21. THE KING STEPS OUT

21. THE KING STEPS OUT

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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The king arrives at the village, but the villagers are prepared...

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After the hustle and bustle of villagers rushing to their pre-arranged stations clutching a variety of bows and quivers filled with new made arrows, all of them straight and true, a deathly silence descended over the northern village. The occasional hunter scurried from the open forest and took his place, and silence, the deadly sort that foreboded something awful, returned.

Gymboy was there, though, moving like a supernatural shadow between the various stations, giving hope and encouragement where spirits seemed low.

Nothing in this life is assured,” he would say in his quietly confident voice, “but if we follow our plan and don’t deviate from it we will win. I know it, even though there may be a hundred thugs against us, for our main weapon is surprise. Unseen, we will strike death upon them, but only after they have shown evil intent to us.”

And how will we know?” asked some.

It will be plain as the day,” he replied as he drifted to another group in order to assure them also, and the silence became tangible.

Then there was a sudden movement in a thicket to the south, and Gymboy knew the enemy was there, maybe out of sight but not out of hearing. He could even sense the soft breathing from exhausted men, and, hidden from any possible foe, he waved his arms for the villagers to see.

Hush,” he hissed, and marvelled that so many of his friends and neighbours could conceal themselves without giving the least evidence that they were anywhere near. 

We seem to have company,” he whispered, “stay alert!”

Then suddenly, a lame horse appeared, and on its back like a demon from a nightmare sat the grotesque figure of King Jasper, and it seemed to the watchers with their arrows notched that he had one foot in the glorious past when kings were kings, whilst the other trod the sultry soils of nowhere. Besides him staggered a fat man in the tattered robes of a priest.

Hellooo!” called the mounted king, “this is your king and I come in anger! Deliver to me the brute with but the one arm and you will be forgiven and my men will not reduce you to butchered meat. Fail to do that and every man, woman and child will die, and I promise you I can make dying horrible!”

That’s a bit harsh,” hissed the Priest.

Quiet, Priest, or you will be first!” snapped the King, trying to emulate the noble and glorious monarchs of the past, and failing in the same way as the moon may try to emulate the glories of the sun, and fail.

The stillness was broken by motley rustling noises from behind the king and the priest as though several dozen men were trying to obey an order for stillness, but lacked the skill to do anything more stationary than wriggle. The King flinched, but ignored them. When he’d won the day, then he could dish out punishment, for he would no longer need this shambles of an army.

Say now, wherever you are!” he bellowed into the still air. “I mean it! I will execute every last one of you if the one-armed ruffian together with my Queen, who absconded with him, isn’t delivered to me, before I count to three. You can keep the wizard, for he is neither use nor ornament!

The stillness still persisted.

One!” shouted the King, beginning his promised count to three, not trusting anyone else to do it for him.

There was no sound whatsoever. No movement, not even an echo of the king’s voice.

Two!” he bellowed after a few seconds. He now knew that he wanted Jackiss’s head more than he’d ever wanted anything, and he was going to get it. By golly he was, and the simpletons of this Northern village weren’t going to stop him because he was the king and he had a throne. And that head, once lopped satisfactorily off, was going to glare at him through unseeing eyes as it lay at his feet, and he was going to dismount from his steed and kick that head like the town’s idiot kids kicked pigs’ bladders inflated to bursting point through the streets! Yes, he was going to kick it so hard that it flew through the air and landed in a gorse thicket of spiky thorns! That was going to be the ignominy for the wretched brute’s head.

Every last one of you!” he bellowed, and looked slowly around.

Then, “Three!” he roared, and at last there was a response.

Gymboy stepped forth. In his hand he held a bow and notched on its string was an arrow tipped with gleaming bronze.

He’s not here,” he said quite mildly, “and if he does come here he will get short shrift, for he is a diseased murderer and has no decent place under the skies, not here and not in any place!”

You lie, toad!” snapped the King, and at a signal from him a spear flew from the gorse thicket towards Gymboy. But it fell well short, as it would have had to, for the distance was too great for even a strong man to hurl a spear, and one thing the king’s motley group was short of was strong men.

But the response was immediate.

A dozen flighted arrows came from nowhere and buried themselves into the flesh of the King. It was one flurry, one burst of violence, and stillness.

Then the silence returned as slowly, like one trapped in a spiral of collapsing time, the king bent forwards and clutched at one of the barbed feathered shafts and tried to pull it free.

Where it penetrated his flesh a growing patch of red appeared, red blood, the blood of the king. Then slowly he collapsed to one side and still in wretched slow motion he slid off the saddle of his mount and fell to the waiting ground.

His horse knew what had happened, all right. His master, the one human he detested with all his equine wisdom, was no longer on his back but was lying still before him, and so with a loud and furious neigh he leapt into the air, front hooves clawing at nothing, and then he galloped off. Nobody tried to stop him.

The tatty priest, frightened for his own life and shocked by what he had seen, did what he thought was the only sensible thing, and retreated back into the cover of the forest.

Half a dozen of the band of followers behind the king emerged from the thicket and stared in horror at their lord lying dead on the ground. To call them soldiers would do the warrior class an immense disservice, yet that’s what they were there to be: soldiers of a king.

How they did it and where they went no man was to discover, but the cry went up, quietly at first as though decibels were governed by disbelief, then louder, that the king was dead. And the cry became a cheer as the hundred or so men melted away, each man for himself and suddenly without fear.

Once again the stillness, the eerie silence returned. But the day wasn’t over yet, for three fresh faces appeared, ragged and weary, almost falling to the ground with every step they took, and halted, staring in disbelief when they saw who was lying in too much blood on the green turves of the one village they’d been hoping to stumble upon for rest and hoping for a serf’s welcome.

It was Jackiss, and with him was the wizard Mirelin and Queen Amyheart, and both looked as though a puff of wind would blow them from this Earth into the Afterlife in a ragged moment.

What…?” blustered Jackiss.

But the King was in no state to do anything but slowly start decomposing under a late autumn sun, and for a moment at least there was no movement again.

© Peter Rogerson 07.12.18





© 2018 Peter Rogerson


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Added on December 7, 2018
Last Updated on December 7, 2018
Tags: arrows, quivers, village, ragged soldiers, spears, priest, king


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