No Simple Semblance


Photo credit: Anne Worner

Agga waved her cane.  “Wouldn’t go farther if I were you, son.”

The warrior stopped at the field’s edge.  “How can he defend his castle with daffodils?”

“They aren’t, that’s how.”

Step too close, and blue daffodils revert to purple thistles, reaching up, hungry.

So many had tried.  Some escaped.  Some died.  Some went farther in, never to return. This one, she dissuaded.  Smart boy.

Attacking always failed.  Time to try her plan.

Sprinkling the precious potion, she advanced, one shaky step after another.  On either side, daffodils transformed into hideous monsters, stretching, grabbing. Her path remained blue, tranquil.

The gate opened with a creak.  She followed the music.

Carrenda was surrounded by courtiers, colorful banners, laughter.  He looked as young as when she’d first seen him, storming the castle on that magnificent flying cart, a field of blue sprouting in his wake.

All paused to stare at Agga.

“Nice trick,” Carrenda said.  “Can you turn any illusion into what it seems?”

She sighed.  So handsome.  “Not you, my lord.  Here, all I can do is make things true.”  Crushing the charm, she threw the dust upwards.  The room’s illusions faded—the banners torn, the courtiers merely statues, Carrenda old and stooped.  Silence pushed in on them.

“So, you came to challenge me?”

“Legend is that anyone who can enter earns the throne.”

Carrenda hobbled closer, reached forward.  Agga realized too late to dodge, even from his slow hand.

She turned to stone, joining his court of statues.

“Legends lie.”

Word count: 250.  Written in response to this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction challenge, although I apologize to Al that I couldn’t get it down to 200 words. (It started at over 400, whew!)  Big thanks to Al Forbes for running the challenge, and providing the original photo prompt, below. Click here to see other stories written for this same challenge.  Sorry I’m late, too — I was at my first writers conference this weekend, which was educational and great fun but very time- and energy-consuming.

I’ve been thinking for a while about a legend of a castle protected by a field of thistles, although I was originally thinking normal thistles, not blood-thirsty plant monsters posing as daffodils.   If you’ve ever tried to navigate a patch of thistles, or pull one out of your backyard without steel-covered gloves, you can imagine what I mean.

If you’re curious about the blue daffodils, read this:When Daffodils Were Blue.


Photo © Alistair Forbes


33 thoughts on “No Simple Semblance

  1. Great imagination Joy. And blue daffodils are new to me! Great read 🙂 The James Bond novel You Only Live Twice features a castle protected by poisonous living plants, if you’re interested in a modern take on it. The start of this made me think of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Iain! When I wrote the first story, I thought there was no such thing in the real world as blue daffodils – but gee, people can make anything these days. Funny about the James Bond reference, I didn’t know about that one!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like this on so many levels. Such an inventive protection. And a conqueror with magical powers. Carrenda has a lot of power, and Agga clearly underestimates him. Great imagination, Joy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Gabi! Yes, Agga let her guard slip for a moment there. She has a lot of power too, and I think was expecting him (or hoping for him) to do something else. I wonder if that spell will actually hold her though, hm… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lynn! Yes, there’s definitely a history there, although I was only able to hint at it a bit. I love this idea that they were two young magic users, beautiful and powerful and full of themselves, at odds but also drawn to each other, then over the years, growing old and weary in their ongoing battle / courtship, separated by this spell…

      Given the way magic works in my world, the fact that she was able to dispel all his illusions in the throne room in one fell swoop indicates that she is very powerful indeed. Especially after just nullifying his daffodil-thistle spell, which would have used up most casters’ magic power for the whole day. Whew! In an earlier version it was more clear that she was exhausted by that last spell, which made it harder for her to dodge him.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like the idea that there are magical rules, that the power isn’t endless or easy to come by. Makes perfect sense to me. Love the daffodil / thistle spell too – a real touch of the fairy tale there 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh there are rules, all right. This is hard fantasy. I have at least a hundred pages of rules on magic, if you count the spell descriptions (and explanations for how they work). Of course, somehow I always end up wanting to do a new kind of spell in the story, so I have to figure out how it will work within the rule set. (sigh) And whenever I don’t think it all the way through — like when I winged it on the story about the Circular Passing earlier this week — I find myself backed into a corner. Oops… Okay, I can get out of this, I know I can. 😉

        Glad you liked the vicious flower spell thing. I was going for a fairy tale vibe: a magical castle surrounded by thistles. Angry, huge, hungry thistles.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sounds complicated. I sometimes find it hard to remember what time of day it was when I started a scene, let alone anything else. I always have to write a document with characters dates of birth, current age, full name (especially as I often change the name part way through a book).
        At least you have rules, though. Or anything would be possible, then I guess that would get quite boring 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly! I have this conversation on a regular basis, where I ask another author (or GM) why someone in their world hasn’t used their fun new speculative toy for evil and/or despotic ends. They mumble something about there being strong cultural norms against that, but as a sociologist I know that just doesn’t work. If there’s a personal incentive to do X then there will always be some jerk who does X, so a world-builder has to figure out why X hasn’t happened yet. Or you can just summarize this by saying, “There’s always some jerk.” 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • All we need to do is look around us to know that the majority of people will follow most laws, but there are always some who will break any law society imposes. It’s human nature and probably part of the reason we’re so successful as a species. We don’t all abide by the rules or what others have done before us – if we did we’d all still be hunter gatherers or walking on all fours 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for backing me up on that; I was beginning to feel a bit of a wuss for treating thistles as so tough to deal with. But they are! I first thought about this as a saying in Eneana that someone has “built a field of thistles around his/her heart” — which sounded much worse to me than a wall around your heart. All I needed was a legend about a field of thistles being used for defense for them to base this saying on… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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