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  • Writer's pictureAutumn Shah

February Writing Contest

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

Each month we hold a writing contest for our members, by our members. Writers are given parameters, such as a word count and/or a prompt. Entries are judged and discussed blindly. For February, submitters had to write a story with some kind of extreme contrast from the rest of the story; up to 2,000 words of glorious shock and awe.

The Lord of Therpi

by Marília Bonelli

Rae listened half-heartedly as the rising indignation of her unwanted visitor blended into the background of stomping armored knights that surrounded her. Her gaze was long lost beyond the fog-covered hills.

I should just make a run for it.

She could leave the castle dressed as a maid and find work in her father’s domain further west. She might even become herself in the process.

Just Rae.

Not Ean Valeis’ woman, Valeis’ wife, Valeis’ placeholder.

“How much longer do you plan to ignore me?” the stranger said, breaking through her daydream.

The knights glanced towards her, awaiting her orders.

Ah, hell.

The stranger glowered at her. “I demand to speak to the Lord of Therpi!”

She glared up at him—he was at least a foot taller than she was. “I am Lord of Therpi in my husband’s absence.”

The man and his entourage of soldiers laughed. “What are you even saying, woman? Bring me someone who has authority to receive me in the Lord’s absence.”

I have the authority. My husband left it to me.”

“To be insulted like this!”

Maybe she was insulting him. She couldn’t even remember what name he’d given. He was some aid to some Lord who was not important enough to be a threat to Therpi, so they’d be fine until next week when the knights returned with the Lord these fools would obey.

“Do not let them enter any further,” she said to the closest knight. “If they wish to wait for the Lord, let them wait here.”

The knight nodded.

In the distance, horns sounded. Excitement bubbled in the knight’s faces. "My Lady, the Lord has returned!"

Rae forged a smile. The man leading the arriving knights stood out in his dark armor. The strangers who had been making such a fuss a moment ago now waited patiently.

The dark knight dismissed the others with a wave and, ignoring the guests, went straight to her. "Dearest wife, have you been well?"

Rae held in a sigh. He loved those unnecessary endearments. "Yes, my husband. Although we received some very impatient visitors."

"I see."

The stranger stepped forward. "Lord Valeis, I am—”

“Whoever you are, you will not be more important than my lovely wife, who I have not seen in over a month.”

The man froze.

“For now, feel free to relay whatever it is to my aid, Fredrick.” He turned to one of his knights. “Escort our guest to Fredrick.” Without waiting for confirmation, he extended his hand to Rae. “I really do wish to spend time with my wife.”

Rae took his hand and placed a foot onto the straps for support. He pulled her easily onto the horse with him. She leaned against the cold armor, shivering when it touched a portion of her exposed skin.

When they were far enough away from the others, he whispered: "Are you alright, my Lady?"

"I'm fine. I hoped you would be gone longer. It was peaceful."

He laughed. “Sorry about that. Our opponents were no match for us. Even Lindle could have gone.”

Snickers from knights and servants followed them all the way to the keep of Therpi castle.

The head butler greeted them as soon as they dismounted, careful to keep his distance. He remained bowed, trying to look shorter. “My Lady, may I have a moment?”

“Of course, Remilton.” Rae patted the armored helmet next to her gently as if it were a face. “I won’t be long.”

When they were alone in the office, the butler said, “Duke Prentiss is expected to visit us on his way to the capital next month.”

Rae leaned back in her chair. “Duke Prentiss is on our list?”

“Yes. He and the Lord haven’t seen each other since seven years ago, but he was very close to the Lord when they were younger. We should discuss this with the others, but I wanted to tell you first.”

“Of course.”

Rae opened the door to the office and stopped two maids walking past in their tracks. “Where’s my husband?”

The maids exchanged a glance. “I saw him head to the annex still wearing his armor, my Lady. Will he need help undressing?”

Rae shook her head. Millie would be there.

He really couldn’t even wait a minute, could he?

The maids looked uncomfortable, but they couldn’t possibly know what their honorable Lord was doing right now. They were likely concerned with the rumors going around about the secretive annex, where only the Lord, Lady and five others were allowed to enter.

“And Mister Lindle?” Remilton asked.

“In the annex as well, I believe. I’m not sure.”

“That’s fine,” Rae said. The entrance to the annex was enshrouded by vegetation for a reason. “Please have Fredrick get rid of our unexpected visitor and come to the annex.”

The maids nodded and ran off.

Rae led Remilton towards the annex, adjusting her pace to match the older man’s. Lindle was guarding the entrance.

“My Lady.”

“Where’s my dear husband who disappeared as soon as he got home?”

Lindle scratched his neck, averting his gaze. “Maid’s quarters, I imagine.”

Rae rubbed her tired eyes. “Remilton, come get me once you’ve separated them. I’ll be in the garden.”

Remilton looked horrified, but Lindle simply switched positions to accompany her instead of the butler. Resigned, Remilton nodded. “Yes, my Lady.”

“Give them ten minutes at least,” Rae said. “I’m sure Millie missed him.”

She walked briskly away and Lindle followed along, whistling some old song.

They stopped in the shade of a tall tree dripping with white flowers. “You need to fix that habit of yours, especially now that our Lord will be back.”

He nodded, a dark shadow settling in his features. “I know, my Lady.”

