Flowers Bloom In Desolate Places

Submitted into Contest #210 in response to: Write about a character who has to grapple with something completely alien to them.... view prompt


Adventure Fantasy Mystery

Then there is the legend of the Heaven Flower, the flower that blooms only in the desolation of the largest desert in the world. This rarest of all flowers blooms in the dead of night and for one hour of intense daylight it lives, and in living provides more beauty than a human mind can comprehend. The Heaven Flower is an intoxicating distillation of all that is good. No one is built to behold it in all its glory. No one is pure enough to withstand its truth.

Legend has it that once every hundred years, the flower emerges from the desert sands and shines more brightly than the sun. Quite how this story came about, no one knows, for it is an unlikely tale and were it to be true, surely none who witnessed the flower in all of its heavenly glory would survive to recount its brief but wondrous visitation in the harshest of lands.

A legend, a flight of fancy, or an impossible dream? Ser Philip believed that he saw beyond the unlikely veneer of such fancies. He knew that the Heaven Flower was his destiny, or at least a part of it. He had heard the story in a far-flung tavern and it had enraptured him. This tale of a mythical flower was a beginning. The much delayed start of his own story. He would find the Heaven Flower and in finding it he would discover the meaning of his life, perhaps even the meaning of life itself. Once his eyes were opened to the existence of such a wonder, his life’s purpose would be clear.

When young Philip was a squire, there had been another flower. That delicately delightful flower had been a slip of a girl called Miranda. The two of them had been inseparable and although neither of them had ever voiced the words that approached the promise that lay between them, it had been there all the same. These two were meant for each other. Two peas in a pod. The fair lady and her devoted knight.

Then one day, a terrible blight had visited the land and Miranda had been plucked from the earth and discarded as though she were but a single blade of inconsequential grass. Ser Philip had heard the dread news of his love’s demise, but refusing to believe it, he had returned immediately from the tourney in a neighbouring kingdom. His desertion of his master-knight had earnt him a sound thrashing, but he felt not a blow as he succumbed to a state of terrible numbness following his audience with the cold and waxy thing that Miranda had become. Having lost the spark of life that she had harboured so perfectly and beautifully, she was a sickening reminder of what had once been and now could never be. 

Amongst the rumours of that night were whispers of a dark and foreboding visitation. A man who was not a man stalking the ramparts of the castle before darting inside to take Miranda away forever. These stories could be nothing more than tall-tales. The wasted words of scoundrels and gossip mongers. The truth was not in those words, for no man could enter the castle, commit such an abominable deed and then slip away undetected. Not unless he had wings and had flown onto ramparts.

After Miranda’s death, Ser Philip was never the same. Some say that a part of him died on that fateful day. A pitiful, sad and heartbroken sacrifice to his one true love. Nevertheless, he committed himself to the life of squire and then of knight. Never was there a more proficient warrior, but he lacked for something and that lack was apparent. No fire burned within him and his heart was but a dull and grey organ, reluctantly pumping his barely warm blood around his still grieving body.

It would seem that the quest for the fabled Heaven Flower was perhaps an attempt to rekindle this flame of his, not that he could or would admit this to himself, let alone anyone else. Ser Philip was a taciturn and insular man. He had withdrawn from those around him when he was still a boy and was never for changing.

When he broke the news of the quest to his faithful squire, Daniel, the man was crestfallen. Never having cut the mustard or made the grade, Daniel was never going to hold his own standard, only the flag of his master-knight. Squires are boys, and Daniel had never grown up. What he lacked was not only maturity, but also the gumption to work beyond the bare minimum. He had gravitated towards Ser Philip, because this knight was so obviously lost and his lack of lustre almost matched Daniel’s. They deserved each other, at least as far as Daniel was concerned. This consideration of the quiet and undemanding knight helped perpetuate the denial of his own sloth and laziness.

Daniel kept a firm grasp of his lackadaisical ways even upon receipt of his new instructions. He was in no rush to go adventuring. This was not what he had expected from this knight, but now all was a-change. What Daniel could not understand was Ser Philip’s delivery of the news of their mission. The man himself remained cold and monotone. There was no excitement here. This was not the spirit of adventure. It was more like a visit to a grim and dour maiden aunt out of a sense of duty, and with no more than a thimbleful of devotion. There was no roar and there was no vim and vigour, and so Daniel felt all at sea. Confused and worried at what the future held. He didn’t want to go into the night and to do so quietly troubled him to a point of delirium.

Nonetheless, Ser Philip set out the very next day and seeing that he had little alternative, Daniel followed. Even as he trailed behind his master-knight, Daniel considered his options. Those options depressed him being the ignominy of dishonour having failed his master-knight and the subsequent derision and exile from polite company and all other company for that matter. He would starve as he began to freeze to death. He stopped short of thinking about how his life choices were not helping him right now. His adoption of the maxim do the bare minimum, left him with few skills and abilities and the truth of his existence was that no other knight would put up with such a scruff of a slob.

