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Monthly Short Story Winner: Letters

I don't use ink by Fire Fighter's Wife

This month we had our entrants try their hand at writing a letter. Sounds boring and not fantasy-ish at all? We hope not!

We didn’t want them to just write a random letter. Instead there were four topics to choose from, some funny, some sad, some what they make out of it. First person was encouraged but not necessary.

1. The main character (MC) writes a letter home but their mother has high blood pressure, so the MC can’t write exactly what happened. How close to the truth can they write without mentioning what really happened in that dungeon?

2. The MC writes a letter back to their loved one(s), knowing they will never come home again.

3. Time travel. The aged MC can (and wants to) send a letter to their younger self.

4. The MC writes a letter to their old mentor, thanking them. The mentor will be surprised for what.

5. The MC is the villain of the story and writes a letter to the hero(es) who thwarted their plans.

From reading those letters it should be clear that they take place in a fantasy or science fiction setting. In fact, we welcomed our entrants to use some padding. The letter could be their whole entry but it is enough if it was one third and the centerpiece of their writing. They were allowed if desired, to embed it in a setting/story/scene.

Rules:

1. This can be prose or poetry.
2. A letter must be the centerpiece of the entry (about 1/3 minimum). One of the prompts above must be used.
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-750 words long.

This month’s winning story was by John Kelly with “Dreams of the Silver Tree”. Congrats on your win, John!

You can find all our entries here.

And now on with the story!

– – –

Lullaby Tree by MBHenriksen

“Dreams of the Silver Tree”
by John Kelly

Government House, Fort Expectation, Farlands Colony
11 Maron, 3,123

Dearest Chalk,

Here at the edge of the world, the greatest daystars are fading, the savvys are singing in the scrub, and the air is cool enough at last to breathe. There’s a drink beside me here on the veranda and a servant fanning me. A gaggle of worried colonists waits for me inside, but they can cool their heels a few minutes longer. Against any expectation of me that our father ever had, here I am, official mage to the Farlands – your sister, cheese to your chalk – in my glory. It would all be so satisfying if it weren’t for the screaming Koldar warriors surrounding our little fort and the plumes of burned out homesteads darkening the western horizon.

I wish I had a letter from you, Britti, even if your last made me want to tear your hair out before starting on my own. It would be a distraction, a bit of normalcy and home. But perhaps the schedule of nap time, and feeding, and nappies, and more nappies can no longer accommodate writing overlong and uninformed advice to your twinsie.

Of course, nothing has come up river during this terrible fortnight. Not letters, not traders, and especially not the troops we were promised. What we have is burning, losses, refugees, anger, blame, fear, and exhaustion. I’ve worked more magic in the last two weeks than in all our years at the Wand.

I dreamt of you last night. We were in the night garden, tracing starglow sap under the skin of a silver tree. “What does it say?” I asked you. “Bad times,” you said in that pompous voice you used when we were girls playing at divination. “Papa won’t give you a sweet if you don’t come home right away.” Fine advice, sister, if a bit late. Then an awful purple glow filled the sky, like no starlight I’ve ever seen. I woke up with a sick headache and my stomach heaving.

Nerves, of course.

Tomorrow, I have to call out a Koldar battlewitch and kill her if I can. (That very sentence is so odd to write in so many ways. If you do read this, I can just hear you tut-tutting, right before you scream at me.) Why else make me mage except to have the status to face such a one, other than that none other of the Wand wanted the job? I’m still not sure why I took it. Though if I’m honest, the thought of our father’s face at the idea of me in any responsible position had a bit to do with it. And as he’s gone now, maybe it was about you.

Those folk inside are frightened because they aren’t sure I can do it. They’re probably right, though I’ll give it everything I have, and every strength the daystars grant me. But before I do, I’ll blow a hole through the Koldar wide enough for a rider to make a run for the river. I’ll send this with him, along with various official complaints and some abject begging for aid. We can’t stand long on our own, even if I manage to survive tomorrow.

So perhaps this is goodbye, dear. Really goodbye, not just see you someday. If this reaches you, I permit you a few minutes of righteous I-told-you-so before saying a prayer for me. Kiss the baby. Kiss Conn. ‘Look out from Watch Hill for I shall never feel her grass between my toes again.’

I miss you, Britt, against all odds.

Your cheese, your sister,

Karan

Postscript: It’s midnight. I tore the envelope open to add this. I dreamt of the garden again, the silver tree, and your voice, whispering from far away. Something we heard of once at the Wand. If it works, perhaps I’ll see you again after all. – K

* * * * *

Three Birches, Moorley-on-Carth
11 Maron, 3,123

Karan,

I write in haste. Conn has a wagon ready, and Senwe is sleeping peacefully in her swaddling. We leave in minutes. Flee, I should say. I will leave this letter with the Wand and pray it reaches you. If you ever return from this idiotic self-exile of yours, you will know where to find us. Though whether we will be where we plan to be, only the stars can say.

By the time this reaches you, weeks or months from now, you will surely know the news. A dread new star has lighted over the eastern sea, and everything is overthrown. War, terror, death. Everything that thrilled you in Nana’s stories has come to horrible life. I can only wonder what you are living through in Farland. If only you’d listened to me, you would be here now where you belong, anointed mage or not. (I admit there are days that I rue giving up the Wand. Then I look in my daughter’s tiny face and regret nothing. Still, I have a little power left that didn’t go into birthing her. We may need it.)

I dreamed last night that we were together again in father’s night garden. I haven’t had such a dream since you broke your ankle deep in the woods behind the Wand and we couldn’t find you until the next morning.

Do you remember the piot that you pretended was a silver tree? You made me do auguries and wanted each more awful than the last. In my dream, that plain old tree was filled with starlight true. Judging by the shades of silver running through it, Primus and Brin were in its leaves: strength and mystery combined. I was about to make up a foretelling as I used to, when you pressed a finger to my lips. “Run,” you said. “Dark times are on us.” (The Wand never taught us about dream speaking though the Baralet tells of it, of course. But if that was you reaching out, you’re late, as usual.) Suddenly the skies bled to the color of a bruise and the light of that evil new star spread like oil through the tree. As the dream ended, a voice sounded from far away, saying, “There’s a secret in the silver.”

I’ve been thinking on that. There was a lecture at the Wand that certain trees and grasses could hold the light of the daystars far into the night. Silver trees were one of these. Mages in years past stored such power in actual wands, though such plants are so rare these days that we never studied them.

But Father gave us that little figurine of Meldwa made of true silver wood. And I’m sure it wasn’t in the house when I shuttered it last year. Do you have it? If you do, don’t lose it, sister, even if you lose the nose off your face. We may need it.

You see, I expect you to come home alive and well, since you should never never never have gone. We need you here, and you need us. (Even Conn, though he doesn’t know it, and Senwe needs her aunt.) You need a husband, a family. Father made me promise to keep you safe, and even if you are halfway across the world and well nigh to the Dream Reach and even if you are an idiot, that’s what I intend to do. If only you would come home.

Look for us in Rina, just beyond Caraden. Conn has a cousin there. We run before the flood. I pray it doesn’t catch us up and sweep us away.

In the meanwhile, I intend to dream of you every night if I must. “Different as chalk and cheese,” Father used to say of us. Maybe, but you’re still my baby sister, even if only by minutes. Sometimes it feels as though I could touch you, if only I reached out my hand.

Britt

– – –

Congratulations again to John Kelly! If you’d like to enter our monthly writing contest, check out our forum for more information.

Happy Writing!

Title image by MBHenriksen.

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