It was a messy, tiring charade in the end. Her gaze went to the hills somewhere beyond the castle walls once more.

Yes, let us run away to a distant land and let it all go to hell.

But then, what would become of those this charade had been designed to protect?

“Shall I fetch you anything, my Lady?” Lindle asked.

“Have you been demoted to servant, sir knight?”

He chuckled, leaning closer until they bumped shoulders. “It would be a slightly lesser demotion than my other role, my Lady.”

Rae choked on her laughter when she heard a rustling nearby. Lindle had already stepped forward, hand grasping the hilt of his sword.

“What the hell are you doing here, you little rats?” a deep voice roared from the other side of the rose bushes.

The familiarity in the voice caused Rae’s body to move instantly, ignoring Lindle’s attempts to slow her down. They came upon one of the gardeners reprimanding two stable boys who were apparently sneaking into the annex area.

The gardener, built much like a bear, towered over them. He was taller than Remilton and wider than Lindle, but his voice...

“Say that again,” Rae asked.

He whirled and bowed his head with a surprised “My Lady!”

Though startled, the stable boys also bowed. They seemed to be suppressing their instinct to flee.

Rae waved them off. “You two go back now.”

They ran off as soon as she finished speaking.

“I’m sorry if we disturbed you, my Lady.”

“Say it again.”

“I’m sorry, my Lady.”

“Not that. The first part. What you said to the boys.”

The gardener’s eyes became large and round.

“Go on,” Rae insisted.

“Wh—What the…” His face turned a shade redder when he couldn’t go on. “What are you doing there—”

“Not like that.” She grabbed him by the collar and pulled him closer—and down.

His eyes widened further, sheer panic now.

“Say it like you did just now. Roar for me.”


Lindle stepped closer. “My Lady, perhaps this is not the best—”

She turned towards the knight. “Make him roar for me.”

Lindle sighed. “My Lady, please release him first.”

She let him go and stepped back, her gaze still blazing as if it would burn the gardener to ashes.

“Mister…” Lindle prompted.

“Ge—Gerain,” he stuttered.

“Mister Gerain, could you please repeat your earlier words when you were admonishing those two youths in the exact same manner as we heard?”

Gerain squirmed, caught in a trap he couldn’t escape. Finally, he shut his eyes and folded into himself as if he could decrease his bulk and perhaps vanish into the nearest rose bushes. Their flowers were a shade darker than his face. “What the hell are you doing here, you little rats?”

He waited, but when nothing was said, he ventured opening his eyes.

Rae was staring at him much like one would expect a wolf would stare at its prey. “Would you like to be my husband?”

Gerain stepped back, tripped over his forgotten shears, and landed heavily on the ground, thorns catching his shirt and scratching the back of his neck.

Rae started back to the annex. “Lindle, bring him along.”

Gerain had been in a daze while led inside, but it was clearing now. Sweat soaked his shirt as he dabbed at his forehead uselessly with his sleeves. It had been several minutes since they brought him to this windowless room deep inside the annex.

The Lady sat on a couch, but he dared not look at her for fear she would say crazy things again.

She’d forget it by the time the Lord showed up, right?

She wouldn’t dare say such things in front of her husband, right? Right?

True that the Lord was said to be… peculiar, but he was also quick to anger.

Sir Lindle was standing near the door as if to stop Gerain from running away in a panic like every fiber of his being demanded.

The door opened suddenly and a familiar voice made Gerain stand at attention, mind going blank as to what he could say to stop the Lord from killing him on the spot. But the man who entered smiling at the maid, Millie, had reddish hair instead of their Lord’s dark locks. The knight commander, Sir Marcus.

The next man was smaller—the Lord’s assistant, Fredrick. A glimpse of dark hair made Gerain’s blood freeze, but it was Remilton, the head butler. Except for Lord Valeis, these were all the people who had permission to enter this annex. That’s how all the scary rumors about this secretive place began.

“Gerain, would you like to be my husband?” the Lady asked like one might ask if the guest wanted tea.

He desperately sought the others’ help to stop this madness; they only watched.

“I won’t need much from you,” she said. “I don’t need you to take care of Therpi.”

Fredrick raised his hand.

“I don’t need you to lead knights into battle,”

Sir Marcus smirked.

“Or protect the castle.”

Sir Lindle gave a mock salute.

“I don’t need you to be seen even from afar.”

A solemn nod from Remilton.

“And I definitely don’t need you in my bed.”

Gerain’s gaze fell naturally on the only person who hadn’t been addressed, Millie.

“What are you thinking?” Millie grabbed onto Sir Marcus’ arm. “I’m a married woman!”

“What I do need is that voice of yours,” the Lady continued, ignoring Millie’s outburst. “Commanding from afar, for those who remember him still.”

Gerain frowned at the wording. “Why would anyone have forgotten the Lord?”

Rae smiled then—a tired, bleak smile. “Alas, the Lord Ean Valeis, my husband, has been gone from these lands for four years now. And every living soul who knows is in this room.”

Gerain felt the cold close his sweating pores.

Every. Living. Soul.

This annex, where only these six people and the Lor—no, only these six people were allowed. And where sometimes people walked in and never walked out again.

That was how Gerain, the gardener, became another piece of Valeis, Lord of Therpi—the roaring voice that refused even acquaintances from behind a closed door.

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