Monday, July 27, 2015

The White Knight: Short Fiction

The White Knight
Chris Costello

The knight’s noble army swept across the farm, dispatching the necromancer’s undead horde with righteous efficiency. At the forefront was the army’s warrior general, clad in shining golden armor. He was carrying a broadsword the size of a tree trunk, and he galloped upon a powerful ebony steed. His mighty weapon cut a swath of destruction  among the undead, as his mount killed just as many with forceful kicks of its metal-clad hooves. So swift and brutal was the attack that the minions were slain before they could raise a hand against their determined foes.

The knight’s horse reared up on its hind legs and whinnied triumphantly. The knight held his gore-drenched blade high in the air and let out a primal roar. His soldiers returned the gesture.

Bob crossed the straw-covered floor of his nearby cottage and went to the window “Hey!” He called, struggling to be heard over the usual din of battle. Sweat beaded in the worry lines on his forehead. “Keep it down out there!”

His wife, Meg, set down her bowl of watery gruel and stood. She walked over to her husband and placed an arm around his shoulders. “That’s the third time this week.” She said.

“I know. These goddamned wars never stop, do they?”

“Do something.” Meg said with entirely too much force.

“Like what?” Bob demanded, whirling to face his wife. She was a plump woman with plain features, but that was just the way Bob liked them. He didn’t care much for adventure at all, preferring to stay in his cottage with a nice cup of hot tea.

In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best idea for him to live in a village controlled by a necromancer. He wanted, more than anything, to move, but it was too late for that now. The farm was doing too well.

“I don’t know.” Meg said. “Go out there and talk to that fellow in the armor. Make him go away.”

“How the fuck am I supposed to do that?” Bob snapped before he could stop himself. “He has a fucking sword. I’d like to keep my head on my shoulders, thank you very much.”

“Don’t you dare use that sort of language around me!” Meg yelled, brandishing her closed fist. “I just want you to open a dialogue with him.”

Bob shrunk into the corner. “Sorry.” He squeaked. “I’ll go out once the ruckus dies down a little bit.”

“Fine.” Meg grumbled, sitting back down at the table and eating the mush with a wooden spoon.

They waited in silence, until the commotion outside quieted down a sufficient amount.

“I’ll go now.” Bob said, opening the cabin door.

“You do that.”

Bob stepped outside the house, closing the door behind him.  Then he surveyed the defeated undead scattered in the fields around him. A severed hand dragged itself across the bloodstained dirt near Bob’s foot, and a disembodied foot hopped about in short circles.

Just then, the knight made eye contact with him. Bob couldn’t see the knight’s expression through his helmet, but given that his sword was sheathed, Bob assumed that he was safe. At least for now.

“Why did you do that?” Bob asked.

The knight dismounted and crossed the field. His armor clanked louder with every step. He clasped Bob on the shoulder, and the small man winced as the knight’s hand made contact.

“You are free, my good man.” The knight said. “Return to your land before the final battle begins.”

“This is my land.” Said Bob.

“No longer. You need not till this accursed soil. For I come in the name of the righteous king to end the necromancer’s reign of terror once and for all.”

Bob groaned.

Meg kicked open their cottage door with a bang. She brandished a butcher knife in her hand and a scowl on her face. “What the hell is this?” She raged. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Good news.” Bob said with forced enthusiasm. “We’re free now.”

“Oh, not again.” Meg rolled her eyes and turned to the knight. “Look, you idiot. We weren’t enslaved in the first place.”

The knight removed his helmet and glowered at her. He had piercing blue eyes and appeared unfazed by the fact that Meg was armed. “You mean to tell me that you live in the accursed land by choice?”

“Choice?” Meg said, making no attempt to stifle her laughter. “That is rich. We’re fucking peasants. We don’t really have a lot of choices.”

The knight appeared genuinely confused by that last sentence, and neither Bob nor Meg were particularly surprised by that. Knights were always befuddled by something.

“But this land is touched by death,” he said at length.

This, at least, was true. The soil was blacker than coal, but it was easy to plow. The sky churned with ominous gray clouds more often than not, but there was always plenty of rain and just enough light to grow their crops. While it was never exceedingly warm, it was never terribly cold either.

