This is a short story I started over a year ago and never got past the second edit and it’s still very rough.
I have other ongoing projects so this one is free for anyone to use for anything.
Hell, for all I care, you can clean it up and claim it as your own. (However, if you do use it, I’d appreciate a chance to read what you’ve written.)
On a different note, I like the lead character so I may put him in another setting, but for now, he’s yours for the taking.
(The image is from Pixabay)
I was born in a Caliph’s harem, but not of the Caliph’s blood. My mother was executed and I was given to the temple to be raised by joyless priests who believe that non-believers are but prey for the God.
Now, living in this encampment of warriors, I am still an outcast. Not because of my birth, but because of my size, and because I do not believe as they do.
This is why I make my way through life as a simple minstrel. My crippled hound my only friend, but that is enough for me. She lost a foot to a hunter’s trap, so she is forced to rely on me for food and warmth as I must rely on the protection of a warlord. But, at least, I do not doubt her loyalty.
These mighty warriors see me as too small, too weak, to deserve a place among them. But they are brutes who see the world only through the ax, the sword, and the bow. In times of peace, they pace like caged wolves, until they finally pack up and move to the next conflict.
I, on the other hand, always have a roof over my head and food in my belly, be it in a tavern or a great hall, telling tales and singing songs of kings and battles long past. –Adjusted to suit the current regime, of course.
Sitting in my usual place near the fire I watch Garth kick, throw and hack everything in his path.
I’ve seen his temper before. I’m in no danger. My master believes me to be a loyal servant and trusted confidant and says my placid nature and quiet music help calm him when things go wrong.
“Wrong.” Such a small word to describe recent events.
Yesterday the weapons seller brought the samples, took the earnest money, entered the king’s fortifications, and told them everything he knew.
During the night the king’s men disassembled the catapults and moved them into position. The heavy infantry and a contingent of archers waited just out of sight along our flanks. While the light infantry and remaining archers had crawled into position through the cold slime.
Just before daybreak the kings finest horsemen circled wide and assembled to our rear.
The moment the horns blew I could see the battle was lost. Earthen embankments, caltrops, and crossbows can protect you from heavy cavalry, but they cannot protect you from the catapults, arrows or a sword from behind.
With our defenders distracted by the archers, the heavy cavalry broke our lines then suddenly wheeled and retreated. Our own heavy troops surged forward seeking to press the advantage.
As they cleared the furthest defenses, catapults began launching exploding bombs and burning tar on to the battlefield, the archers closed and rained volleys of arrows on the survivors. Finally, the light cavalry swept in from the rear and the battle was over.
Our troops fought well and there were survivors, but we are no longer an army.
Now there is nothing to do but watch the day play out and decide how I will tell the tale.
I think it will be the darkest of comedies. Too subtle for most, but the more astute members of the audience will see how the mighty let minor insult and injured pride lead them to the foolish choices that in turn led to this place of carnage.
The king’s herald approaches to discuss terms of surrender.
“Terms of surrender??” And they say kings have no sense of humor. The pattern was set long before my time. The victors will spare the remnants of our army and tend the wounded in exchange for our weapons, an oath of allegiance, and Garth’s head. –Seems a fair trade to me.
The Herald has finished speaking and my master has responded with the expected blustering refusal.
Perhaps it is time to be elsewhere…..
Odd. The king himself approaches.
Unarmed, the king dismounts and faces my master.
“Will you reconsider your refusal?” asks the King.
“Not while a dog like you lives!” shouts my master, his voice shrill and cracking.
“Very well.” the king replies calmly. “I wish to discuss the terms of my surrender.”
Calm yourself… center…. listen. To hear this out I will stay a while yet, even at the risk being killed in the attack by the Elan.
Garth has waved off his troops and the king has done the same. The king is staring at me. My master gestures in my general direction saying. “This one is harmless.”
I am surprised, but not shocked. A man like my master does not grow to manhood by being stupid or unobservant. Now I wonder what he knows and what plans he might have.
The king nods and replies “He prays to Hatha, as do I.”
A king who walks the path? In another place, this would not seem possible, but this is the land of the god I serve.
This king continues to stare while I remain calm and play.
“Have you come to kill a god?”
I don’t bother to look up. “I take it she knows I’m coming?”
“Of course she knows.” “I believe she wants to meet you.”
“Couldn’t she have whispered this to the priests in their dreams?” “It certainly would have been simpler.”
“Simpler yes, more entertaining, no.” “Even gods get bored.”
