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Fantasy Fiction

This would be her masterpiece.

With a chisel in one hand, a hammer in the other, Naomi paced the workshop. Her leather shoes tapped against the floor with each footfall. Candlelight flickered off a block of marble, taller than she stood, the stone a light hue of fading smoke. Naomi stopped and stared. She twirled the chisel around her fingers. 

It would be her masterpiece.

She raised the chisel against the rock, breathed in, and readied the hammer. Then, with an exhale, she lowered her tools. Everything had to be perfect. She couldn’t strike a single flaw. Not one. The recipient would accept no less, nothing below, perfection.

She’d raised her tools again as a servant knocked on the door, a basket in hand. 

“Yes?” Naomi said.

“Ms. Amaya.” He bowed his head. “On the King’s behalf, I’ve brought you wine and bread, both prepared fresh. Please accept our humble offering.” He placed the basket on a table and stepped back.

“Uh, thanks.” Naomi bowed her head in return—was it courtesy or a greeting? She couldn’t tell anymore. Every country had a different way of doing things. “Keep the wine. The taste doesn’t suit me. It’s like sour water. Take the bottle for yourself, by all means.”

“A kind gesture, Miss-”

“Naomi.”

“Naomi,” the servant said. “I’m sorry to have interrupted your work, but the King would like to know when his sculpture will be ready. Will it be finished by the week’s end?”

“Week’s end?” Naomi tapped her fingers against her chisel, staring into the marble block. She then turned and pointed to the opposite side of the room, where a tall sculpture stood hidden beneath a cloth cover. “I finished it yesterday. Polished and everything. I had fun with it, easier than I thought, but know I won’t be able to make it to the reveal.”

“Of course, my lady. We understand you must be a very busy woman.”

“I guess I am.”

The servant bowed his head, closing the door behind him. Naomi spun on her heel, rested the chisel’s handle against her chin, and listened to the faint harp being played down the hall. Goddess bless the harp player. What would creation be without music? The wine bottle should’ve gone to him, if anything.

Now,

where 

to

start?

A poet first needed to write an opening line. Same with authors. Merchants had to open shop. Thieves spun lock picks across their palms. Guards beat their clubs against their hands. Blacksmiths heated metal. Knights readied their blades. Cavalry kicked their horses into motion. Kings poured glasses of wine before decisions.

Winemakers…chose to make the awful drink.

Naomi laughed, raised the chisel, then struck it with her hammer.

It broke into the stone. She blew away the chips of debris. Following the guidelines painted on, she lost herself in the work, the rhythmic tapping consuming her, passion and talent taking over. Hours passed—it’d been a blow to the heart hearing the harp stop—and the sculpture took rough shape. Carved edges and an indented centre.

She switched from a point chisel to a refining, toothed one.

Continual checks on her concept drawing kept her in the right direction. 

Shards and slivers of rock littered the floor. She swept them away with her foot, refusing to pick up a broom and break concentration. The sun rose. Birds chirped in the gardens, and Naomi yawned. She continued on until keeping her eyes open became the biggest challenge, then slept.

At dusk, a mug of bitter coffee awoke her senses. Back to it. She followed her mentor’s words: a one-pound hammer and a gouge for the hair. Porcelain-coloured dust coated her hands as she worked. A flat chisel textured the sculpture’s lips. Hours became days. Her safety goggles left deep purple marks around her eyes. 

Carving out the body, she hit a tad too hard—a loose piece flew out and cut her wrist.

A little blood was nothing when she thought of her recipient.

She carved out the clothing, slowing her pace for the jacket, racking her brain to remember each scratch or stitch that she could detail in stone. Servants ferried dishes. Naomi hardly noticed them in the flow of it. Days melted into weeks. The King came by to thank her personally for his sculpture, and she only nodded in return.

By the time she finished, Naomi dropped her sanding paper, stepped back, and stretched out her arms. Her fingers ached, and her reddened eyes watered. Candlelight flickered off a glorious statue of ashen marble. She couldn’t contain her smile—a month of work had finally paid off.

Not a single flaw. 

Perfection. 

A masterpiece. 

Her heart skipped a beat at the thought of presenting it.


