The Well or The Spell
1st Place, Round One, NYCMIDNIGHT Flash Fiction Contest
When Lord Rylor tries to behead a traitor, he discovers a truth that forces him to see the power of fear and the wickedness it brings.
Lord Rylor’s beloved daughter Nya would never marry, never bear his grandchildren, and never rule over The Kingdom as it should have been. After the Westland elves had cast adeath spell on her, Rylor banished them to an island.
Now one of Rylor’s own, an Eastland elf, was rumored to be smuggling food to the Westlanders. Punishment for treason was beheading, and Lord Rylor insisted he carry out this execution himself.
Now if Rylor could only catch the bastard keeping the Westlanders alive.
With the sun only a sliver along the horizon, Rylor struggled to see the watchtower steps as he climbed. He had to find out if the betrayer had a secret route to the Westlander camp. The island was accessed through the heavily-guarded Seran Channel, but no elf had been caught in a month’s time.
Rylor would now watch the only other passageway, a water cove. But that seemed futile—no grown elf could fit through its thin crevices, not to mention whilst carrying food—but Rylor was desperate.
Standing on the observation deck, he watched the cave’s entrance through binoculars. When the sun glowed above the water’s edge, Rylor spotted someone on the shore. Zooming in, he saw an elf carrying Thia: an enchanted root that grew to feed thousands.
So, that’s how the traitor was doing it! But the elf was very small—too small. Rylor’s heart raced as he rushed down the steps. Sword in hand, he reached his prey.
Yanking off the betrayer’s diving hood, Rylor froze. Staring back at him were hauntingly familiar eyes, irises a shade of violet that had always taken his breath away. He hadn’t seen eyes like that since the day he stroked his fingers over Nya’s lids to close them forever.
“Uncle Rylor!” the girl screamed. “Please…” she trailed off, trembling. “Don’t kill me.”
Rylor’s jaw went slack. It was Eliza, his thirteen-year old niece. He hadn’t spoken to her or her father Gavlyn since banishing the Westlanders. His brother Gavlyn had been furious at Rylor about the decision. But Gavlyn didn’t understand Rylor’s pain: his child was still alive.
“How could you, Eliza?” Rylor finally spoke, his breath jagged.
“Westlanders don’t deserve to die, Uncle.” Tears spilled down her cheeks. “They are elves too. And they can’t even cast spells. Daddy says the Eastlanders are dying from our tainted well. That’s why it’s still happening with the Westlanders banished.”
“Eliza!” Rylor pointed his finger. “Your father tells lies. Did he put you up to this?”
“Never.” Taking Rylor’s hand, Eliza continued. “Please. Don’t kill Daddy. I’m the only skilled diver small enough to pass through the cove. The blame is mine alone.”
“Then you must stop.” His nostrils flared. “Now.”
“I won’t. I won’t let them suffer.” She scowled. “I know they can’t cast spells because their palms never glow—”
“More lies!” Rylor interrupted. “My guards would’ve told me.”
“They’re too afraid of you,” Eliza spat. “Imprisoning the Westlanders is cruelty. And it’s being done out of fear, not truth. Nya would be ashamed, Uncle Rylor.”
He gasped. “How dare you.”
“Come to the island with me.” She held his icy stare. “See that their palms don’t glow. See their cots behind barbed fencing. They are living in filth and dying without food.”
“I will do no such thing!” Rylor shook. “I refuse to die the same way Nya did.”
“Believe me, you won’t.” Eliza gritted her teeth. “Nya died honorably.”
His face went hot with fury as he raised his sword. But before Rylor could strike, Eliza darted away. He chased her, but she jumped into the water and disappeared through a crevice in the cove.
He would have to travel by boat through the channel, find Eliza on the island, then take her head. Rylor would not return empty-handed. He would never dishonor Nya’s memory.
* * *
The view of the camp churned Rylor’s stomach. The elves’ ribs poked through their tattered clothing. Their hair was matted, their teeth black.
Rylor had to fight off beggars, watch children drink from muddy pools, and see the dead lined along the dirt paths, many infants.
A little girl playing with a broken kaleidoscope reminded Rylor of Nya, and bile rose in his throat. Something inside of him shifted.
And indeed, no Westlander’s palms glowed the entire day, even after Rylor had provoked a few.
It just couldn’t be. They must be casting spells. He had done the right thing.
By dusk, he hadn’t found Eliza. His niece had outmaneuvered him once more. But as he traveled home, he no longer cared. After what he’d seen, he felt hollow. Returning with Eliza’s head seemed petty now.
As he stumbled down the path toward his castle, he stopped at the village well. A place he never drank from because he was not a commoner.
A place Nya had never drunk from either...or had she? The day before Nya had died, she’d gone to the village to meet the Westland families that had visited in hopes of meeting the princess.
Rylor stared into the well, watching his tears fall. Maybe Eliza was right. Nya would be ashamed of him now. He lowered the bucket and fetched water before scooping some into his hands. After drinking as much as he could, he returned to his castle.
If he was right, he would live. If he was wrong, he would die.
When he woke the next morning with ashen skin and a faint heartbeat, he mustered the energy to scribe a note. “Free the Westlanders. Our well is tainted.” He closed his eyes and suffered alone. He would die just as Nya had, but dishonorably.
He knew that after his death, his brother would rule the kingdom. Gavlyn would free the Westlanders, and all the elves would be united once more. Fear had turned Rylor into a monster, but now Nya might forgive him in the ever after. He could only hope.
A huge thanks to my fairy tale-fantasy writing crew, Katina Ferguson and Curt Shannon.