One day surfing the web, I came across a painting called “The End of the Age“, by famed J.R.R. Tolkien artist, Ted Naismith. I hadn’t seen the painting before, and the website didn’t mention the name of the artist, so I was completely unaware of the painting’s connection to one of the biggest, if not the biggest, works of fantasy fiction ever written (that of course being “Lord of the Rings“).
The painting shows a group of people riding horses past a series of towers, toward the ocean. For whatever reason, the scene inspired me to write, and the following words popped into my head:
“And then the final tower was upon us.”
A name also started floating around in my skull: “Salome”.
About an hour later, the fantasy flash fiction story below had taken shape. I’ve tinkered with it some since (for example, removing the “And” from the first line …don’t hold me to it! I might just put it back!) But other than cosmetic tweaks, the tale stands as conceived in the hour or so after I was inspired by Naismith’s painting.
I hope you enjoy it!
Then the final tower was upon us. In the distance, I could just make out the shadowy outlines of the warships beating steadily across the water, pounding drums driving them ever faster, dragon figureheads outstretched, roaring with such ferocity I could feel their fiery breath on my face.
My destrier spooked and I brought him round to face the throng welling up behind. Salome was among them. I nodded at her.
She broke from the pack and brought her black Neapolitan to a gallop, riding tall in the saddle, her back a spire, her new crown its finial, the proud beast beneath her sounding in a voice both feral and stately as it carried her toward me graceful as the silken banners of our house rolling on the autumn breeze.
She drew nearer and fixed her eyes on mine. Her countenance warmed and her eyes sparkled, the very vision of regal splendor.
I returned her smile, courage seeping back into my bones at the thought of holding her in my arms one last time before boarding my ship, before sealing my fate.
But three lengths away, she stopped short.
Slowly, with undivided majesty, she turned to address the people. Her people.
I pulled my destrier aside her, but she didn’t seem to notice. Her gaze was fixed on the crowd, her aspect again high and hard, a stony bulwark against the incursion of sentiment.
She delivered her speech. The crowd erupted in cheers.
The warships were docking now, blasting their infernal horns, beckoning me to my destiny. The new queen shouted a command and spurred her Neapolitan. It started toward the adoring throng.
“Salome!” I cried, the desperation in my voice a cudgel, shattering the moment.
She turned and flashed her wry smile, then quickly turned away again and was enveloped by the multitude.
But before she disappeared, on the horse I had given her when both she and it were hardly able to walk, peeking out from the top of the beast’s satchel I saw the book I had given her that very same day. Its cover was faded and frayed, its pages yellow and crooked, its bindings torn and tattered, as if it had been opened and closed and opened again ten thousand times. It was a book I hadn’t seen in ages, that I’d assumed lost, forgotten. A book written by my own hand.
As my destrier came around and marched toward those raging dragons, I raised my eyes to the horizon. The sun was going down, yet I’d never seen it burn so bright. Perhaps it was just the glow of contentment coloring my vision. She was, after all, her father’s daughter.