Contest #89 shortlist ⭐️


Historical Fiction



In the dim twilight shadows, the late Sir Edmund, Knight of the Felled Ash and Rider for Tolden Castle, lists atop his steed and, seen by no one, falls to the ground.


A jolt runs through Sir Edmund’s spine. The air tastes metallic in his mouth. Absently, as if in waking dream, a hand reaches for his nape, and the fingers come away warm and wet .


Just a hundred yards away, through the slim, cross-shaped embrasure cut into the stone stairwell wall, she watches the rider.

She watches him along the shaft of a bolt, as he rides into the night.

She has drawn back the string and latched it, and now she holds her crossbow high, with eyes steady and grip firm, waiting. The steel head of the dart longs to taste blood, to bite into the pale flesh of his neck, soft and yielding.

She will gladly oblige.

Fingers tighten around the lever, as she looses her bolt and watches it fly.


 Sir Edmund shrugs on his coat as he waits for the sun to set. Thick and dark, and bearing no seals, the gambeson will shield his image even if it can only provide meagre protection for his body.

“No armour?” asks his young squire, come to see him off. “I could run up to the forge, look for some spare plate.”

“And when old John finds you lurking around, what then?”

Arnold pales, and Sir Edmund laughs, and waves off his stuttered protests with an airy hand. “It is no matter. Metal armour would only slow me down. But I have my blade to protect me from attacks from the front, and nothing to fear from behind, for I ride leaving only allies at my back.”

Arnold considers this wisdom. “Surely it is better still, to travel with a companion, that he may watch your back and you his in turn? I could accompany you.”

To his chagrin, Sir Edmund simply chuckles to himself again, dismissing his aid and concerns out of hand. He asks instead, “Is my horse ready?”, and Arnold, nodding the affirmative, skulks away to ensure that it is.


The children play in the castle courtyard, beneath the afternoon sun, running and shouting and playing their games without getting underfoot. 

The eldest of them stand to the side, apart and aloof. Aged nine, nine, and eleven, they cast disparaging eyes over their juvenile peers, and speak instead in solemn tones, of adult issues, as befits their greater maturity.

“My sister said,” one begins, “that Queen Lyona’s armies are marching on us tonight, and that right now they are camped in a field only three miles away.”

“You are wrong,” says his friend. “It is the Marcher Lord Flint who waits nearby, and the Queen Lyona is sending forces to help us.”

You are a fool. Why would the Queen send us armies to defeat one measly baron. If anything, she and Flint are working together.”

“If we don’t need armies to defend the castle from one baron, they will not need a baron’s help to take a castle. Speak sense.”

And as one they both turn to Ida, who is old even within their circle of elders, and thus the wisest among them.

Ida pauses, both to formulate her response, and to add gravitas to what she will say. “Let us pray,” she begins, with the air of someone who is about to say something deeply profound, and is warning everyone to react with appropriate reverence. “Let us pray, that whoever the enemy may be, God does not will that we come to war.” 


"We’re preparing for war," the castle smith offers as greeting to his young apprentice. He speaks in his usual gruff manner, without looking up from his hammering, and Joseph too, asks no questions as he moves to the cooling arrow heads in the corner of the room. 

Joseph seldom asks questions. It is a foundation of their partnership.

The room is hot. It rings with the clang of metal, as they work without words, forging blades and tempering steel, and shutting their minds to thoughts of anything else. People come and leave throughout the day, but John pays them little mind, and Joseph even less.

The only break in their routine, comes a little after noon, when a confused Joseph, after counting and recounting a set of broadhead quarrels, asks his master whether he has seen a misplaced crossbow bolt.


“Letter for you, sir.”

Sir Edmund takes it with a dismissing nod. His fingers run across the edges of paper, over the marked wax seal.


The chamber maid finds Marie, for the second time that day, in her room as she is drawing a crossbow out from beneath her bed. 

She pays her no mind, examining her quarrels instead. She has but a few, as it is rare she is ever in need of one, and she notes now with dismay that although the bolts are sturdy and well-made, their edges are blunt. The heads are narrow, forged for swift flight and blunt trauma, and though she is confident that she could hit her target whatever her ammunition, she is not certain a single bolt could land a killing blow.

For as long as his death is not swift, the Rider would need only survive long enough to draw a watchful eye and raise the alarm, and then she could be made. No, his death must be assured and immediate, and for that, she will need a quarrel with a sharp edge.

She will need a broadhead, and that she will only be able to acquire from the castle’s own arsenal.

With that matter resolved, and her course of action decided, she sets her bow aside and rises to her feet. Her eyes meet Amelie’s own.

“By whatever means necessary,” she says, and receives a solemn nod.


In the corner of the bustling kitchen, a scullery maid stops briefly to share a few moments of conversation with the spit boy. She tells him of the large armies amassed a few miles from them, and laughs brightly when he queries whether the threat of imminent starvation may grant him respite from his unending duty of turning his Lord’s daily hog.

“Perhaps they will choose us, turn by turn, and have you roast us over fires instead,” she offers.

“If I am so spared that fate of being eaten, then maybe at last, something good will come from my position here,” he answers, smiling and utterly unconcerned.

“Perhaps the new Lord will be a monk, and you will be spared from roasting meats for the rest of your days.”

“If that is the case, I hope he hurries and attacks soon.” A pause, carefree and full of mirth, as the two struggle to collect themselves and their thoughts. “I don’t suppose you know who this new lord might be.”

