Friday Flash: The Defense of the Castle


I wrote the first few hundred words of this story a couple of weeks ago for the #WritePhoto challenge. I have since rewritten that and continued the story, so I'm including the whole 1950 words here--grab a cup of tea and relax with this double-sized flash fiction.

These are the photos from KL Caley's WritePhoto page that set off the story. I didn't make the deadline, but go ahead and follow the link for other takes on the prompt.

At the Castle


I. Approach


Once, the entry to the castle must have shouted a large and inarguable “do not enter.” Moat, drawbridge, portcullis. With appropriate guards, it would keep out all but the most determined invaders.


There is one invader that no wall can protect against: time. The moat had long since filled itself in, the portcullis was rusted, and someone had built an all-too-solid bridge.


The new arrivals considered the antique pile and wondered if the castle could ever be made secure, let alone habitable.


James Campbell shrugged. “It’s what we have. If our ancestors built well, we may survive. That’s fitting. Anyone have a better idea?”


No one did. They crossed the green lawns to the main gate, simultaneously eager and hesitant. They expected at any moment either to be attacked by wandering invaders or to be ordered away by a lonely and half-crazed guardian of the National Trust.


Not everyone understood, even now, that the old times were gone. When the aliens had landed, people had been excited at this first contact with another sentient species. Too few had remembered the manner in which Europeans had so energetically explored distant places in the 19th Century.


Colonization had never been a process gentle on the colonized. But it had also always been a process that managed to convince some that the colonizers were their saviors, the rebels a dangerous fly in the ointment.


James Campbell considered his rag-tag band. The Scots never had been good at submission. Battered, bloodied, they’d had the snot beat out of them and were unwilling to give in. Very definitely flies in anyone’s ointment, they knew something of lost causes and were ready to barricade themselves in the ancestral pile and fight to the end.


Which, James reminded himself, would be soon enough, given the total lack of food supplies. And what about the roof? This threat would come from the sky, not the ground. Unless the aliens had learned to walk in Earth gravity by now. Or the local cadre of true believers in that “superior species” nonsense decided to turn them over to the aliens.


“Okay, half of you work on getting this portcullis to lower, the other half find out if there’s still a water-gate and start fishing.”




“What is it, Rory?”


The redhead, barely out of his teens, blushed crimson. “Um, I’m pretty sure we can use the gate the National Trust installed?”




Undaunted, Rory said, “I have them. My Aunt Gertrude works—worked—here. I nicked the keys on the way out. Also her stash of rice and two hens.” His large, lumpy backpack made a “bok bok” noise that confirmed the theft.


“Good man. I still want that portcullis if we can have it.” James took the keys and unlocked the modern gate, a pathetic affair compared to the iron grid that hung suspended over the gap in the entrance.


“And isn’t that just grand,” Claire pointed out. “Now we’ll have Gertrude McDonald coming after us as well as the aliens.


A dismayed silence fell over the little group. Then James began issuing orders and they set to work with an energy that was almost a frenzy. Two young men swarmed up the tower with oil cans to start work on the portcullis. More began piling rocks on the battlements. And a thoughtful group of young women, assisted by the resourceful Rory, began hauling driftwood up through the water gate and building a cooking fire. Someone found a couple of barrels and filled them with water.


Claire started boiling a large pot of water. It wasn’t quite as effective as the traditional boiling oil, but it would do.


Aliens were one thing. Rory’s Aunty Gertrude was quite another. This was going to be some siege.



II. Waiting


James Campbell studied his work crews. They’d been at the castle for a week, and were beginning to get a little too comfortable. Excursions out for food and firewood lasted longer and longer, and Rory MacDonald had added a goat and three sheep to the menagerie he’d started in the greensward that had once been the central court and main hall of the castle.


Work at reinforcing the walls and repairing gaps and low points proceeded with a gradually slackening vigor.


There had been no sign as yet of either the aliens nor the much more terrifying Aunt Gertrude MacDonald, from whom Rory stolen the chickens, and perhaps the goats.


Gertrude might be the first of the their big worries. She was the guardian of the castle, back when it was just another National Trust property open to the public on weekends and the third Wednesday of every month. She wouldn’t take their invasion lightly, if James knew anything about her.


Why hadn’t she come yet to lecture them on their desecration of historical artifacts? Of course,  the castle had belonged to the Campbell clan. James’s great-great-grandfather had  been the last to live in it for real, only vacating the place when the roof of the great hall fell in. The old clan chief had been happy to offload the expense onto the government.



III. Defense


The attack came on a dim and rainy day. Maybe the aliens where counting on the poor visibility to hide their approach. What they couldn’t have known, because as far as anyone could tell the invaders were impervious to Earth weather, was that on such a day the usually scattered defenders of the castle would all be in the castle, trying to stay dry and warm.