- - -


Naomi walked in the rain, hidden under a coat, watchful eyes on the servants pulling her sculpture along. Droplets tapped against its tarp. She finished in time for monsoon season—her boots stepped through deep puddles on the way to the carriage.

By chance, luck, or the goddess’ divine intervention, her sculpture did not fall in the busy streets of Tien. Her servants hauled it into the carriage’s wagon without error.

“It hardly ever rains like this in Middknight,” Naomi said to the coachman, stepping up to take a seat beside him. Guards climbed into the back. “Ever. Is it common here?”

“Twice a year,” he said. “Who’s the piece for?” 

“Believe it or not,” Naomi smiled as the carriage broke into motion. “I’m bringing it to a shopkeeper, and I’m not getting paid a single coin for it.”

The coachman gave a confused laugh. Naomi kicked back and listened to the raindrops sliding down the carriage’s fabric. She lost herself in her thoughts, the scenery passing by, and she didn’t notice the abrupt crashing of a tree at first. A second tree snapping from the ground further off caught her attention.

“Hey? What’s happening?” She turned her head to the coachman, then back to the forest. He picked up speed with the crack of a whip. “What are you doing?”

“Damn kelcerous,” he said. “The rain upsets them, and they frenzy when their nests flood over. Hold on tight, ma’am, this’ll be rough.” The whip cracked again, and the horses whinnied, their hooves splashing against mud. Another tree crashed down nearby.

“I should’ve been told of this!”

“It’s usually never a problem, ma’am. We worry more about bandits out here.”

“Is that supposed to be reassuring? Get the guards-”

A beast, blue and black with a head as big as a boulder, rammed into a tree ahead. Its iron-heavy skull cracked the bark. It smashed into the tree once more, the roots ripping from the soil. A flurry of raindrops fell from the leaves. The kelcerous gave a thunderous roar and charged again—wood snapped in two on impact.

The horses kept their speed, hoping to outrun the falling tree. The carriage’s wheels spit up mud. Naomi cried out as they passed by, too slow, the tree crashing down on the wagon, rocking her in her seat. The woven canopy pulled inward. A guard yelped in pain.

The kelcerous sauntered off, shaking its bedrock-thick head.

Naomi jumped down as the carriage came to a stop. Her boots sunk into the trail. She rushed to the wagon, where the guards worked to lift the tree. It’d nearly broken the carriage in two, stopped only by the stone sculpture. One man complained about a broken leg. Another counted his blessings, praying to the goddess.

Naomi pushed past them and tore off the tarp. Rain drenched her hair.

The sculpture’s head had broken off. An uneven slant at the neck.  

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the coachman said. “Some unfortunate timing with the kelcerous. I’m sure you can get it fixed-”

“With what?” She clenched her hands into fists. “It’s stone, not clay! I can’t just fix it, you uncultured…you all had one job, and…” She breathed in, her arms trembling. Naomi exhaled. She dragged herself to the passenger seat and sat down.

“Just bring me to Middknight,” she mumbled.


- - -


Hours later—the sun setting into a clear night sky, Naomi stood outside a pawnshop in the heart of her city. She reached into her undershirt and brought out a key attached to a necklace. It matched the pawnshop's lock. The door groaned as it opened, and her footsteps creaked against the wooden floors within.

Home.

The guards wheeled in her broken sculpture with its head left on the podium. Naomi gave a half-hearted nod in thanks as they turned to leave. Her recipient wouldn’t care for the gift anymore—the woman would laugh as if it were a joke. 

“Ms. Vali?” Naomi called. “It’s me-”

“Ah,” a voice came. Vali walked down the stairs at the back of the pawnshop, a candle holder in hand. “My world-renowned artist returns. Where were you this time? Painting the Emperor of Sola? Drinking wine with the Monarchs of the Three Isles? Or, let me guess, a romance with the King of Tien?”

“I…no.” Naomi turned away from her. “I wanted to make something for you.” She gripped a trembling hand on the statue’s tarp, readying herself for the embarrassment to come. Her voice shook as she spoke. 

