This is an excerpt from the short story “Under the Mountain” written by Gwen Murtha.
The sky was not supposed to be that dark. Mair eyed it with distrust as she trudged up the almost overgrown mountain path that had been stomped into place by warriors thousands of years dead. The leaves on the trees were in their final days of glory and the red and orange clashed against the unnatural grey. It wasn’t rain she feared, but lightening. Fire from the sky that would burn crops already fighting worn out soil and salt. Crops that would probably rot anyway because anybody who could harvest them had fled to the cities half a decade ago.
The King in the Mountain couldn’t save a completely dead country. She’d best hurry.
The path turned to a rubble floor. The mountainside once wore a castle and still had the old stones to prove it. The remnants of a round tower with broken steps and a tree growing into its crevices and cracks gave her to a view of the valley. From a branch that threatened to break under her slim weight, she looked over the edge. Past the rocks, and the weeds growing around them. Past the trees that hid the mountain under a blaze of color. Past the sky that grew darker with every breath. Past the village where she grew up that had been robbed of crops, horses, and men. There was a field and all the bodies merged to form a slab of flesh, picked at by ravens.
The King would set it right. He had too. The country had known no greater hour of need than now.
They shouldn’t have waited so long before looking for him. When her mother had been the secret keeper, which was to say when her mother had been alive, she refused to waken the King.
“What if this isn’t the worst of it? What if we wake him, he helps us, dies, and something worse comes along? What then?” She said it without looking up from the flax she was spinning into wool. Even though the steam of summer still made Mair sweat until her tunics stank, winter would bite soon.
“What if this is the worst of it and we don’t wake him? What then?”
“It will get worse,” Morgan said, and this time she did look up. She wore that look on her face that meant she was Seeing something. Mair recognized that look, although not from her own mirror. She took after her papa in that regard. Her eyes were fine, but she could only see what was in front of her.
Morgan had been right. It had gotten worse. When she died that winter, she passed on two secrets. One: where to look for the King; two: when to look for the King.
“Mair?” To think that things as ordinary as hunger and pneumonia could touch the strongest woman in the village. “Mair?”
“I’m here.” Mair sat by their only bed. There wasn’t any useful work to do anyway. Best to keep her mother company.
To read the full story, contact amaryllisturman [at] gmail [dot] com and she will arrange it with Gwen.