Flash Friday 27/11/2015: An Apple A Day
Dargan wasn’t an adult dwarf yet; the cold winds that blew as he climbed the snowy mountain made him wish he was. He had no facial hair to keep him warm, unlike Grigor. Grigor had long brown hair and a braided beard flapping in the wind, brushing against the flintlock rifle held in his hands. They both wore Shag-Ram cloaks, the only thing known to keep the cold mountain bite out.
Dargan looked behind him. “I think we accidentally passed the Shag-Ram roaming grounds a while back.”
Grigor let loose a single laugh. “Here’s a lesson for you, son. When your future wife asks where you’re taking your child, always tell her ‘the Shag-Ram roaming grounds’. You tell her where you’re really going, and her protective maternal urges kick in.
“No, what we’re really doing is finding whoever’s been killing off members of the clan. There’s been reports of a tall-one on prowl, and several of ours have gone missing already. Hence the rifle.”
“Why did you sneak me out?”
“If all goes as planned, it’ll be a learning experience for you. If not,” Grigor said, gravely, “your young legs will be good enough to get you back home as a witness.”
The pair of them trudged through the snow. Dargan felt they had walked for hours before Grigor came to a sharp stop.
“There’s the bastard,” Grigor hissed. He pointed at tall silhouette of a humanoid in the distance.
“I see them,” whispered Dargan. “What do we do now?”
Grigor moved as if the slightest noise would kill him. He raised the rifle up to face level, peering down the sight. Over the wind, Dargan could hear Grigor whisper, “This is for all the brothers you took from me. Hurgar, Punter, Maldum–”
“Your posture’s bad again,” Hurgar said, before noisily taking a bite from an apple. “You’re holding the gun wrong.”
“Hold your tongue, Hurgar, you always appeared at the worst moments.” Grigor adjusted his shoulders, peered down the sight, blinked, then almost dropped his rifle. “What in the world? Hurgar?!”
“Yeah,” Hurgar said, with an upward nod. “Y’alright?”
“Alright? Alright?! I thought you were bleedin’ dead, you daft oaf! My son and I are halfway up a ruddy mountain because of you!” Grigor pulled a note so fast from his pocket it almost tore. “Explain why you sent this note reading ‘send soldiers’!”
“Does it?” Hurgar leant forwards and squinted, taking another bite of the apple. “No, see, it says ‘send sausages’. So they can go with the apples, y’see?” Hurgar held up his half-eaten apple to prove his point, gave it a hungry look, then leant in for another bite.
Grigor snatched it out of Hurgar’s hand, holding it up accusingly. “And where the ruddy hells are you getting these from? We find it hard enough to grow children on this mountain, let alone apples!”
Hurgar tilted his head. “Why, the witch did, of course.”
Grigor froze in terror. Slowly, he said, “what do you mean by ‘witch’?”
A long, spindly hand placed itself on Grigor’s shoulder. What once was a silhouette in the distance was now a tall woman with long black hair. Her attire looked like a witch’s, except brightly coloured and dotted with fruit.
“A pleasure to meet you,” she said, with a smile.
Grigor pulled away from the hand, wheeling his rifle around. “None of that, missus! These mountains have been magic-free for as long as we’ve been here. Get to leaving, or we’ll see what spells do against lead!”
The witch, with calm motions, stuffed a grape into the gun’s barrel. “Such hostility. I have you know I am no mere evil, cackling crone; The Witch of Harvest is more than that. Instead of ruin, I can offer your people food and residence in my realm of Never-Ending Spring, away from this cold wasteland.”
“You–!” Grigor said, pushing the rifle forwards. “You insult this land of ancestry, and expect me to join you? You’re going to have to do more than that to, to…what’s that?”
“An orange,” the Witch said, turning the conjured fruit in her hand. “I hear these things are but a mere legend in this land. Care to try?”
Grigor blinked with amazement, as if she was holding solid gold. Then, with a burst of anger, “No! Not from you.”
“Oh, go on, Grigor,” Hurgar said, giving him a nudge. “She’s solid. Trust me.”
Grigor turned. “Are you sure?”
Grigor’s determination faded. With unease, he took hold of the orange and lifted it to his mouth.
“You have to peel it first,” the Witch said, with a smile suiting a cat. “Tastes much better.”
Sheepishly, Grigor fumbled with the peel with his gloved hands. Once the peel was off, he took a bite from the fruit. The fire within his eyes melted near-immediately, replaced by the look of surprise.
“Good gods, this is amazing,” he said, taking another bite. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever had.”
“You see?” the Witch said warmly, as if talking to a child. “I’m not here to harm you. I’m here to bless you; lead you to a new life where there’s sunshine, warmth, and fruit as far as the eye can see. Would your son like one, too? I’d very much like it if he partook as well.”
“My son? Oh, right! Hey, Dargan, wrap your mouth around this and let me know what you–”
Grigor turned around, holding the orange out. Where Dargan once stood was a trail of rushed and staggered footprints leading back the way they just came.
“I-I’m really sorry,” Grigor said to the Witch, as if she were an angry teacher. “You look away for one moment, and their young legs, they just–”
“Oh, don’t you worry.” The Witch followed the footprints as she drew out a wand. With her head turned away from the dwarves, she allowed herself a twisted smirk. “There are far faster things than young legs in this world.”