“...for the duty of a king is to rule his country, not to serve it...those bound to serve are but knights, unfit for the throne.”
-The King, Nikolos Makialos
1061 CE, Spring
Wilderness of Britain
1st year of the reign of Arthur I of Britain
Wilderness of Britain
1st year of the reign of Arthur I of Britain
The foul, familiar stench of ogre hit her as she peered through the bushes. She could see almost two dozen adults and almost twice as many younglings milling about, eating badly cooked meat, chatting, or horseplaying. A handful of guards were watching over the camp, but none of them seemed particularly alert.
After many days of tracking the creatures through the forests, she had finally found the ogres' encampment.
The nest itself was standard ogre fare: crude tents made of branches and skins set up in a cleared area of forest, with a large central tent reserved for the chieftan and his family. She noted that the camp seemed new, given the general lack of refuse the beasts normally left behind.
A young man, clad in a plain suit of maille and spear in hand, silently crawled up behind her. “The troops are in position.”
She nodded. “Very well. On my signal.”
She opened her palm and ran a bit of od through her Mana Veins, feeling the familiar rush of heat as the magic power flowed down her arm. A large bastard sword, decorated with gold and blue glass, materialized in her hand for a moment before it suddenly became invisible, emitting a slight hiss of air as it did so. The familiar weight of the sword felt comforting.
She saw one of the ogre guards sniff the air and scan the bushes. It motioned for two of its comrades to follow its lead, and trudged towards a clump of bushes that her soldiers were hiding in.
It was time.
She stepped out of the bushes and swung her sword at the three. An invisible globe of air smashed into them like a hammer, and they were blown back into a tent, every bone in their body shattered.
The ogres cried out in alarm and scrambled for their weapons. A few guards rushed her, clubs and spears raised, before a volley of arrows from behind brought them low. A survivor wheeled about, confused, before she ran up and cut him in two. She shouted, “Warriors of Britain! Charge!”
Under the cover of arrow fire, scores of soldiers, each armed with spear and sword, swarmed out of the undergrowth and plowed into the panicked bunches of ogres, showing no mercy to any in their path. She led them from the vanguard as they made their way towards the center of the camp, where the chieftan was already tearing out of his tent, his iron warhammer in hand.
To her left, she saw a soldier lose his weapon and saw him trying to retreat, but an ogre's spear caught him in the stomach. The crude spearhead tore open his armor's rings and almost punctured the thick cloth underneath, but the gambeson held. The soldier tumbled back, the wind knocked out of him, and his comrades dragged him back into safety.
A spearman and a swordsman took his place in the battle line. The swordsman parried another blow from the ogre and pinned the weapon against the ground. The spearman behind him thrust his own spear forward and impaled the creature through the neck, dropping it to the floor. The swordsman charged forward to duel with another ogre, while the spearman finished off the creature he had defeated.
To her right, she saw a particularly brash young soldier, eager to earn glory. He roared a challenge and slipped past a thin line of ogres, charging straight for the ogre chieftain. His fellow soldiers shouted warnings, but he did not heed them. Confident that his spear's reach would keep him safe, he made a thrust at the chieftain's vulnerable neck.
There was a blur as the ogre swung his hammer, and the spear snapped in half like a twig. Another blow, a low sweep, knocked his legs out from under him and forced him to the floor. He looked up and saw hammer head rushing at his face, and cringed and waited for death to take him.
It did not come.
She stood there, gritting her teeth as she bore the blow of the hammer on her sword. She had leaped over forty feet, over mobs of ogres and soldiers, and landed perfectly between the chieftain and her fallen soldier. Her steel boots sank into the earth as she strained to keep the hammer from falling any further. Before her knees could buckle, she turned aside the hammer an swung her blade, scoring a deep cut on the ogre's chest.
She glanced over her shoulder. "Your courage deserves merit, soldier, but take care to not become impetuous."
He gulped. “Y-yes, my liege.”
She and the ogre chieftan circled each other, each sizing the other up. The fighting around them came to a halt as all stood witness to the duel.