“Since you’ve always been so nice to me, taking me in and giving me a kind home when I thought I’d grow up a street thief, I wanted to make you a gift of the greatest quality.” Tears wetted her eyes. “To the woman who taught me to read, got me over my first heartbreak, and made me who I am today…”

“Don’t be so sappy. I haven’t seen you in years-”

Naomi pulled off the tarp. Loose raindrops flew across the room. The broken head rolled off the podium and hit the floor with a thud, stopping at her feet. Vali smiled and laughed.

“Did you make a headsman statue to go with it?”

“It was supposed to be perfect.” Naomi wiped away the tears. “For you. I worked so hard.” She sighed, watching the floor. “But I finished as Tien’s monsoon season started. And these big-headed beasts,”

“Kelcerous,” Vali said.

“They went mad knocking down trees. One hit my carriage, and…I know you’ve always wanted me at my best, Ms. Vali, and I tried to show you I am at my best, now more than ever, but luck said otherwise.”

“I’m sure a strong enough adhesive will stick my head back on.”

“Are you not disappointed?”

Vali placed a hand on Naomi’s shoulder, staring into her grey eyes. “Why would I be disappointed? I’m happy the tree didn’t crush you! You put in so much effort for me when royalty is constantly sending you letters.” She let go of Naomi, bending down to pick up the head of stone. 

Vali held it in front of her, then looked at the sculpture.

“You even carved the scratches and stitches of my old coat. Your talent never ceases to amaze me.” Naomi blushed at the words. No king she ever worked for could get the same reaction. “I love it,” Vali said. “Broken or not, the thought put into it is the kindest thing anyone has done for me.”

Naomi stepped forward and embraced her.

She couldn’t imagine her life without the shopkeeper.

February 16, 2022 13:20

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39 comments

This is a really enjoyable story. I'm happy to see Naomi back again. It's wonderful how you get across the fact that royal thanks don't mean anywhere near as much to her as the approval of her foster-mother. Five critiques: [By the time she finished, Naomi dropped her sanding paper, stepped back, and stretched out her arms.] It seems as though there's something missing here. Maybe a description of cramped muscles or bleary eyes, or else something about Naomi being beyond all sense of pain/weariness? [her boots stepped through deep pud...

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Alex Sultan
03:48 Feb 19, 2022

Thank you, friend. I really like the edits you brought up - especially the first one when Naomi finishes the statue. It's such a great characterizing detail that I would not have thought of without your comment. I made a few other changes - I'm glad you brought up the spelling mistake on blessings. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Also, I know I'm late on it by now, but I will go over your latest story when I get the chance. 🙂

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That's fine, take your time. Do you think you might write more about Mai and/or Cynthia soon?

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Alex Sultan
06:32 Feb 20, 2022

I'm not too sure - most of what I have in mind for them works in a novel sense rather than a short story, but the right prompt may eventually come along.

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Okay. I understand that - I'm also working on stories which are most definitely novels.

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20:47 Feb 16, 2022

Hi Alex, I'm glad you wrote this week - I look forward to your posts. I really like the relationship between these two characters - I remember the previous story about them and how much I liked it. It's beautifully continued in this piece. I love the woman Naomi has become since I last saw her. I thought the importance she put on this piece in comparison to that she put on the work for a king was a great way to show her love for Vali. And I like that you kept the purpose of the new sculpture til the end. Really nice way to keep the rea...

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Dorsa S.
18:15 Feb 16, 2022

hey alex! this is a nice story you have here. i pitied naomi quite a bit, which is great on your part as you truly revealed her dedication to her work. the dialogue was wholesome as well. a few notes: Her leather shoes [echoed against] the floor with each footfall. - echo doesn't seem fitting in this sentence unless the room she was in was noticeably empty. if she has heavy footsteps, a word like 'pulsed' would be more useful. i'm still working out this one, but i might suggest something else later. Blacksmiths [smelted] metal. - this doe...

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Alex Sultan
21:40 Feb 17, 2022

Thank you, Dorsa. It's very nice of you to go into my story with such depth - I've made a lot of changes based on your feedback. I do agree, the tree falling scene needed to be reworked. I also really liked the word choice for 'ferried', which is clever and sounds really good. My stories usually are not wholesome, mostly war and thrillers, so writing this was a welcome mix-up. I'm glad you liked it. I hope to read something new from you soon 🙂

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Dorsa S.
22:20 Feb 17, 2022

i just finished reading the latest version. :) the tree falling scene is much better now. it's very vivid to the mind - the additions really improved it, and the add-ons towards the look of the beast balanced it out. and alas, these prompts aren't striking inspiration for me. maybe not this week?

