Flash Fiction Friday: The Steel Life-Goblet

Polished steel gleamed as bright as a newly forged sword untouched by blood or rust. Perfect in symmetry and artistry, the Goblet was the clan lord’s most prized possession, worth more money than what every person in his domain could produce in a year put together. It was an heirloom passed down from generation to generation, never aging, immutable in shine and shape no matter how many times wine filled it or it tumbled to the floor from clumsy hands.

It was said the goblet had been forged by the gods themselves long ago, that they had imbued it with life, so that any who drank from its brim would have their lives extended. And so it seemed to be true, for the lords of this clan had lived longer than any of the men around them for centuries on end. Many had come seeking to take a single sip from the shining steel vessel, to beg a favor of the clan lord, so they too could enjoy years beyond what had been preordained for them.

None ever touched it. No outsider’s lips sullied the purity of the Goblet. For if ever more than one man in a lifetime drank from the cup, both would die within minutes, their lives curtailed like a bad play. What could grant life could also bring death, a death as swift and certain as a blow from a sword—a secret known only to the clan which owned it.

Serrick stood before the Goblet on its stand, looking uneasily at his distorted reflection. “Father, you mustn’t do this. Killing the other clan lords will only worsen the war and bring unnecessary suffering to the people.”

“Don’t speak of things you don’t yet understand, boy,” his father said. “When I am gone and the weight of this domain falls on your shoulders, you will understand why I must do this. Why I must see the other clan lords dead in one fell swoop, and all will fear the power of our clan and pay obeisance to us.”

“The war has clouded your judgment. What makes you think the heirs will not just as swiftly take their lords’ place and renew their fight against us?”

“Their heirs shall be there, too. They shall all taste death. The heirs of all the clans, save you, my boy. And you shall rise above all the others while the clans struggle for power within themselves—and you will unite them all. You will be king. There will be peace at last.”

“Peace cannot come through deception, nor the dishonorable slaughter you plan.”

His father wheeled around. “You dare to call me dishonorable?” He slapped Serrick smartly on the face. “Watch your tongue. Everything I do, I do for honor, for our people. Now. Bring the Goblet. The other clan lords and their heirs await us in the hall below.” His father chuckled. “If only they knew what awaited them.”

Serrick gritted his teeth and did as his father said. Once they reached the hall, his father’s voice boomed off the ceiling.

“Fellow lords! We are gathered here to negotiate peace between our clans at last. As a show of good faith, my son and I will share the blessings of the Life-Goblet with you.” He clapped his hands. “Steward! Bring wine.”

Serrick watched through narrowed eyes as the steward filled the Goblet with blood-red wine. He wanted peace. He wanted his clan to maintain its sovereignty, and for the other clans to stop warring.

But not like this. Not through deception and usurpation.

He held the Goblet steady as the steward filled it, knowing what he must do.

“Now, my prized son,” his father said. “Pass the Goblet around the room.”

Serrick closed his eyes. “No, Father.” He raised the brim to his lips and drew a deep draught of the heady red wine. He dashed the rest to the ground. The Goblet hit the stone with a cold ring.

His father let out a roar of rage. “Serrick! What have you done?”

“Listen, fellow lords!” Serrick cried. “This cup holds only death for you. My father would have you murdered all. But I have taken this sword of death upon myself. Bring peace to these lands, brothers—but let no more blood be shed. You may think me a liar, but when my body lies cold upon these stones, perhaps you will believe me. The Goblet itself is poison, the cause of generations of war. Will you perpetuate it? Will you…will you…” The world around him grew blurry and dim as he watched his father fall to the floor, livid with rage even in death. “Will you…end…this…”

All went black.

The other clan lords and their heirs stood by, watching with horror as Serrick’s lifeless body fell to the ground. For a moment, none moved, staring at each other with shock in their miens. But then their eyes drifted to the Life-Goblet. Surely all that had happened was that the wine was poisoned. Surely the cup maintained its power.

The Goblet merely lay upon the floor as the lords drew their blades and began to fight over it, this piece of polished steel, gleaming as bright as a newly forged sword untouched by blood or rust.


“The Steel Life-Goblet” copyright 2017 by A.L.S. Vossler.

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Goblet image courtesy of Firkin on openclipart.org.

 

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Review: The Castle of Llyr

The Castle of Llyr is the third book in Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain. As I have come to expect after reading two of Alexander’s books, the story proved to be engaging and enchanting.

However, I had a lot of issues with the book, mostly due to the fact that the teaser-line for this book on the inside jacket of The Black Cauldron led me to believe this book would focus predominantly on Eilonwy, thus giving her a chance to shine. Despite how much Eilonwy annoys me, I do like her quite a bit—and like her even more for having watched Disney’s failure of a take on her character. So I was excited to see more of the book version of Eilonwy.

I was disappointed.

