candles 

Time for the December WEP/IWSG 'writing together' competition.
 The challenge is Ribbons and Candles. 
Perfect for the festival/festive season. Perfect also for flashes not themed around festivities or holidays. All prompts here work year-round and are pan-global. Genre, themes, settings, mood, no bar. Only the word count counts. And you could ignore that too and come in with a photo-essay or art, minimal words required.

A party. A power-cut. Gift-giving. Hair braids. Ribbons of roads, rivers, paper, love, hope. Candles in the room. Candles in the church. Candles in the wind. And any combo thereof. It could go in a thousand different directions, choose yours and step outside the square!

The WEP admins are asking that we post as soon as we can, so there's more time to read the stories before the holidays hit. So I've managed to get mine up a few days early, anyway. And, since this is clearly the perfect time for a Christmas/winter theme story, I've written a fantasy set in no particular season, with no reference to holidays at all :D

998 words
Critique guidelines: FCA
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In the Cave

“We have to go in!” Marcus turned away from his best friends to kick at a rock, so they wouldn’t see the desperation in his face.

“Why?” Jeremy asked. He was the tallest of the three, freckled and red-haired where the others were dark.

“Because that’s where his parents went, you dolt.” Beth liked Jeremy, but that didn’t earn him a pass for being stupid. “Come on.” She tossed her braids over her shoulders, settled her bow and quiver on her back, and prepared to lead the way into the cave.

“Wait, Beth.” Marcus held her back pulling three candles from his belt pouch. “Not much point in going in if we can’t see anything.” He managed a grin that might have convinced Beth he wasn’t worried—if she’d been blind and deaf.

Jeremy was easier to fool. “Oh, good. Say, this will be an adventure.”

Beth rolled her eyes. “The gods protect me from idiot boys.” Marcus and Jeremy made the sign, seconding her prayer before realizing what she’d said.

“Look, I know it’s dangerous. You don’t have to come,” Marcus began.

“Not you, idiot. We have to do this, I know that. But Jeremy—could you for one minute stop thinking about adventures? You know what an adventure is? It’s a plan that’s gone wrong.”

While Beth spoke, Marcus struck flint to steel and lit a candle. Handing it to Beth, he lit the other two from it. Then he stowed the flint and steel back in his pouch, along with three spare candles.

He had come prepared. Beth decided this wasn’t the time to tell him she could conjure a light far faster than he could light a candle, and brighter, though it tired her. She’d save that for an emergency.

“Let’s go, then.” Marcus picked up his spear. “Do you have your sling, Jeremy?”

The taller boy searched his clothes before pulling the sling from the back of his belt. “I’m good,” he announced, stowing it in his belt pouch. “Let’s go!”

Beth looked at Marcus. “Lead on. It’s your quest.” Naming it for a quest seemed to give Marcus courage. He took a deep breath and ducked his head to enter the cave. The entrance wasn’t low enough that he needed to duck, but doing so made him feel larger—and braver.

Last to enter, Beth unwrapped the ribbon on one of her braids, cut off a piece, and tied it tightly again. Then she hung the loose piece from a root at the top of the entrance.

“Just in case,” she said when she saw the boys watching. She didn’t say in case of what, or how it would help.

Marcus stood in the center of the cavern. They couldn’t see to the edges, but moving currents of air suggested several passages opened off the room. He tilted his head back and sniffed, turning and snuffing until his tension melted into triumph. “This way!”

Jeremy hesitated. “Did you just… smell your way?”

Marcus shrugged. “Sure. I can smell Mother and Father down that way.”

Jeremy’s regret was visible even by candle light. “I don’t have the magical gift, you know.”

Beth had to cheer him up. “You have a sling and the skill to use it. If the ogres who took Marcus’s parents know what’s good for them, they’ll turn them loose right now!”

Marcus almost smiled. “Right! Let’s go find them and let the ogres know what they’re up against!”

He led them down the passage, stumbling some in the flickering candle-light. Still Beth didn’t make a magical light. It was enough to have Marcus using his gift to follow the way. She had a feeling that too much magic was a bad idea. Ogres were said to be sensitive to it. She trailed behind the boys, slicing bits off her hair ribbons and sticking them up wherever she could.

Marcus stopped. “They’re close. I can smell them,” he whispered.

Beth strung her bow. Jeremy pulled out his sling and picked a few good stones out of the wall of the cave. Marcus looked sick.

“Dead quiet now,” Beth whispered, then wished she’d not said that. Marcus looked sicker.

Approaching a corner, they heard noises and saw a light. Peering around the edge of an opening, they saw Marcus’s mother and father, backs against the wall, throwing globs of light at a group of angry-looking ogres. As if there were any other kind, Beth thought before she heard the man shout, “More light, Lena!”

“I—I don’t think I can, Owen,” Lena gasped.

“Light or fire or be eaten for dinner,” he answered, voice ragged.

Marcus jabbed the end of his spear into his candle and held it aloft. “Burn, you rotten ogres!” His feeble flame distracted only a few of the monsters.

Jeremy’s stones and Beth’s arrows did more, but they had too few. The ogres kept coming.

Beth took a deep breath, held up the raveled ends of her ribbons, and willed the light into being.

The ribbon shone with an intense, white light. Marcus’s parents broke into a run as the ogres cowered away from the lights. Reaching the children, they swept Marcus and Jeremy along with them.

“Hurry, before they recover!” Lena cried, stumbling in her exhaustion. She and Owen leaned on Marcus as they staggered up the passage.

Beth’s bits of ribbon glowed and burned on the walls, lighting their way, and building a wall of light behind them.

Beth turned and followed the others, her knees wobbly. Jeremy looked back, saw her falter, and turned to grab her hand. “Don’t stop now!”

 “I don’t know how long I can—” she gasped.

Jeremy crouched. “On my back,” he ordered.

Moments later they burst from the cave into the afternoon sunlight.

Beth could feel the last of her magic draining from her as she set the light as firmly as she could into the ribbon at the entrance. That would hold them a good long time.

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 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.


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