The chieftan was the first to make a move. He surged forward and made a horizontal sweep with his hammer. She ducked under it and parried the next downward blow, driving her enemy's weapon into the ground before she ran her blade up the hammer shaft and sliced off the ogre's forearms. Before it could even flinch, leaped up and cleaved off his head with a single sweep. As the head tumbled to the earth, the soldiers cheered in victory and began to renew the attack. It was only a matter of minutes before the ogres either all fled or cast aside their weapons and begged for mercy. Those who retreated were put down by either arrows or reserve troops hiding in the undergrowth.
It is done, she thought. She unsummoned her weapon and let out a sigh of relief. Minimal casualties, no ogres unaccounted for.
A soldier, bloody with ogre life fluids, jogged up to her and saluted. “What shall we do with the prisoners, my liege?”
She saw a chain gang of human prisoners led out of a large tent by soldiers, all of them miserable and dirty. Some wept and thanked the soldiers over and over. Others spat at their former captors and cursed them. Still others, many of them children, grieved for dead relatives. One little boy pleaded for a still form to wake up, shaking the body to stop sleeping and take him home. She looked around her, and saw that some of the meat that had been roasting on spits looked very much like human limbs. The ground was also littered with what looked like human skulls and bones.
Then she gazed at the ogre children who clung to their mothers or one another, or even to the corpses of those who might have been their fathers, wailing pitiably. She gazed at the females who begged to be spared, or at least to let their children go. Some of them held up necklaces of stones and beads and pointed to their young. She wondered if they were attempting bribery.
However, she remembered that she did not come to simply arrest them. Even if she changed her mind now, she realized, she brought no chains to bind the creatures. Transportation to the ogre pens would have been impossible.
A veteran soldier, covered in dark blood, strode towards her and saluted. “My liege,” he said, “I am happy to report that we have no deaths, and just a few injuries, none of them too serious. We have three dozen captives on our hands, mostly females and younglings, with a few elderly mixed in.”
“...the original quest was to track these ogres down and to exterminate them,” she said. “Too many innocents have suffered at their hands. They will raid my people no longer..”
He saluted. “Aye, my liege.” He strode off shouting orders.
As the soldiers went about their work, she strode off by herself into the forest. She did not like forests quite as much as she enjoyed the rolling green hills of her childhood, but the woods had a sense of vibrant energy that nonetheless gave her a measure of isolation. She trudged through the undergrowth far enough that the smell of the ogre camp no longer pervaded her senses.
She stood there for a moment in that silence, gazing at the trees. This is what you must do as a king, she thought to herself. You knew this when you pulled that sword out the stone and swore to protect and serve your country. You knew that not every decision would be an easy one, Merlin told you this far too many times for you to forget.
You knew that these creatures had to die for your people to be safe. They refused the Amnesty, they refused to live in the ogre pens. This is the consequence of their choices.
Choice. Yes, choice. She chose to do this. And as king, she had to make her choices without hesitation or faltering. Merlin told her that, too.
But she wondered, didn't Merlin tell her kingship was a position of honor and glory?
She turned towards the noise. One of her men stood there in the undergrowth.
“Everything's finished, my king.”
“I understand. Tend to the wounded and make ready to march.”
“Yes, my liege.”
That night, she sat in her tent by herself. She gazed at the small fire in her tent as she listened to her men revel outside.
“...and remember when he jumped right over all those ogres and stopped that hammer from pasting Albrecht with just a sword? What was that, a good thirteen yards?”
“And that duel with the big bastard, took 'is head right off! Finished the battle so quickly!”
“Ha! And I thought the fight would last longer! Pity it didn't, I might've gotten a few more ogre heads...”
“You? You took a spear to the stomach right when it all started! You're lucky you fix your armor everyday, or you'd be a dead man now.”
“Yeah, well, in any case...a toast to the king!”
“Aye! Pity he never comes out to drink with us, eh?”
“For the king!”
Scores of crude drinking mugs clashed, and then the camp was momentarily silent as the men quaffed their ale. The men spared little time getting back to their revelry.
And inside her tent, King Arthur just sat and smiled as she listened.
(Author's note: I'm new to blogging. Does anyone know how to indent stuff?)