and spat the liquid up. Opening his eyes he blinked in the bright sunlight. A dark shape loomed over him, a grinning face cut across the sun.

“Thought you were gone for sure,” Crix said.

“All five hells rejected me as a corrupting influence,” he croaked. His neck ached, but he’d get over that. He always did. “Did I win?”

“Of course you did, you daft sod. Lady grey went out early, followed by the kid. It was between you and baldie for a while, but then he carked it just before you.”

He looked around, elated. His rivals, the three other greyskins, were lying on the cobblestones nearby, surrounded by their own squires and friends.

Cobblestones. His bare feet were freezing on the cold stones.

“Where are my shoes?”

“Right here.” Crix held them up. Gurgle grabbed them and desperately crammed them on, trying not to vomit as the world spun around him.

“Shall we get our gold?”

His friend gripped his arm and pulled Gurgle to his feet. The young man next to him was on his knees, his face fish belly white.

“You alright?” Gurgle asked.

“No problem. Just, second time is all,” said the young man, but Gurgle had already turned away.

The lady was sick, vomiting her guts up into a bucket held by her sister, and was in no mood to talk. There was a crowd around the old man, and Gurgle pushed his way through, desperate to speak to the living legend amongst the grey hangers.

The old man lay still on the ground. His squire desperately poured healing green and red into his open mouth, but it dribbled out as quickly as it was poured in.

The old man stared up at the sun, eyes unblinking. Gurgle’s smile vanished.

“He’s dead?” Gurgle felt sick. He’d been in the hanging games for three years now, and he’d never seen true death.

“He came back briefly, but then he went.” The squire was struggling to hold back tears.

“How old?” Crix said softly.

“He was thirty-five, so he knew he was on borrowed time.” The man said.

Gurgle and Crix left him to his grief, wandering through the crowd. The judge handed over the winnings with a look of disdain. Gurgle took it numbly, and with Crix trailing behind he left the courtyard and wandered out into the street.

Darks and pales filled the streets, with a few greys hunched over trying to look small. The pales and darks didn’t like greys. The silver bastards were the children of the gods, while they were mere mortals. Invulnerable, the greys could resist all pain. But the pales and darks had longer lives, and the world sung their song, and greys were reduced to beggars and scapegoats.

The hanging game started with a bet. A mob was hanging two greyskins, and someone had placed a bet about which man would die first. Another bet on the other grey, and a new sport was born. With it came new opportunities for the greys, a way out of the gutter.

“So, where to now?” Gurgle asked.

Crix weighed the bag of gold in his hand and thought. “Well, there is Haxonport or Vejksbridge. The Eastern Road will take us to both.”

Gurgle made a face. “Vejksbridge, no way. I’m not doing long drops. Getting long hanged can only end in true death. Not even the green can help you then.” Everyone always said that the healing green tasted like wet farts, but Gurgle didn’t mind as long as it kept him alive.

“The long hang is very lucrative, though.”

“I don’t care how much coin is in it. It’s dangerous.”

“Haxonport it is. Some hanging, maybe decapitation. There’s also honest work. Lots of blue bloods in Haxonport, and plenty of forbidden cults. The law courts are full of nobles with plenty of coin seeking a proxy to dance at the end of a rope for them.”

Gurgle laughed. “Honest work?”

“It’s good pay. There’s a family of ours up there; own a big house, servants and everything. Or we could go south to the Community.”

Gurgle laughed again. “Honest work is not my way, Crix. Can you see me as a cobbler, a farmer?”

“It’s a shame that you don’t want to do the long.”


“Yeah. Barely ten of us are any good, and most of them are old now. Fat old buggers they are. But you’re right; it’s far too risky for a young man such as yourself.”

They walked in silence, only stopping as Gurgle flipped a coin in a beggar’s cup. Crix waited, and it wasn’t long until Gurgle spoke.

“How much exactly is in long drops?” Gurgle asked.

Crix smiled. He could practically hear the cogs spinning in Gurgle’s head. “A fair bit. Two hundred swans for a good one.”

“I guess I could give it a go. Vejksbridge it is.” Gurgle looked down the road, suddenly lost. “How far to the coaches?”

“We keep going this way until you smell horse shit. Half a mile or so.”

“Good.” Gurgle leaned against the wall and pulled off his boots. He shook them both, and Crix watched as several large stones tumbled out.

Crix laughed, astonished. “Gurgle, you cheating bastard. I thought you dropped a bit too quick.”

“Just a bit of help. I was terrified that they wouldn’t fall off, or that the stones would roll out when they hit the ground.” he scratched his neck idly, the freshly warped flesh already healing. “Of course my victory doesn’t matter now. All everyone will remember is his death, not the man who beat him. Come on Crix, let’s see how they like me in Vejksbridge.”

– – –

Congratulations again to our winner Andrew Ward! If you would like to enter this month’s contest or vote for last month’s winner, check out the Monthly Writing Contest board in our forum.

Title image by stefan-kopinski.



  1. Avatar HJP says:

    Field of Dreams is a pretty high-profile speculative fiction story about sports.

  2. Avatar G R Matthews says:

    Great story, really enjoyed the read!

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