As arch-mage Autophagius incinerated himself in a great, bloody fireball of death, sending wet mage-chunks flopping against the side of the mountain and causing a percussive bang to echo throughout the rocky canyon, Plunk the Barbarian was reminded of why he didn’t trust magic.

Smells bad.

Plunk wiped the mage-blood out of his eyes. Licked his lips. Opened his mouth wide to try and stop his ears from ringing. As he tried to calm his spooked ox, he thought about the first time he smelled magic.

He was a boy of about eight. Before the Trying Times. The magic user was a young girl from the nearby village. A little older. The tinsmith’s daughter. A black-haired beauty. Tall and graceful. Wild and bronze. She cast a love spell on Plunk. She made him love her. They kissed in the yak barn hayloft. This made Plunk very happy. Then the girl used her love spell on another village boy. This pissed Plunk the fuck off. Plunk found the two lovers in the hayloft and separated them. From their heads.

That broke the love spell.

Plunk fastened his broad axes crisscross across his back. He scraped up the mage’s remains, stuffed them into a satchel, and slung it onto his ox, who he called Rock. He collected the wizard’s belongings. He took the coin pouch; discarded the rest.

As he gulped from his waterskin, he looked up at the gigantic, rocky, ice-crowned mountain at the foot of which he was standing. He still had to get over the damn thing somehow. With or without a wizard. The crazy old mage’s plan, to “…float them over the mountain as on the gossamer wings of a white mourning dove,” was probably out. So Plunk had to think. And thinking was not Plunk’s thing. But Plunk would have to think of a new plan if he was to get over the mountain, give the villagers’ ransom to the Troll Queen, free the village children, then kill the Troll Queen, escape her miles-deep Goblin army, and get back to the village to receive his reward of one hundred gold plunkets in time for dinner.

Plunk hated missing dinner. Almost as much as he hated magic.

That’s when a beautiful little white morning dove flittered up to the barbarian and sat on his finger. Giving Plunk a curious tilted-head look. Plunk smiled at the dainty little thing. Then the creature started to speak. With the voice of the arch-mage!

“It is me, arch-mage Autophagius — ”

YAA! Plunk closed his fist in surprise and fear, crushing the bird. He froze. Blood dribbled from his closed palm, down his wrist into his leather arm guard. He opened his hand to reveal the completely mashed animal.


Plunk didn’t really know what to think about what had just happened. He scraped the mangled mess off of his palm and stood suspended in what passed for thought for a moment. Then he felt something — or someone — touch his shoulder.

YAA! With one fluid motion, Plunk grabbed his axe and sheered off the offending creature from his shoulder with a sweeping swipe. Finishing with a flipping spin move that was totally unnecessary.

Plunk nailed the landing then looked at the ground between his legs. The offender? Another tiny bird. Cleaved in twain.

“Why?” the bird’s head chirped in the old mage’s voice. Then it expired.

My bad.

Plunk was starting to think that maybe the arch-mage was trying to communicate with him through the birds. As Plunk was trying to think again, unsuccessfully, a third and final dove appeared. But this time, the bird flew far away from Plunk and perched itself on the ass of Rock the ox.

“Don’t even think of coming anywhere near me, Plunk, son of Klump the Barbarian,” said the little dove. “Or I’ll blast you with a fireball.”

Plunk did not respond well at all to threats. Especially magical ones. So he took out his large, misshapen, oblong —



As Plunk the Barbarian rode Rock back into the village with all the children in tow and the head of the Troll Queen on a spike, the villagers shouted for joy and ran out onto the cobblestone road to greet them. Ecstatic parents and sobbing children were reunited.

Plunk was given an emotional thanks by the grateful villagers. He was hugged and kissed by all the farm maidens. And one of the farm boys. (It was a very open-minded village.) The village elders gave Plunk a parade complete with a shower of flower petals. Malanaysia, the village Matron and new arch-mage, presented Plunk with his reward. One hundred gold coins.

Plunk was pleased.


But later that night, after the hubbub had died down and the children were put in their beds to sleep, Plunk was under his bridge counting his reward. That’s when he smelled it. It smelled like hay and soft, perfumed yak hair. It smelled like love. It smelled like blood.


Plunks coins turned to wood in his hands. The spell was broken. He could see now that his money was false. The villagers had cheated him.


That night Plunk exacted his payment from the tiny village. He executed their children. Every one. Each hemisected in their beds by the barbarian’s axe as they slumbered.

The forlorn villagers wept and moaned as the Barbarian sat down and enjoyed a late yet bounteous, fresh, hot meal. He ate until he got sleepy, then he fell soundly and peacefully asleep so the villagers cut his head off with his own axe.

Pete used to be a reality TV producer. Now he’s a teacher by day, secret novelist by night, and obsessed elephant enthusiast. Politically, he’s extremely moderate. He has a 5-year old niece who’s his boss. He’s a devoted nephew. Terrible son. Unintentional houseplant murderer. Recently cat-widowed. He usually vacillates between talking way too much and being awkwardly silent. He wakes up stupidly early. His writing has appeared in Fiction Southeast, Number Eleven, Cahoodaloodaling, The Zodiac Review, The Gathering Storm and most recently in Storgy.