Fiction logo

Once More

a fantasy short story

By Morgan J. MuirPublished 3 years ago 10 min read
Once More
Photo by PAUL SMITH on Unsplash

The unnatural silence clung to the man’s ears. His boots should have crunched on the gravel with each step, or his chainmail and leather armor creaked. Instead, there was only muffled stillness in the mist. The watchman wiped the sweat from his brow and glanced at the dark, panther-sized cat walking by his side.

He pulled off his gloves and tucked them into his belt. “Why don’t you have to wear armor?”

“Because I am not foolish enough to need it,” the cat responded without looking up.

The watchman’s feet ached. It had been a long, painful journey, but he was finally headed home. He had earned that right. This time there would be rest. There would be peace.

A wooden grinding broke into his thoughts, and the watchman’s hand went to his sword. Before them lay the empty dirt road, swallowed quickly by pale grey mist. Behind was the same, and to either side ran a split rail fence.

“What is it now?” the cat asked, without breaking his stride.

The man straightened, reassured by his companion’s nonchalance. “I heard something.”

The sound came again, from the right and more distant this time. The man rolled his shoulders. He had earned this chance to go home. This time he wouldn’t be tempted away. The mist moved around him, like unseen fingers across his cheek. He shuddered and dropped his hand to the cat’s shoulders, gently touching the soft fur. “A windmill.”

The animal’s sinuous muscles slid beneath the dark pelt as it walked, and it flicked its ears back toward him. “There is nothing of consequence nearby.”

“There are ghosts in this mist.”

The cat bristled, and the watchman removed his hand.

The sound of the windmill whispered through the mist, and the humid heat pressed against the man. Begrudgingly, he removed his helmet, sliding back his cowl. The fresh, clean air felt cool against his newly exposed skin, and he ran his fingers through his stiff hair with a sigh. Without the helmet, his head felt far too light.

He looked at the helmet as he walked. It weighed heavily in his hands, but the lion crest emblazoned in red-gold on the brow made him smile. He’d spent his life in service of that crest, protecting those who could not protect themselves. Now he was finally headed to his well-earned rest.

“Do you suppose I could simply leave this here?” the man asked his companion, moving toward the fence.

“You would miss it,” the cat said without turning to watch.

“I am going home. I’ll have no need for a helmet.”

“True,” the cat said, glancing up at him with its silver eyes.

The man tucked the heavy helmet beneath his arm.

The beating of wings obscured the creaking of the windmill. A glossy raven, larger even than the cat beside him, landed on the fence. On its chest hung a bronze medallion with the sigil of a twisting bull. The man bowed, but the cat ignored it, taking a seat and licking its shadowy chest.

The raven cocked its head, waiting.

The watchman licked his lips, glancing at the cat’s nervously flicking tail, and addressed the bird. “Good sir, we seek only to pass through in peace.”

The bird’s black eyes gleamed as it met the watchman’s. It croaked, and a voice in the man’s head whispered its warning. Keep to the roads or you will be lost.

“We will, thank you.” He would make it home this time.

The raven opened one of its wings and began grooming its feathers.

The cat rubbed itself against the man’s legs. “Let’s go.”

The man nodded, glancing back at the raven. The bird rose into the mist, filling the area with the sound of its great black wings.

The mists settled as the wingbeats faded, but the groan of the windmill continued, now far to the left. A glint of metal fell at the watchman’s feet; the raven’s bronze bull medallion. He hung it around his neck. Glancing to the side, the watchman found the fence little more than a ghostly shadow. The mist had pulled closer.

Sweat trickled down the watchman’s neck, and he tugged at his armor to relieve the heat. Like the helmet, it weighed down his tired frame with each step. The mist swirled around him, begging for the armor’s removal, whispering for him to lay down his burden. He was going home. He no longer needed it.

The watchman reached for the chestplate’s straps. He could at least loosen it. Beyond the sound of the windmill came a new sound. Small, like the bleating of a lost lamb. The watchman shook his head.

“Fly in your ear?” the cat asked.

The watchman waved a dismissal. “No, just thought I heard a lamb crying.”

“I would know if there were lamb nearby.” The cat’s eyes gleamed in amusement.

The man touched his breastplate again, running his fingers across the crest. A lion protecting a lamb. So long as he wore the crest he was bound to protect. What would he be when he set it aside?

The ghosts in the mist whispered reassurances.

He would be at peace.

The man again reached for the buckle of the breastplate, and the bleating took on a different tone. Like that of a softly crying child. The man shook his head, trying to clear it of the sound. Why could the mist not deaden that sound as it had others?

He turned in the road, hoping to discern the direction of the sound. He could at least make sure the child was safe before he continued. Ahead of him, the cat took a seat to watch in silence.

The man turned in a slow circle, listening for the sounds of the windmill and the child. The noises moved, first closer, then further, then right behind him.

“What are you looking for?” the cat asked.