Daniel sighed.

Ser Philip did not acknowledge the sigh even though his training as a warrior had heightened his senses and made him aware of far more than most would attend to. The man was all focus, more so in his embracing the quest that he had been made for. This was what he had been waiting for all his life. Everything before now had been mere practice. All of it. He had built himself into a knight worthy of this task and he was ready. Ready to be tested. He found that he was relishing his being tempered in the fires of this quest. Daniel missed the hint of a smile on his master-knight’s face as they rode onwards.

Following a long and arduous journey, the two stopped in the small town of Santa Cruz. The town was so small and lacking in the luxuries that Daniel had been looking forward to that he could not bring himself to consider it to be a village, let alone a town. This was to be the last civilisation that they would encounter before they entered the desert itself. A sun-bleached outpost that hinted at what was to come.

Having secured provisions and a room for the night, Ser Philip afforded Daniel the freedom of the town for the remainder of the evening, preferring himself to sip at his carafe of water and contemplate the trials to come.

“Yeah, thanks for nothing,” Daniel grizzled as he ambled off in search of whatever it was the locals drank to forget this hell hole, music to drown out the sound of the complaining and moaning voices in his head and the company of a woman to help him remember that he was a man and not a spare pack horse. 

Eventually, he found a place that sold drink. A woman who had seen better days and better teeth grinned at him as she poured him the cloudy drink that they brewed in these parts. The liquid looked like milk that had been contaminated in unspeakable ways. It tasted worse than it looked, but there was the familiar scorching of alcohol, so it would have to do.

“Leave the bottle,” he told the woman, sliding a coin across the table towards her in favour of handing her the coin. He did not relish the prospect of physical contact with her. Later, two thirds of the way down the bottle, he would change his mind and he would more than relish it, having asked her about the possibility of younger versions of herself, weighing up the pros and cons of those bad teeth compared to the gnashers of his mule. He never stopped to consider just how much of the vile fermented milk drink the woman had had to consume before she considered laying with him to be a good idea.


Daniel dreamt the word, but he felt the slap outside of his dreams, struggling to unglue his gummy eyes and attach meaning to his senses, he squirmed on the straw lined crib.

“I said up!” cried Ser Philip, “the day has long dawned you useless bag of skin!”

Daniel opened his eyes in time to see the face of his master-knight moving into clear and intimate view. Ser Philip had a hold of his shirt and had hauled him to a sitting position, “you are here to serve me, you drunken son of a weak minded goat! If you fail me, I will use your arse to sharpen my lance!”

Daniel’s eyes were now as wide as plates and he was nodding feverishly, the possibility of a hangover now rescheduled to another life, “yes, Ser! Right you are, Ser! Right away, Ser!”

Ser Philip growled.

Daniel bolted across the room and was a one-man hive of activity. He had never seen Ser Philip like this. The man had been transformed overnight. A furnace had been lit and now, Daniel was the squire of a master-knight in the mould of the knights of old. This was a force to be reckoned with. The proverbial one man army. It was said that a master-knight in his prime was worth a thousand foot soldiers or more, Daniel no longer doubted this. Not one bit. 

The sun beat down upon them as they left Santa Cruz. Daniel did not look back, he did not dare. He would not risk being found lacking. All the same, he felt eyes upon him and knew that one pair of those eyes were those of the old woman. He envisioned her and as her face came to mind he felt a pang. He would not exactly miss her, but she was the symbol of the life he was leaving and he was already missing that.

He doubted he would return, and that gave him a moment of morose contemplation.

The desert swallowed them up and the heat built and built. The horse and mule gave forth with sad utterances. Those sounds chilled Daniel as he watched Ser Philip’s back. The master-knight was a statue. Their progress in the deep and unrelenting sands was slow, but Ser Philip was relentless. He had set himself against this place and the fierce sun, and he was not for faltering.

That night, Daniel shivered in the inexplicable, creeping cold. His body had been cooked all day, but when the sun slipped away so did all of the heat. There was a short period of relief from the trials and tribulations of the day, but then the cold seeped into him and he battled the terror of his limbs becoming numb and never returning to him. All the same, sleep eventually took his exhausted form.

The morning came via rude motion. Ser Philip shook the man like a terrier shakes a rat in his jaws. They were up and away in a matter of moments, Daniel chewing on dried meat that took the moisture from his mouth and left his mouth dry for the rest of the day. 