They didn’t bother explaining any of this because knights fed themselves with the tax dollars of people like them. They didn’t know the first thing about farming.

“Who asked you to free us?” Meg demanded. “What god or king told you we needed your help?”

“It was our good and noble king who charged me with this great task.” The knight smiled in that certain way that only true idiots could manage.

“Our king has never done anything good or noble for us.” She countered. “Before that tower got there, it was a baron’s castle. Ugly thing, and the castle wasn’t all that pretty either. Then he was overthrown by somebody-”

“I think it was a peasant’s revolt.” Bob said. “Or maybe some rival house.”

“Does it really matter? After the baron fell, they built a senate hall and said we were now a representative democracy. Oh, gods, that was annoying. The baron didn’t do much, but at least we didn’t have to waste time listening to people tell us how special we were because we got to vote for whoever ignored us.”

“Hardly seems fit to judge it.” Bob said. “We only had one election before those orcs came along.”
“Now, they were a nasty group.” Meg said. “We could have used a little freeing then. Where were you?”

“This land was bequeathed to them as part of a treaty.” The knight explained.

“This land?” Meg said, stomping her foot. “This land we live on. Where my father was born, and his father before him?”

The knight shrugged. “It was deemed necessary for the greater good.”

“Oh, well, that changes everything. The greater fucking good. Why didn’t you say that in the first place?” Meg eyed the knight, probing his armor for a gap through which she could shove her knife. Before she could find one, however, Bob pulled her away.

“We’re certain you mean well-”

“I’m not.” Meg said, cutting her husband off. 

“-But if it’s all the same to you, we like the necromancer. She stays out of our hair, and even sends down some zombies to help us with our work now and again. Oh, I know the land smells faintly of rotting flesh, and she’ll probably do something horrible to us one day, but come on. We’re peasants. Horrible things happening is to be expected. We’re happy with the way things are right now.”

“So get lost.” Said Meg with far less subtlety. “Who needs you and your soldiers and your big black warhorse, tearing up our land and slaughtering our very helpful undead workers. At least with the necromancer, we know what we’re getting.”

The knight nodded, more to himself than to the others. For a moment, Bob and Meg thought he might have understood, but they were also not terribly surprised when he didn’t.
“You two are clearly bewitched, brainwashed by one of the necromancer’s nefarious spells.” He turned his steely gaze on the corkscrew tower of gray stone just over the horizon. “When we cleanse the land of this blight, you shall see the error of your ways.” He said. “And if not, we can at least offer you a merciful execution.”

“Very charitable of you.” Bob offered.

“It is the least that we can do.” The knight barked a command, and the army rode off towards the tower. They trampled the farm under hoof and boot while their horn player sounded their battle hymn.

“What a bunch of idiots.” Meg said once they were all out of earshot.

Bob nodded. “Do you think we should have told him about the last four armies that tried to take the necromancer’s tower and all failed miserably?”

“Why bother? I know the type. He wouldn’t have listened.”

Bob nodded again. “I suppose you’re right.”

They retired to their cottage porch, brewed some tea, and watched the tower. The sky above it darkened, and lightning bolts flared up among the clouds. Very distantly, the clash of arms and the cries of battle reached their ears. The earth rumbled occasionally, and once, the howl of some unearthly demon rattled the dust around their home.

And then, there was silence.

“That must have been a good one.” Bob said, taking a long pull on his drink. It was rather weak, but it served its purpose.

“Indeed.” Meg said. “Doesn’t usually take the old girl that long.”
A while later, the knight and a few of his soldiers came shambling back. The horn player tooted weakly on his instrument, and the flag-bearer carried the torn shreds of what had once been a glorious banner. The knight himself trudged over to the cottage. His eyes were milky white and glazed over. His flesh was pallid and jaundiced. He let out a moan of misery.

“We warned you.” Said Meg.

“No, we didn’t.” Bob replied.

“Well, we meant to warn him.” Meg indicated a bucket of seed by the porch. “Do us a favor and help us plant the corn, would you? And clean up the mess you made.”

The undead warrior hefted the pail and set off towards the center of the fields. Bob and Meg finished their tea.

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