“I hear a child.” The watchman spun, but saw nothing beyond the road, the cat, and the mist. “We should check and see that she is well.”

“We could,” said the cat. “But if you leave the road, you will lose your way in the mist.”

The watchman hesitated. He was so close to finally being home. But what if she needed his help? His exhausted body ached. More than that, his heart was weary. He turned again, listening for the sounds but found only silence.

“I’ll be glad to pass from this place,” he said, striding past the cat.

The cat fell into step beside him. “It is only a place.”

The unrelenting grey mist continued as they walked, the shadows of grasses and the fence passing them by. The sounds of the windmill and child returned, whispering like ghostly echoes around him. The watchman continued forward stubbornly, the raven’s warning in his mind.

Abruptly, the small world of grey expanded into a crossroads, and the man stumbled to a halt.

The child’s quiet sobbing seemed clearer now, but from no discernable direction. The man tried to harden his heart. He could not help. He would be lost if he entered the mist.

“Which way from here?” He turned back toward the cat. It leapt onto the fence, a dark shadow in the grey of the mist. The man stepped closer, unwilling to lose his only companion to the unnatural mists.

“Am I a hound, to track for you?” the cat retorted, lounging across the thick rails, its tail like a dark snake.

The man turned back to the crossroads. Which direction? The soft light gave no hint, diffusing through the treacherous mist and casting no shadows. He’d devoted his existence to protecting those in need. What if this child needed his protection?

The mists pulled at him, encouraging him forward. He needn’t do that any longer. He needn’t be that. Come home. Rest. Be at peace.

He shook his head, trying to clear the voices. Above them all continued the steady, rhythmic sound of the windmill.

He stepped forward, following the pull of the ghostly mists, his heart tight. He held his breath, waiting for sounds he didn’t want to hear. Like a feather-light whisper, they came, echoing from every direction. A heavy door slamming open and heavy boots on a wooden floor.

His heart rose to his throat. He needed to find the child and tell her to be still. Still and quiet.

He turned in the crossroads. Each way appeared identical in the thickening mist.

He looked to the cat. “Which way? Which way will lead me to her in time?”

“If we leave the road we will be lost in the mist.”

The ghosts urged him to set down his helmet, to sit for a time and rest his weary body. He longed to give in, and the warm mist thickened around him, obscuring all but the path forward. The ghosts begged him on, and the sounds of windmills, footsteps and crying were muffled by the raven’s beating wings.

He reached for the buckle of his armor and touched the bronze bull medallion. The chill of it shocked him, and his mind cleared. He turned back to the cat.

The cat remained as it was, laying atop the fence. It watched him with silver eyes, its head resting on its paws, waiting for him to decide.

The watchman stepped backward, away from the cat and along the clear road. Again, the windmill creaked, and the man heard the heavy door swing open, banging into the wall.

“I’d only need to go a few more steps,” he whispered. “A few more steps and it will be too late to help, and I’ll be free to continue. To finally rest.”

The cat blinked slowly. “The choice is yours, of course.”

The man slid his foot back across the crossroads another step.

Heavy boots thudded on the windmill’s wooden floor.

He shifted his weight, preparing to lift his foot.

The child gasped in fear.

The mists urged him to continue. Only a little further.

The ring of a sword being drawn cut through the clearing.

The watchman froze and the mists fell silent.

Stillness wrapped around him, stretching the moment across time.

Again, the ghosts called. He had done so much already. He had walked this path countless times, yet never made it home. Come to us. You are so close. Come to us and rest.

One step, and the sword would fall.

He could rest.

The watchman closed his eyes, tracing his fingers over the lion crest of his helmet, the metal cold beneath his touch. The warm mist caressed his hand, pushing itself subtly between his flesh and the helmet. Separating him from that which he was, and wrapping him in a warm, gentle numbness as he relaxed. Blessed, painless relief.

One last step, and he would be free.

He breathed in.

But the child.

The child would die.

Gritting his teeth, the watchmen tightened his grip on the helmet, wresting it from the mist. Sensation returned to his bone-weary body in a flood and he opened his eyes. The cat watched from its perch on the fence. The man stepped forward to the sound of boots on the windmill floor.

Another step, and the door slamming open sounded through the mist.

The cat stood as the watchman neared the fence, arching its back in a stretch.

The sound of the child crying in the distance beneath the groan of the windmill softly surrounded him.

“If we leave the road it will be lost to us.”

The man pulled his cowl over his hair and settled his helmet over it. “We have lost it before. We will find it again.”

The man swung his legs over the fence, pausing beside the cat, his knees disappearing in the mist.

The cat rubbed its head against the man’s shoulder. “One more time then?”

“Once more.”

The man draped his arm over the cat’s shoulders, and together they leapt into the mist.


About the Creator

Morgan J. Muir

Morgan is an award-winning fantasy author. One day she set pencil to paper and began writing down stories and just never stopped.

She lives in Utah with her husband, 3 kids, a dog, and far too many cats. Her books are available on Amazon.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.