9. THE KING RIDES OUT

9. THE KING RIDES OUT

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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Confrontation with the Northern villagers seems to be getting closer...

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King Jasper had left the comfort of his splendid throne and was preparing himself for war.

It wasn’t in his nature to risk very much that was precious to him, and of all the things on his mental list of precious possessions his life was right at the top. But this war was going to be a simple foray into the North of his own kingdom and demolish a few pathetic huts whilst slaughtering their occupants. In has mind that’s what kingship was: owning a huge amount of land and saying who can go on it and who can’t.

It probably still is.

He had his army in serried ranks in front of him, soldiers, some of them with many years experience and others seemingly fresh from the breast, and he sat on his steed and let it rock gentle backwards and forwards whilst he looked sternly at them.

“This should be a great war,” he said, contradicting his own knowledge, “and when we return in triumph there should be much glory for you to revel in. It may be that some of you will be called on to make the ultimate sacrifice...”

“What’s that?” squawked the voice of a lad whose voice had not yet developed the richer timbre of an adult man.

The question somehow enraged the king, probably because he knew the truth of what they were about and that truth, even to him, was unpleasant. A thousand men against a ragged handful of peasants was hardly a fair battle, but fairness never entered any equations he stored inside his head. But still it had about it the suggestion of something less savoury than fox stew and dumplings, his favourite luxury of the table.

“Who said that?” he barked.

A lad on the front row, a boy yet to reach double figures when his age was counted in years, slowly raised one hand, visibly shaking at his sudden rise to fame.

But that rise was to be short-lived.

“You are an impertinent urchin!” rasped the king. “I am your lord and master, the unchallenged emperor of this kingdom, and my word is never to be questioned, on pain of death! Do you understand me, twerp? On pain of actual nasty death?”

The boy felt a lump rising in his throat, the sort of lump that gets in the way of words, and he merely nodded his head.

“I said, do you understand, twerp?” repeated the King, and the boy started crying.

“I want my mummy,” he wept despite the lump, “I want my mummy, and I want her now!”

The king called for his sergeant, a well seasoned soldier, and ordered him to dismount.

“Dismount from what, my liege Lord?” the sergeant asked, necessarily because the only one present who was mounted on anything was the king, and he was still barely controlling the rocking motion of his overweight steed.

Jasper decided it might seem better if he ignored the question, but he was raging inside. Things were not starting well, what with his words being questioned by the least of his men.

“Fetch the twerp’s mother, for it would seem she is wanted,” barked Jasper.

“Yes, sir,” nodded the sergeant, and he marched very carefully off, his feet making just the right imperious sound as he slammed them down.

He returned with a washer-woman with lather on both arms and a red face streaming with condensation.

“You, woman, your son is an impudent rogue,” shouted the king in his best bossy voice. “I wish you to witness this and then clear up the mess afterwards.”

“Yes sir,” quavered the woman’s voice, whilst she wondered whatever the mess might be. But she didn’t have long to wait. The king motioned for her son to step forwards, and he clearly was only a child with a child’s understanding of the world.

“You wanted to know what an ultimate sacrifice is, sonny?” he asked.

The boy was still afflicted with a gigantic lump of fear in his throat, but he managed to nod vigorously and enunciate something that sounded like yessir.

Then I’ll show you,” growled Jasper, and to prove he was as good as his word he pulled his sword from its scabbard and, with a mighty heave-ho, sliced the boy’s head straight off his shoulders and, before he could squeak for his mummy or even become aware of what was happening, the young solider fell to the ground and his head rolled several feet away from his neck.

Clear that away, woman!” barked the king, “and the rest of you, by twos, follow me!”

And he clicked his heels, encouraging the rather overweight steed he was riding to roll forwards, and his men followed him, not one of them daring to do anything but exactly what they were told.

Oo0oo

Meanwhile,

There was a gate that led from the witch’s herb garden, and Amyheart, Mirelin and Jackiss were standing just inside it, with the witch who for the moment chose to be in the shape of a gigantic frog bidding them adieu.

You will recall what I said,” she croaked to Jackiss, “there must be no more blood-letting unless it’s absolutely essential. That’s most important, for your future will depend on what you do from this day forth.”

Okay, okay, okay,” mumbled Jackiss, who was feeling uncomfortably as if the witch had seen right into the core of his brain and made little tweaks to the way he thought, which had he known it wasn’t so far from the truth.

I’ll keep my eyes on him,” Mirelin assured the witch, “he won’t get into much mischief with my eyes on him.”

Just you be careful where your eyes wander to,” teased the frog, “for in his mind I detected images that were far from unpleasant concerning moments you and he may have spent together in the olden days before that right arm of yours fell off.”

Jackiss had the grace to blush, but Mirelin merely smiled as though she was referring to sweet recollections of moments he had shared with the one armed man in the special years before he lost that right arm.

And what of me?” demanded Amyheart, “for am I not venturing forth in the guise of a widow, and might not my own life be at risk?”

Me, me, me, mine,” croaked the frog, “you chose your own way through life. You chose to be courted by a king, you chose to be his bride and bearer of his princes...”

I know all that!” replied the Queen, “but it was useless. He had the wrong idea about how to go about begetting a prince and I could have stayed with him for a dozen lifetimes and he wouldn’t get me to be with child, neither with a prince nor a pauper!”

Or even a princess,” sighed the frog.

And when I tried to tell him where he was going wrong he threatened to have me hanged for my insolence. I mean, who would believe it! A man who gets the wrong idea of where to poke his little thingy. And by little I mean little!”

And being a King he was quite convinced he’s right in all things,” sighed Jackiss. “Princess Zinga told me all about it when we were between her royal sheets, and it didn’t help the king when she died in my arms after a night of too much passion. That confirmed his belief that his opinions had been right all along and that it was the women who were incapable of producing princes.”

The poor woman,” sighed Queen Amyheart, “she was really quite sweet even though maybe a little past it in years.”

Stop moping about,” put in the frog-witch, “or I’ll change myself into a bunch of roses and offer myself to the King for breakfast! Off you go, the three of you. And don’t forget, King Jasper and a huge army will be less than a day behind you and quite willing to sever a few heads from bodies as they journey North.”

Yes,” murmured Mirelin, “come on. I’ll lead the way to start with, for a know routes the king doesn’t, and pathways through the forest too canny for an army to march through.

You are a big boy,” croaked the frog, “and I hope the one-armed warrior appreciates it.”

Oh, he will,” whispered the wizard to himself as he changed his wand back into a staff, and led them on.

© Peter Rogerson 25.11.18




© 2018 Peter Rogerson


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Added on November 25, 2018
Last Updated on November 25, 2018
Tags: army, soldiers, questions, beheading, witch, frog


Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 76 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

Writing