Prompt #2: Changing Tides – 501 Prompts

The Prompt

The horses burst into flames.
In: 5000 Writing Prompts by Bryn Donovan

My Story

The battlefield unfolded before Jarlon just as he had expected. Their infantry engaged the enemy, winning ground in some places, while others looked dangerously close to breaking to his experienced eye.

Swords clashed on shields. Spears pierced in between the joints of armor. Arrows rained down from above. Men screamed in their dying breath. It was the raging sea of madness and despair Jarlon was intimately familiar with.

“Sir.” Sergeant Slim was standing next to him, following his gaze. “The Third Banner is in difficulties. Shouldn’t we go to relieve them?” Jarlon gave him a sideways glance. He was pushing his boundaries.

“No. Our orders are clear to remain in position until further instructions.”

Their lord had been very clear about that. As much as Jarlon despised the order, he would remain diligent. Usually, they were in the middle of the fight, soldiers rallying around the Royal Guard. The soft murmur of the battle made his fingers itch. Slim knew that, but it was his job to test him. It’s what Jarlon had been looking for in his sergeant.

“The men are not happy. She is giving them the chills.”

Jarlon nodded. The chained wreck behind them even made the seasoned veteran uncomfortable. Scholar Freysing had always been a loving person. But something had twisted her mind, broken her body. Her constant mumbling let the soldiers guarding her shift uncomfortably.

“Lord Trenton has his reasons.”, said Jarlon. At least he hoped so. “Attacking the Talvarian Empire so openly is bold. Or insane as his counselors had put it.”

For generations, the city-states and small shires of the region had lived under the heel of the Talvarians. For good reasons.

“Keeping the Royal Guard out here doesn’t inspire the lads with courage, either.”, noted Slim.
“The Talvarian Heavy Cavalry is missing, too. Something is going on. I can feel it. Trenton wouldn’t throw all in the balance without a plan.” Jarlon managed to sound confident enough that he might believe it himself. Slim just nodded silently.

“Cavalry! Behind us!”, shouted someone in their rear guard.
“Defensive Position!”, barked Jarlon his orders instantly over the growing noise.

Everyone knew what to do. The well-trained soldiers moved quickly and as a unit. Jarlon joined his comrades in the first row. He knew they would need him.

“Hold your position! Don’t let them break through!”

Low growling thunder announced the entire Talvarian Cavalry. A sea of gold and brown colors on horse and rider was charging at them. It must have been every single horse and soldier the Empire could field, thought Jarlon. They weren’t content to just win the battle; they wanted to crush their enemies.

Instinctively Jarlon knew that he wouldn’t live to see another day. But he would fell as many of them as he could. A strange calm descended upon him. Jarlon smiled. “Let’s show them what we’re made of.”

Just as the cavalry was only a few meters away, Jarlon blinked just for a second and the world in front of him had turned into an incomprehensible nightmare.

Every horse on the field had burst into flames. Their riders who survived the unexpected fall screamed in agony, rolling and flailing on the ground as the fire consumed them. The stench of sulfur and burned flesh tainted the air.

Jarlon and his men starred in silent horror. “What…?”, stammered the soldier to his right.

A soft chuckle from behind him sent shivers down Jarlon’s spine. He spun around to see Freysing standing tall, her arms raised in a strange gesture. The air around her was crackling with energy. The madness in her eyes had turned into satisfaction over the destruction she had brought upon those unexpecting soldiers.

Just then, Jarlon understood. She had been their ace. The terrible weapon that would change their world forever.
‘What have you done…’

My Comment

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Writing time: 20 minutes (with breaks)
Editing time: about 2 hours

I might not have picked the best time to write on this one. The morning was stressful, with a lot of emotional revelations and decisions that impact my everyday life. So I worked on it on and off in between discussions. I felt very tense and troubled throughout the process.

It’s obvious to me what it is about. Why do horses burst into flames? Being in full fantasy mode, my mind immediately jumped to something magic related. An underdog type of situation on a battlefield was the way I decided how to capture the surprise of the spontaneous combustion of those poor animals.

The characters are somewhat standard military-type characters. As an elite unit, they are loyal, disciplined, and take their duty seriously. Even if they don’t understand why they are doing it. They were kind of fun to write, even though I find these stereotype kinda stale. But I didn’t want to focus too much on them as persons. They aren’t supposed to be more than the function they are serving here. So, I guess I’m okay with them.

So what’s up with our magician? Well, would she even be called a magician? She gives me more of a sinister warlock vibe.
I like when magic in stories has some cost attached to it. Changing the rules of your surroundings shouldn’t come for free. So, her being an intellectual, her sanity seemed a fitting choice for her price to pay. But why did she do it in the first place? Was it out of loyalty to her lord, the pure scholarly persuit or even just by accident that she ended up in chains on the battlefield? I don’t know. But it’s fun to think about the possibilities!

After having written it, I talked to another writer about the prompt, and her ideas seemed infinitely more interesting to me than what I’ve come up with. But I guess that’s how those things go, right? It’s challenging enough to come up with ideas but having confidence in them is a whole different beast.

How do you manage to find confidence in your ideas?

Make sure to check out the previous prompt. Or read the next one!


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