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❀Leo Fall❀
18:52 Mar 24, 2022

This is a gorgeous take on the prompt. I love it.

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Alex Sultan
01:55 Mar 29, 2022

Thank you for reading this one! Naomi and Vali are two of the first characters I've ever come up with in writing, and I'm so glad people are reading about them. I appreciate the comment.

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Charlie Murphy
19:16 Feb 24, 2022

What a sweet story! Vali is awesome! Accidents happen. Don't sweat over them.

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Sharon Hancock
03:20 Feb 24, 2022

I really enjoyed this story. This makes me think you might be a sculptor or know one pretty well. Great story and very unique and original idea.

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Alex Sultan
17:19 Feb 24, 2022

Thank you for the kind comment, Sharon. I'm glad you enjoyed my story - I don't rock sculpt myself, but I did a lot of research for this one.

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Taj Isly
11:11 Feb 22, 2022

I like it when i start reading a story not knowing in where era or time I am until a detail jump and surprises me:) Beautiful story. Thank you.

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Alex Sultan
22:59 Feb 22, 2022

Thank you for the kind words, Sabrina. I'm glad you enjoyed my story.

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Tommie Michele
17:45 Feb 21, 2022

Alex, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading about Naomi—I think Middknight is officially my favorite fantasy setting/series of yours. The second I saw Naomi’s name, I got really excited :). I love how your stories about her are all connected and present one big character arc, but they also make sense on their own—it’s like stories within stories and I love it. I think my favorite thing was the part near the beginning, when the servant brings the wine and asks about the statue and Naomi just brushes off the king’s statue in favor of fo...

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Alex Sultan
22:57 Feb 22, 2022

Thank you, Tommie. I'm glad you read through this one - I know you've read the others with Naomi/Vali, and while they all work as standalone stories, there is one character arc. I appreciate the kind words. Naomi's voice and style feels natural for me to write, and I always enjoy it. I hope to read something new from you soon 🙂

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14:19 Feb 21, 2022

Intriguing... certainly kept you wanting to come back for more. Part of a longer story?

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Alex Sultan
22:58 Feb 22, 2022

Thank you for the comment! I'm glad you read my story - it is sort of part of a longer work. It works as a standalone story, but I've written a few for these characters now.

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Elle Boyd
22:05 Feb 20, 2022

What a lovely, wholesome story. I haven't read your other story/ies with Naomi, so she is new to me. :-) Your writing flows so well, Naomi is flushed out and three-dimensional, and I really cared about her. I even gasped when the statue was damaged! Her relationship with Vali is well-written also - you provide the backstory in a natural way. Great job!

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Alex Sultan
07:39 Feb 21, 2022

Thank you, Elle! Your comment is so kind. I'm glad you liked Naomi's character - she is one of my favourites, and her style and voice come naturally to me as I write. I appreciate the read 🙂

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17:36 Feb 20, 2022

I am so glad this is a longer work! Naomi is a fantastic character to follow, and you've created a world I could spend hours by the fire getting to know, while I turn page after page. Wonderful, Alex. You are at the top of your game once again. Just artful.

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Alex Sultan
07:42 Feb 21, 2022

Thank you, Deidra. I'm really glad you read this one through - Naomi's character is one of my favourites. There is so much to her that I could do a full novel on it. I appreciate the kind words.

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Keya Jadav
16:22 Feb 20, 2022

Hey Alex! How have you been? Like always, I absolutely loved this. Great you wrote a sequel with the prompt put forward in the perfect way. The individuality and imagery of the piece had me held captive till the very last word. It's so amazing; firstly when you introduced the protagonist and her zeal then the unfortunate event finished by satisfactory ending - really makes this story stand out. Everything is brilliant just a little remark: but know I won’t be able to make it to the reveal. --- you might wanna edit this line. good r...