Don’t misunderstand me—The Castle of Llyr is a fun, entertaining book with lots of heroics and a charming story to tell, but Eilonwy has very little in the way of an active role. Instead, the book focuses mainly on Taran and his character development. Considering that Taran is the main character of the series, this should not come as a shock, I suppose. However, the marketing set me up for a different story. I mean, it said something to the effect of “Eilonwy must learn to be a young lady and not a heroine among heroes.” That says to me, “This is a story about Eilonwy!” In truth, it is a fraction of the story and all of her character development is tossed in at the end in a rushed fashion.

Once I had gotten over my disappointment, I was able to analyze and appreciate the story a little more clearly.

The book begins with Taran escorting Eilonwy to the Isle of Mona, where she is to learn how to be a proper princess. A ship from Mona comes to meet them, led by Prince Rhun. Prince Rhun, as Taran does not learn until much later, is going to be betrothed to Eilonwy—which I could see coming a mile away, by the by. However, Rhun is basically a clumsy oaf and is not good at anything, and Taran dislikes him a lot. Taran does not like the idea of Rhun even talking to Eilonwy, and is obviously jealous before even finding out the two are going to be betrothed. Once on Mona, Taran runs into Gwydion, who is hiding under the guise of a shoemaker in order to thwart what he believes is a plot against Eilonwy. Achren, the enchantress from The Book of Three, is back, and she wants Eilonwy for her own purposes. Eilonwy is captured and the rest of the book is about Rhun, Taran, and Fflewder Fflam trying to rescue her.

I thought, in the midst of all the excitement and entertainment, there was a pretty profound message. Glew, a tiny man who creates a potion to make himself large so that he can earn some respect, is constantly referred to as a small man despite the fact that he is now a giant. Fflewder remarks that the size of a man has very little to do with his physical size. I think this is a valuable lesson for young men in particular, especially in a society which emphasizes strength and physical prowess as the only way to be considered a “man.” Lots of men drink potions (protein drinks) in order to make themselves bigger and more powerful, but young boys need to learn that it is the size of their heart that makes them men—and that a man can be as big as a bodybuilder, but if his mind is small and cruel, so is he. It’s a great message, and young women can learn from it too. While women mostly focus on being smaller rather than larger, this message that our exterior size has nothing to do with the values that matter is still a valid point.

I have to include a couple more things I really loved about the book, but they come with a spoiler alert. Skip the following two paragraphs if you want to avoid the spoilers.

This is a paragraph with a spoiler! At the end of the book, there is a rather profound message for young women as well. Eilonwy, in order to defeat Achren, has to destroy a book of spells which would have given her the ability to be the most powerful enchantress in all of Prydain. Disappointed, she says, “Now I shall never be an enchantress. There’s nothing left for me now except being a girl.” To this, Gwydion gently replies, “That is more than enough cause for pride.” Not only does this echo The Book of Three’s lesson for Taran that there is no shame in a simple life, it stands strongly against the “like a girl” sentiment that is so rampant in our society. Why should being a girl be something negative? Gwydion’s statement here suggests that there is an inherent value in femaleness, regardless of how that femaleness takes shape. It’s an interesting message in a largely male-dominated story. Yes, Eilonwy ends up having to learn how to be a proper lady (which in this case means domestic pursuits and etiquette), but many of Taran’s pursuits at Caer Dallben are domestic, too—taking care of a garden, for example. This is a repeating theme for the series: domestic pursuits are just as much cause for pride as heroic pursuits, which is another idea that is being lost in our society today. While Eilonwy’s consignment to a “ladylike” fate may be deconstructed and reviled by second- and third-wave feminism, I think it’s still a good message for girls—and really, is no different than the message learned by Taran in The Book of Three.

This is another paragraph with a spoiler! One of my first impressions of the book upon closing it was this: “Eilonwy was a total damsel in distress in this book! She had no agency!” However, upon further reflection, I realized that Eilonwy saved herself and defeated Achren almost single-handedly. The only thing the boys of the story did was to put the tools to do so in Eilonwy’s hands. Once Eilonwy had the book of spells and her magical bauble, she overthrew Achren’s mind control. Taran, despite the fact that he spent the whole book wanting to save Eilonwy, found himself powerless in the end. All of the power rested in Eilonwy’s hands. So, while she still was a damsel in distress for most of the book, she definitely had agency, even when under a powerful spell. This is the third time Alexander has taken saving the day right out of Taran’s hands and plopped it into someone else’s. I have to wonder if this will still be the case in the two remaining books. It would be really interesting if it was.

At any rate, I think that Eilonwy’s role in these books, while superficially seeming to be anti-feminist, actually has a great message that is empowering to women.

End spoilers.

There was little about the book which I did not like, as most of my disappointment was washed away with reflection on the story. It was not as powerful a story as The Black Cauldron, but it was still an entertaining read which both put me on edge and had me laughing at the same time. It’s one more book in The Chronicles of Prydain that I recommend to any lover of fantasy stories.

Have you read The Castle of Llyr? What did you think of it? Was Eilonwy’s character in this a feminist triumph or failure?

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