The Messenger
by C.W.Smoke
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In a kingdom called Wran located in the Misty Mountains beyond the Plain of Broken Spears a knave known as Gorlock the Stout enlisted in the King's Army solely to avoid the aggravation of losing his head.

Gorlock had no intention of serving his sovereign. In truth, he only awaited his chance to quietly disappear. So, what happened in the snow on the first day of battle was as much a surprise to him as it was to King Eric the Fair.

After a fortnight in the King's Service, Gorlock became a Messenger because he discovered that if he remained in formation, he would have to fight. Besides, to flee with any hope of success, a man of his girth required a running start. Truth be told, his captain was glad to be shed of him since Gorlock could hardly grasp a pike let alone wield one. If Gorlock chanced to impale himself on an opposing lance while fulfilling his duties as Messenger, so be it. At least the King's Pikes would not be hampered with Gorlock in their midst.

A Messenger's feet propelled him, and his sole weapon was his dagger. This arrangement suited Gorlock just fine since running was also in his plan, albeit with a different destination. With Messengers getting skewered regularly there was little chance that he would be missed. When the battle began, Gorlock the Stout envisioned himself hoisting a tankard of ale and warming his boots by the roaring fire inside the Green Dragon, a roadside inn built from the ruins of an ancient monastery located just beyond the River Stain, Wran's nearby western border.

To this end Gorlock hurried westward between the snow-covered haystacks and hedgerows all the while clutching the message given him by the Captain of the King's Pikes to be delivered to Lord Suroth, the King's Hand. His tread lightened as he neared the border. The Green Dragon sang softly to him from across the river.

With luck he would never encounter Suroth.

* * *

"Surely my opponent would not be so craven," said Eric the Fair, King of the Misty Mountains, Scepter of God, Ruler of the Kingdom of Wran. The first snow of the season had fallen overnight, covering the ground with a thick white blanket, and the morning sun was just now topping the Misty Mountains. Eric stood outside the Royal Tent, hands on hips, a tall, lean young man dressed in white fur, his golden curls cascading onto his shoulders, his breath a fine, white mist in the cold air. The ruby encrusted handle of his broadsword flashed in the sunlight as he swept his cape over his shoulder. Instead of the Royal Helm, he wore a rakish fur hat cocked over one eye. Hardly battle dress, but then, the battle was not to begin till midday.

"Sire," replied Lord Suroth, the King's Hand, a large, simply dressed man in leather britches and tunic who did not give ground as he met Eric's gaze. "Midor is trapped. He has nothing to lose should you fall before the battle begins."

"But assassins! Have you proof?" Nearly three furlongs to the east a phalanx of the King's Infantry found its position along the front line.

"The word of a captured spy, My Liege. And sightings. Men on horse wearing white."

"I am the King! I do not cower in my tent."

"Sire, you are not safe here. You should move to the center."

From where the King stood among the ancient oaks on the low hilltop just west of the main encampment, he could look eastward to view the impending battle. Midor's Army had been pushed north along the Stain, then east, its back now bent against the sheer cliffs of Mount Araway. Soon the cornered cat would leap back across the snow-covered haystacks and overgrown hedgerows to spill its blood on the newly fallen snow.

"Nonsense, Suroth. Plant Falco and Lord Tark on that bridge if it pleases you." Eric motioned with his arm toward the ancient stone bridge that spanned the Stain a furlong west of the Royal Tent.

"Sire, I have the King's Guard stationed on that bridge."

"Where are they then, Suroth? I see no soldiers." The bridge stood empty, visible through a break in the trees. On a hilltop beyond stood the Green Dragon, its shutters barred, its courtyard empty.

"By your leave, Sire. I must investigate."

With a wave of his hand Eric dismissed Suroth, who leapt onto his gray stallion and galloped away through the trees, leaving the King standing alone beside his tent.

* * *

Gorlock rounded a bend in the road only to find the old, stone bridge blocked by a score of the King's Guard. His heart leapt into his throat, but he composed himself as he strode toward the bridge.

As he approached, the guards on either side of the bridge walkway crossed their pikes.

"The message I carry goes to the Green Dragon," Gorlock proclaimed as he halted before the crossed pikes.

A loud splash from the river below shook the bridge. Gorlock's jaw dropped, and his mouth fell open as he watched two huge green claws rise up on either side of the bridge. Before he could move he was knocked to the roadway as the green claws scooped up all the King's men and dragged them screaming beneath the bridge.

A huge, green reptilian head rose above the stone railing, its near eye focused on Gorlock. A green claw reached for him as he leapt to his feet and ran screaming down the road.

* * *

"Never have I seen such bravery," said King Eric. "I owe that Messenger my life. Not only did he alert you, brave Suroth, but he also threw himself screaming upon three mounted assassins armed only with his dagger. A shame he only left us a couple, but a brave death."

"Yes, Sire. I would still be riding for the bridge had not the Messenger come running up the road screaming a warning. His kin should be rewarded."

"They shall be, Suroth. You are right! I am not safe here. Send me a score of Royal Guardsmen to accompany me. I shall observe the fighting from inside the Green Dragon."

And, who am I to make the king a liar...?


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