“I doubt we will find it making much difference to our own lives. Though, perhaps we shall have a lady instead. The Queen Lyona is said to be expanding her military.”

“The Queen Lyona is also said to have a great number of personal artefacts, that she gifts to the members of her household in recognition of their deeds. She would be a fine Lady indeed.” He grasps her hand, briefly. “Let us turn traitor and swear fealty to her. Perhaps she will reward us too with some small jeweled trinket.

“Perhaps,” she chuckles, and with that, the two part ways as they carry on with their daily routines.


The Lady of Tolden Castle is prone to fits of anxious frenzy, and so her maid attendant often finds herself assuming the role of confidant in addition to her regular duties.

She has just finished reassuring her Lady that, while yes, it is troubling that so many soldiers could be lying in wait for them so close, now that they have fair warning it is unlikely that any harm will befall them.

Ruth does not necessarily believe in the comforts she spouts, but through experience she has learned that truths are not always helpful, nor wanted. Certainly, she has found her Lady and duties far easier to manage when she is calm, and they are both happier for it.

“Besides,” she continues, brushing her Lady’s hair in a soothing manner, while the new chambermaid quietly leaves the room, “you say your husband has a plan. I am sure reinforcements will be making their way here very soon.” 


They stand on the parapets at dawn: Sir Edmund and his Liege Lord, eyes on the horizon, watching the rising sun.

Their voices are hushed, and they speak together under the cover of birdsong. His Lordship holds a tattered letter, though the Rider who brought it to him has been long dismissed.

"And you can trust this scout, who sends you this letter?"

"My general assures me I can, and him I would trust with my life." A short, humourless laugh. "Indeed, several times now I already have."

Sir Edmund turns to look at him. “And this is all we know? No specifics, no numbers, merely that there lie several cohorts, of infantry and cavalry both, that wait to march upon us.”

“That is all.” His gaze does not stray from the distant skyline, as though he waits for the marching armies in turn.

He looks pensieve, bordering on serene. The same cannot be said for Sir Edmund, who speaks now with a frantic glint in his eyes.

“And what of the castle’s defenses? Armours, weaponry, men?”

He is met with a sigh. “It hardly matters. We have some archers, yes, and weapons we can make. But we do not have much of a combative militia, and their numbers are likely so great that I doubt they will give us the chance to engage us on the battlefield.

Comprehension seeps heavy into Sir Edmund’s shoulders, into his very bones. “They mean to starve us out.”

“I fear that they will.”

There is a lull, and the birds fill the silence as if taking over the conversation themselves. The sun’s rays cast the day’s first shadows across a sundial on the grounds, as if the heavens themselves are counting down the last hours of Tolden Castle.

When Sir Edmund speaks again, it is in an urgent tone fueled by needful determination.

“Then we can not allow ourselves to fight alone. An alliance. Baron Flint, perhaps, or the Lord and Lady Salis.”

“The idea is not without merit. But it will not be so simple to convince people to support so disadvantaged a side. Not to mention the difficulty in sending them word alone.”

“That I can do.” He looks resolute now, his words edged with grim certainty. “With your permission, my Lord, I shall set course in the evening hours and ride by nightfall, with a letter bearing your mark. There are powerful men that owe you favours, my Lord, by your words and my speed they shall come to your aid in this time of need. My steed is swift and my resolve strong, and I am more than able to evade the enemy encampment. There is no other way.”

“No. No, it seems there is not.”

“Well, then. Send the letter to me by noon, and in the afternoon I shall prepare and then be off. I will not fail.”

“I pray you do not, Sir Edmund.” His Lordship looks grim. “I pray you do not. For if you fall, I am certain that Tolden Castle will fall with you.”

April 17, 2021 02:23

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Michael Boquet
15:32 Apr 23, 2021

Great to see the judges didn't choose this week's stories all from the same prompt! This is my favorite story chosen from this contest. I admittedly found the plot to be a bit confusing, but it's well structured and well told, especially since it's in reverse. Congrats on getting shortlisted!


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Sophia D
03:30 Apr 27, 2021

Great job, this was very creative! I liked how you maintained the story's medieval setting by the terminology employed and the formal voice used by the characters. I'd like to echo Sherlock's comment about the symmetry between the beginning and end of the story - it was very well-done. It was intriguing to piece everything together while reading the story. I'm curious if the "sniper" was part of an inside job or not? It's not specified whether the lady planning the assassination was living in Tolden Castle as well, but perhaps you'd like t...


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T.H. Sherlock
09:11 Apr 24, 2021

I’m also pleased to see that not all the short-listed stories were from the same prompt! I really liked this and loved the way you described the events. E.g. ‘There is a lull and the birds fill the silence as if taking over the conversation themselves’. I think it was very well written without coming across as ostentatious. Admittedly I also found the plot a little confusing with so many different characters featuring in the narrative - however, when I finished reading I felt like this added to the impression of chaos and anxiety which was...


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Cathryn V
20:28 Apr 23, 2021

Good response to this difficult prompt! I especially like this part: She has drawn back the string and latched it, and now she holds her crossbow high, with eyes steady and grip firm, waiting. The steel head of the dart longs to taste blood, to bite into the pale flesh of his neck, soft and yielding. She will gladly oblige. Fingers tighten around the lever, as she looses her bolt and watches it fly. Congratulations on being short listed!


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Stevie B
15:35 Apr 23, 2021

Poor Sir Edmund certainly has a lot on his shoulders. Very well written, my friend!


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