“Can she be killed?”
“This is a question I have never considered, but I do not believe so.” “She is, after all, a god.”
“Strange that the man who is King of this land and a loyal servant to this god is hesitant in his answer.”
“I doubt the very existence of true gods, so perhaps this will be a game worth playing.” I mused out loud.
The king raises an eyebrow and asks. “Do you seek death so casually?”
“Not death.” “Relief from boredom.” “Of late I find very little that makes me feel alive.”
With a shrug of dismissal, His Royal Majesty turned his attention to my master and matter of fact way says. “My kingdom is under attack by ghouls and even the Elan fear to cross the border.”
Looking up at the king I let a sigh escape and say. “I was wondering why the beasts took so long to attack.” “But knowing there are two armies in the field, with the Elan less than a day’s ride away. They wait and watch while our troops clash and die. Perhaps they are wiser than ourselves.”
“Then you fear ghouls?” he asks. “This is good.”
“I do not fear anything that makes that much noise and dies that easily. But, like the Elan horde, I fail to see the point in risking a fight with a bunch of animals that are a threat only to someone else.”
This King, this walker of the path, looks pale as he says. “These are different.” “They approach with stealth and kill any that are unlucky enough to be outside.”
“What say you, Garth?” I ask. “This king would have everyone hide indoors.”
“This is wise” replied my master. “We can join forces and put heavily armed patrols just inside the walls.”
I cannot help but shake my head as I consider these two mighty warriors.
“Idiots.” “They are animals.” “If you had wolves attacking your people you would hunt them; would you not?”
“And yet you fear these animals because of their appearance and their screams as they attack.”
“I have killed both wolves and ghouls.” “Wolves are more dangerous.”
“Ghouls attack in numbers but they have no organization, they run straight at you with no concern for their own safety.” “A wolf will distract you while the rest of the pack attacks from the rear.”
“Tell me, great leaders. If there is no one to tend the flocks or harvest the crops. How long will it be before you become very, very, hungry?”
“You may believe me when I tell you that the flesh of your fallen comrades offers little sustenance.”
Garth turned ashen and His Royal Highness asked in the barest of whispers. “You have eaten the flesh of men?”
“For a pair of hardened warriors, one a walker, you certainly are squeamish.” “Still, I thought you came here to discuss terms of surrender and not for culinary lessons.”
Suddenly my master’s face changed, became shadowed, with what? Fear, anger, confusion? “You chose to come to this place?” “The keep?… My wife?”
I look him in the eye as I answer. “Yes, that was my doing, as were most things that brought us here.”
He started to approach. The hound raised her hackles. I do not fear Garth. Not while I can see him. So I sit and play and watch his confusion.
“Hold!” says the king. “He is faster than you, stronger than he appears and prepared.”
“See the fold in his trousers.” “That conceals the wadda.”
“See the crease in his sleeve.” “That conceals a longer blade.”
“If you attack, the wadda’s kiss will slow you, the hound will attack and distract you and the long blade will kill you.”
I allow myself a small smile. “Oh, mighty and most feared of rulers.” “The wadda is not for him, but for you… Your Highness.”
“The hound will slow him enough. She may even kill him.”
“You, on the other hand, have archers in hiding who will serve you as this hound will serve me, and I will not die alone”
The king smiles -The first honest smile I have seen in many days- “Perhaps you will survive long enough to entertain the god.”
“Come, Garth, If we are to take the advice of the minstrel and hunt the ghouls we have much we must speak of.”
It would appear my master is not as observant as I gave him credit for. I wonder how he knew about me? Probably that camp girl he abuses. She also walks the path.
I watch as the two men walk away discussing plans for the hunt, each plotting the death of the other.
It is time to take my leave.
The pups have been born and I have killed a ghoul.
Cunning and in command of other ghouls. But just a ghoul, not a god.
Now I wait and heal, glad that I hadn’t wasted my strength using spells on an animal.
Looking down from the farmstead where the ghoul once held court, I study the battlements where the king yet holds court and plan.
There is no rush, but debts must be paid.
My betrayal by the camp girl obliges me to infiltrate the keep and kill this woman, who is sister and bedmate to the king. She will be well guarded, and I have no allies within those walls. But the stable boys and the kitchen help understand that a man must sometimes seek shelter and remain unnoticed. They will help… for a fee. Nothing is free in this life.
A thought… If Garth still lives it is a certainty that he is a prisoner. Perhaps I’ll help him escape.