His eyes hurt, but the hurt went well beyond his eyes. There was a trick being played here. The featureless desert was a never ending expanse of nothingness, and yet it was doing something to his eyes. It was latching onto them and now the contours of sand were bending this way and that, twisting his mind out of shape. He felt his breath becoming laboured and he would have cried if he had any tears left in his head. The sun had taken them long ago. He felt his lips cracking and bleeding as his mouth formed the shape of a silent scream. Then his mule stumbled and he fell unceremoniously to the sands.

A merciful shadow fell over him. He felt it and opened his eyes, “we’ll have to walk from here,” Ser Philip told him.

“I can’t,” Daniel told him, and he thought he might even mean it. The sun and burning sands had leeched his life from him and now, as he lay there, he didn’t think he had it in him to get up. He was dead barring a few minor technicalities.

“Then you are dead,” Ser Philip told him, as though he had read the man’s broiled mind.

Daniel nodded, it would be blissful to close his eyes and drift into sleep. He was a man who had always been fond of sleep and he was reconciled with a demise that was as simple and easy as easing himself into slumber.

Ser Philip curtly returned the nod and walked away. There was nothing to be done. He could not help his squire, unless his squire helped himself.

Leaving his dying horse and carrying what provisions he could, the knight walked deeper into the desert. Later, were a hawk to fly over the corpse of the squire, it would see several interlaced circles of foot prints. The delirious man had tried to leave the desert, but had not managed to get more than a few yards from his deceased mule. Soon enough, the both of them would be nothing more than a few bleached bones that would in time be swallowed up by the sands of the desert.

Now, time lost all meaning for Ser Philip. He travelled in the bosom of the infinite and with every step, he shed an unnecessary piece of himself. As he did so, he found an inner peace that spoke to him of the simplicity of an existence uncluttered by the noise and nonsense that people accumulate and draw to themselves in a foolhardy attempt at defending them from the truth of who they really are.

At the point at which his provisions were exhausted, Ser Philip saw things for what they were and he let go of the last of the things he had valued and in that moment, he understood.

This was the quest.

He was the quest.

He had needed the desert to strip it all away. To take from him all that was not needed. Now he was pure. 

Was he the bloom?

He thought that might be the case, and yet he walked some more, for walking was good. The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other and creating the momentum of life. 

That was when he saw it. In the dying embers of the sun, the single stem and the closed bud of a flower. He knew it for what it was. He ran towards it, shedding what little clothes he still wore. Barely aware that he was doing so, but understanding that he must be naked in the presence of such beauty. He bore himself towards the miracle on feet that barely touched the sand, his heart filled with an elation that threatened to burst it.

Then his way was blocked.

A bewinged armour clad knight barred the way. The impossible was being denied by the improbable. Ser Philip did not falter and he did not slow, he launched himself at the dread warrior and grappled with he would deny him everything. He fought with an inhuman strength that was matched by the anonymous warrior, and as they wrestled with each other, Ser Philip experienced a growing desire to know who it was that he was locked in battle with. As this curious desire grew, so did his unease. This built and built until he knew that he must unmask his foe. He must discover the identity of the enemy who would deny him everything, but try as he might, he could not get his hand to the visor of that helmet.

The two of them fought and fought until the sun returned, and not once did Ser Philip see the face of his adversary, nor did he catch a glimpse of the fabled Heaven Flower. The sun rose and he knew that he had precious little time left to him, and so he gave everything he had left, he tore at the man before him using every ounce of strength he had left to him. He committed himself and his last breath to the defeat of this man and in one glorious moment he grasped the visor of the helmet and tore if open.

In that moment he saw everything, and he understood it all.

He froze in the rising desert sun, gazing down upon the bloom and the glory of the rare and precious Heaven Flower consumed him.

August 08, 2023 16:19

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Russell Mickler
16:00 Aug 13, 2023

Hi Jed! The Heaven Flower - sounds mind-bendy! Let’s go! Oh, a medieval setting - fun! But Santa Cruz … hmm. Wow, okay, it’s a very bright flower, yikes, blinding. Ser Philip better bring sunglasses. Tragic, the loss of Miranda. I liked the way you described Daniel like he was quiet-quitting or something. A woman who’d seen better days and better teeth - great line! Bewinged? Oh man, the rising desert sun - oh, the ending is a little twisty, he gazed down and was consumed by the flower? The sun isn’t the flower? Anyway, a fun quest...


Jed Cope
11:48 Aug 21, 2023

Hi Russell, many thanks for this. It seems that you enjoyed the quest and that is all anyone can ever ask...!


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Mary Bendickson
16:47 Aug 08, 2023

Please explain this parable. Sounded like Jacob wrestling with God but I don't know.


Jed Cope
21:06 Aug 08, 2023

There's something of that here. The quest for meaning and where that may lead and how it may look...


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