Claire Campbell was on guard in the upper room, the one with a view of the sky. That was where they expected the attack to come, given the aliens’ struggle with walking on Earth. Even so, they weren’t slacking the land guard. Angus had the post on the lake side, Rory the land side. Maybe they weren’t at their most alert, trying to stay under cover and still see out, and not expecting to see anything. Angus had to stand at the ancient arrow slit in order to see out at all, leaning a little into the opening. It wasn’t comfortable.


As a result it was Rory, in his guard room over the portcullis—which they had repaired well enough to lower, if not to raise—who first spotted the invaders. They were lurking in the copse at the far edge of the meadow. They had learned to walk.


James Campbell hurried to the guard room and studied what he could see of the invaders.


What were they waiting for?


He turned and ran down the stairs, narrowly avoiding a nasty fall when he forgot the broken tread third from the bottom, and crossed the wet courtyard full tilt, dodging the goat. Pushing Angus aside, he leaned as far into the arrow slit as he could, cursed, and shoved back. “By the time you can see anyone here, they’ll be on us!” He looked around and spotted another slot with a better view.


“You’ll get wet there, chief,” Angus told him. Angus wasn’t the swiftest of the lot.


“There are worse things than rain.” James craned his neck a little more, scanned the grey waters. There. “Go tell the others. They’re coming.”


“They?” For a moment Angus looked completely bewildered. “Oh! Them. The aliens.” He looked a little green, unlike the aliens, who were purple under Sol. “I didn’t think they’d come here.”


“Well, they have. Keep watch on them.” James yielded his place to Angus. “You know what to do if they actually try to enter. Otherwise, stay quiet.”


Maybe if they gave no sign, the aliens would believe there was no one here and leave. He didn’t really think so, but it was a comfort.


He ran to the dining hall where everyone not on guard was slumped in damp misery. “Posts! Both sides.” He’d drilled them enough on this, at least. They knew what that meant and what to do. Weapons in hand, such as they were, they scattered to the various towers and parapets.


There were too few of them to do this right, and the whole west side had long since lost the parapets. The outer wall was sound, though. Jane would be fine there on the platform they’d built.


Gads, what a way to go out, a dozen or so “defenders” with no military training and half of them too old to run. Well, maybe someone far in the future would write romantic novels about them, even if they did lose. It had worked for Bonny Prince Charlie.


Now that the land and water parties were both in position, the aliens broke cover and started to cross the field. The vessels of the lake-borne army touched the shore. One boat tried to approach the water-gate, fastened and barred but still a weak point.


A rock dropped from the parapet and went straight through the bottom of the boat, which began at once to sink. James, from his post atop the highest tower, took the report while watching the army beginning to converge on the front gates. The aliens had sunk as solidly as the rock.


The attackers weren’t a real army, but outnumbered the defenders three or four to one. It didn’t look good.


“Ready the boiling caldrons!” The command wasn’t necessary; they always kept a large pot of water just off the boil, and the children—yes, they had children there, too, the eleven-year-old twins Peter and Molly—built up the fire under it as soon as the alarm was given.


A more carefully managed pot heated some oil Rory had brought back from one of his foraging expeditions. From the smell, it was well-used fry grease from the fish-and-chips joint in the village. So much the better.


They had scalded a fair number of aliens, downed a couple with their home-made bows and arrows, and generally slowed the attack without any hope of stopping it, when a tall, grim figure emerged from the path to the village.


James stared. It wasn’t—it couldn’t be. Could it? Just what they needed.


A stentorian voice lifted over the sounds of battle and Gertrude MacDonald issued an order.


“You all just get on out of here! The castle is open to the public only on weekends and the third Wednesday every month. It’s no good you getting angry at the restoration crew!”


James put his head in his hand. He didn’t like Rory’s Aunt Gertrude. Who did? But he didn’t like to think what the aliens would do to her for her interference.


A silence below made him raise his head and look. The aliens stood around, for all the world like a bunch of thwarted tourists disappointed in their plans. Gertrude MacDonald continued to stride toward the castle, waving away the armed invaders, who backed away from her glare. At the edge of the moat, from which James and his crew had removed the bridge, she halted and looked up at the defenders on the parapets.


Hands on hips, Gertrude called up to James, “You folks keep on with your work. I’ll take care of these sight-seers.”


What astonished them all was, she did. When James looked over again in a few minutes, having passed the order to stand back but keep watching, the aliens were slinking away. A few minutes after that, they heard motors starting up and the boats pushed away from the public landing to the east of the castle. A few minutes more, and a larger, louder engine marked the lift-off of the alien airship.


Gertrude MacDonald turned to the castle one last time. “You just have to know how to keep the tourists in order. If those fools in London and Washington understood that, we’d have no trouble. ”


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2022
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.
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  1. Just pick me up off the floor, where I’ve been rolling about in laughter for the last five minutes! I had no idea where that was going. Brilliant. You have not lost your touch, that’s for sure!


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