Wanna see your short fiction published here at 7th Titan? Our Contest is currently open for submissions!
We had a lot of great entries for our April 2015 contest! The prompt: “A Fool’s Errand”
Andrew Friedhoff took third place with his story “The Collectors.”
Gwen stood up and stretched. Her back ached after an hour beneath the furnace cleaning soot and carbon out of the fire cabinet. She walked over to the window to see the town at rest and behold the clouds’ slow path against the waning crescent moon. Normally she would be in bed like everyone else at this hour. But she hadn’t slept right in weeks and the furnace definitely needed cleaning. Her father and her had been working double hours since the last raid and there wasn’t time for regular cleaning lately.
As she gazed upon the moon tears traced the ash covering her cheeks. She looked over at the door to the foundry propped wide open and spied the long gashes in the wood. The two semi-circles with a diagonal slash in between that marked her father for a dead man. How could they take him? Certainly there were more fitting blacksmiths that would gladly volunteer. But alas there were not. The collectors had chosen him and made it known by marking his door. It was always uneasy seeing a door be marked. A challenge to say, “We ARE coming, just try and run.”
Of course there were those that ran. But stories found their way back to the town of how not only were those that ran caught but were made an example of. Then there those like her father. She was so proud when he accepted his fate and decided they were to work twice as hard until the time came so she had enough back stock to sell until she could find a husband to support her. Oh yes she was proud of his strength and outraged by his stupidity. They were strong and they were smart. If they ran they could get away. But he would have none of it. So she resigned to pounding iron ore into blades and horseshoes until she would have to say goodbye. But now staring at that terrible eye gouged into the wood she decided they would not take him.
The next morning she pleaded with her father over breakfast, “Father, you mustn’t just give up. I know if we run they will not catch us. We can go north to the wild country, where they’ll never be able to track us.”
“Gwen enough is enough,” he replied. “I will not have this discussion yet again. You know what happens when we try to run. I would rather them take my freedom than…” He couldn’t finish the sentence, “Besides I’ll get to work with a dragon-fire blast furnace. That should be interesting,” he said in a false cheery voice trying to hide the pain in his heart.
She was worried for him and understandably so, but he was far more worried for her. She would have no one to take care of her after he was gone and he definitely wasn’t going to run and risk her life. He couldn’t lose her, well in fact he was going to lose her, but at least he would know she would be alive, unlike her mother.
Maeveen Smithe just two years ago had tried to help her brother outrun the collectors. Try as he might Galvyn could not sway her decision. With tears in his beard he bid farewell to his beloved. They had found Maeveen’s head on a pike at the town entrance. There was no escape after all and he would not let that happen to Gwen.
Gwen of course being as stubborn as her mother gave up the argument. In a resigned tone she said, “Yes, Father, I won’t bring it up again. But in her mind the cogs were turning.
She had 4 days left until the new moon and she started planning. When she claimed she was cleaning the furnace she was actually digging a small recess under the floor boards. She went to the chemist and purchased nightweed, claiming she was having trouble sleeping. The chemist naturally gave it to her with no qualms. Who could sleep when their family was about to be collected? But in truth Gwen had never been so tired. She made tea by the pot to stay up all night digging her father’s secret hideaway.
The afternoon before the collectors were due to arrive, Gwen and Galvyn made a wonderful feast with roast goose and tubers. When Galvyn wasn’t watching Gwen dropped the nightweed into the stew that had been brewing. She supposed she should feel guilty betraying her father’s wishes like this, but she told herself it was for the best.
Galvyn had wanted this to be a joyous occasion where last goodbyes could be set without fear. He was fooling himself, for even though Gwen held a brave face she was worried. She couldn’t stop fidgeting all throughout dinner. She didn’t even touch her stew.
Her father was slumped in his chair. The nightweed had done the trick.
She dragged him into the foundry and as carefully as she could she dumped him in the hole. She made sure he was resting properly and replaced the floorboards. She retrieved her armor and her battleaxe. She knew how to wield it, yet felt less than confident of her skills. No one that had ever stood against the collectors survived. The time came. She could hear the heavy beating of dragon wings. She donned her helmet, went outside, stood on the front path and assumed a fighting position.
A black hooded figure approached. With all the daring she could muster she shouted, “My father is gone. You will not find him here. Be gone.”
The figure lowered his hood to reveal a bald head covered in tattoos and an inquisitive look curling his blonde goatee. “Your father?”
“Yes, my father,” She replied. “You marked him for collecting.”
The bald man chuckled, “No no my dear, Gwendolyn. We didn’t mark your father,” he paused staring at her razor sharp blade in her hands. “We marked you. Come along now.”