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Alex Sultan
07:44 Feb 21, 2022

Thank you, Keya. I'm doing well 😁 I hope you are well, too. I appreciate the comment - I had fun continuing with Naomi's character. Her writing style feels very unique and something I can't replicate with other characters I write. I have been very busy, but I will try to catch up on your three latest stories when I get the chance :)

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Riel Rosehill
22:38 Feb 17, 2022

Hi Alex, What a lovely story. I kept wondering who the statue was for, and first I thought it was for the king and she lied about having finished it! But then it turned out a lot more wholesome than that.

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Alex Sultan
03:50 Feb 19, 2022

Thank you, Riel. I appreciate the kind comment. I'm glad the story kept you wondering - it's a good sign it worked. 😁

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Tammy Cooper
22:37 Feb 17, 2022

Beautiful. I love the detail you used in describing Naomi's artistic process. Great job.

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Alex Sultan
03:49 Feb 19, 2022

Thank you, Tammy. I had a lot of fun writing Naomi's character. I appreciate the kind words.

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20:59 Feb 17, 2022

Hi Alex, Just reading the edit. Couple of things: Shards and slivers of rock littered the floor. She swept it (them) away with her foot, refusing to pick up a broom and break concentration. Hold on tight, ma’am, this’ll be rough.” you've got Ma'am capitalised at one point and lower case here. Maybe just check through for them. “Did you make a headsman (headless??) statue to go with it?” I really like it. I think the edits have improved it quite a bit. Are you putting it in the contest?

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Alex Sultan
21:27 Feb 17, 2022

Thank you, Katharine. I really do appreciate both of your comments. You brought up some very good edits that I would not have caught. I'm also very glad you liked the story - 'Gutter Rat' is my favourite on my profile, and I had fun writing more for Naomi's character. Her style and voice come easy to me. I might do more at some point for the right prompt. “Did you make a headsman (headless??) statue to go with it?” -I meant 'headsman' here as a joke/nod to an executioner since the statue's head is missing. I may still change it if it is not...

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15:59 Feb 20, 2022

Hi Alex, I hope all is well? I had a look at your profile and could be wrong but have you just had a birthday? Happy birthday if so! I've just posted a draft of this week's story - Eye Spy. The storyline wont change at this point (unless someone points out a glaring problem) but it does need an edit. If you have time to read it twice I'd really appreciate your general impressions at this point and line edits later in the week. Let me know if you are posting this week and I'll look out for yours too. I hope all is well. Best, Katharine

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Alex Sultan
07:36 Feb 21, 2022

Thank you, Katharine! It was my birthday recently. It is very kind of you to notice. I'm looking forward to reading over your story - I'll leave my notes when I get the chance tomorrow. I do plan to write this week. Probably a much darker fantasy story than this one for either Tuesday or Wednesday.

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Annalisa D.
16:17 Feb 17, 2022

This was a really nice story. The descriptions were great and easy to visualize. The story really came to life in my head reading it. I liked how the piano music helped with the sculpture making and how you captured the process. I appreciate the mentions of how disgusting wine is since I feel the same. I really like seeing this relationship continue, since I remember them from former stories as well. It is a great dynamic. One small edit thing: "The sun outside rose, birds chirping in the gardens, and Naomi yawned." I think it should be bi...

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Alex Sultan
21:46 Feb 17, 2022

Thank you for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed this one and have read the others. I could write a whole novel about these two characters, and I'll probably write another story on them when the right prompt comes up again. There's still so much backstory for Vali. The sentence you mentioned was definitely off, so I'm glad you brought it up. Also, I don't like wine much either and that may have sunk into Naomi's character as I wrote her 😅

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Annalisa D.
21:55 Feb 17, 2022

That's good to hear! I look forward to reading more of their story and Vali's backstory.

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J.C. Lovero
02:28 Feb 17, 2022

Hi Alex, Glad to read another story from you. I liked how you characterized the relationship between Naomi and Ms. Vali. I laughed a bit at the beginning when I realized she was working hard on a statue that wasn't for the king - "easier than I thought" lol. Looking forward to the next!

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Alex Sultan
21:32 Feb 17, 2022

Thank you, J.C. I appreciate the read. I didn't originally have the king's statue joke in the concept/plotting, and it came across while in the flow of writing the first draft. I thought it was pretty good too. I'm glad you enjoyed the story 🙂

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