Not So Shining Armour (part I)

Raphael_-_Saint_George_Fighting_the_Dragon

Long, long ago in days of old
When dragons roamed and knights were bold
Damsels a plenty hung loftily from towers
As shining heroes wrestled for hours
With green scaly demons, that is, until
A knight came along to challenge their will
The kingdom cheered and they honoured him
He rode off to battle, our knight, not so dim…

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Sydney, our shining knight of the realm, casually waved aside a nervous fellow called Gravel and the armour presented to him.

“But, Sire… you really ought to wear this.”

“Worry not Gravel.” Sydney continued to throw his spiked iron ball up in the air, catching it repeatedly only just managing to miss Gravel, his long suffering aid, by inches.

He flexed his upper body and neck, and with precision in his eyes, directed the ball at a makeshift target of stacked wine urns. He took a full length of his tent and made a run using an overarm tactic that an impressed Gravel had never before seen. The ferocious article travelled, obliterating the urns and piercing the tent and an unsuspecting guard on the outside.

“Aargh! God almighty!”

“Oops,” offered the knight, “sorry out there. Gravel, go and see to, err – whoever that is.”

“That is Googly*…your watchman, Sire.”

“Ah, well see to him and return here, I have a plan to conquer these dumb beasts and it will not, I may add, require your tin can mechanics over there.”

Gravel duly returned to report bad news.

“Googly is being attended to Sire. He sustained a rather nasty injury, but begged me to thank you for not killing him and murmured something about his family being too large to feed as it was.”

“Good man – that’s the spirit – and Gravel, what is more; in honour of that faithful chap, I will call my new manoeuvre the Googly. Let it hereby be known throughout our small domain and on our sports fields…” Our good knight prattled on pompously for several more seconds before Gravel interrupted him in good flow.

“Mmm…it could catch on, Sire. But Sire? What of your plan and these scaled green demons from hell, who are at this very moment waging war with fire causing devastating destruction in our valleys, and who in fact loom ever closer?”

“Pfft.”

“Sire?”

“Think about it Gravel,” The creatures are the size of a castle and have a brain the size of a gnat…hence their imminent extinction I shouldn’t wonder. How many carcasses do we discover in a year, hmm? And burnt out carcasses at that? They are so dim-witted they can’t even turn around and greet each other without one of them setting his neighbour alight. But, that is to our favour, and we must act upon it.

We will send out into the valleys some fairly useless persons from our hamlet. Offer them riches and the hand of the King’s daughter if you have to, but assemble a likely crew to post notices on as many trees as they can before they’re erm… well before the idiots are flambéed and eaten, basically. We will send an invitation of sorts to these dragons.”

“What kind of invitation, and Sire, I know I am but a lowly, humble servant and farmer, with no schooling and it irks me to question you, but I don’t think dragons can read – can they?”

“You’re quite correct Gravel, you are a lowly servant and peasant farmer – of course they can’t read! What kind of idiot do you take me for? Quite simply, or simp- le- er, ” the knight peered at Gravel down his nose. “the men will act as a decoy – the poster hangers are a ruse, an entrée, if you like – since they have exhausted their platter in the neighbouring towns; half digested, rancid flesh has been reported for miles in and around villages, and they are so stupid they will plod on and on till they have burnt our forests down and ruined our harvests before unwittingly making a clearway to more delectables, namely us, here.”

“OO,” cried Gravel, “A cruel but a worthy sacrifice, if I may say so Sire.”

“Indeed. “Now…oh, before I forget, what news of our attacking enemies who, last I heard, lay behind the Green Gorge?”

“None,” replied Gravel.

“None?  Have they moved at all since last we spoke?

“No, Sire.”

“They are still there, aren’t they, Gravel?

“Oh, definitely, Sire. In fact, before our soldiers pulled out….”

Our knight spluttered and removed the dribbles of the finest wine from his chin. “Pulled out? Pulled out? By whose orders?

“The King.”

“Oh him. Fair enough. But what reasoning is behind this.. this order?”

“Dragons, Sire… lots of them.”

Our knight stared at Gravel…his answer clearly didn’t satisfy him at all but Gravel promptly continued.

“Erm…the two unfortunates posted to stay and keep watch have reported no advance or anything much that poses as a possible threat – unless we count the unruly debauched festivities in their camp. On the whole Sire, we are safe as long as they don’t sober up too quickly. After all, we will be somewhat pre occupied with our current more pressing problem. I think Sire, that was the King’s reasoning…the dragons.”

“Thank you, Gravel I think we have established our situation viz a viz the dragons!”

“If I may, Sire, I will leave you and round up the men as you asked, and we can implement stage one of our plan.”

Our knight stood in front of Gravel and rocked back and forth on his toes. There was a sour upturned lilt in his voice.

“Stage one? Our plan?”

“Pardon me, Sire. Your plan. “The knight tapped Gravel rather harshly on the forehead with his goblet causing a delicious trickle of wine to travel down onto Gravel’s covetous lips and proceeded to wax lyrical about better days.

“Camp fires? Escapades, debaucher…. merriment! Whatever happened to the thirst for war, blood lust? Parties?…I ask you. Ee Gads.”

Our knight’s ramblings stirred something in Gravel.

“Invitations, Sire!… Parties!”

“Oh, not again, Gravel – there will be no invitations – not in a literal sense…”

“No Sire, I have an idea.”

“Out with it man, what is it?”

Gravel cleared his throat and wiped his hands down his shirt front at the same time shifting himself on his feet, feeling rather important. Our knight looked on with an unimpressed eye and quite impressive amount of loathing .

“We should begin luring the dragons after we secure the attention of our enemy, to whom we send a real invitation offering a truce. If they accept, a fantastic banquet will be held in their honour, and their soldiers be given every hospitality outside of our walls whilst their leader and our King hammer out the finer points.  Whilst we have their key leaders in our grasp, the army will be enough of a distraction and feast for the dragons – thereby providing us ample opportunity to destroy them…both…Sire.”

“Gravel! What a truly expected, simple idea.”

A few days later, on the outskirts of a woodland forest and after the ‘truce’ was declared…

“Oi! Mind your tail! That was too close. When you’re not setting fire to me rear, you’re trampling me half to death!”

“Sorry mate!” Tarragon struggled to release a balloon of air to which Arnold promptly set fire too – as he was apt to do – partly because he could and partly because he would never give up finding it funny, and partly because Tarragon had a way far better name – a name befitting of a dragon of old, and Arnold resented him immensely for it.

“Hey, Arnold, have you seen this scrawny lot? Not a juicy tit bit amongst them.”

“Yeah. What on earth are they doing – apart from looking like last year’s leftovers? They don’t look very happy to be here.” Arnold surmised that they were either very brave or very stupid, and either way they would do as an appetiser. His laughter brought on another shot of wind. Arnold was always fond of his own musings. He laughed primarily because, as he often told it, and more alarming to anyone with a brain larger than Arnold’s – ‘I’ve heard it before.’

The petrified, but faithful men hammered away at the trees and old fence posts and whatever they could find to display the ‘official notices’ and, as ordered, clattered and banged as loudly as they could to draw attention to themselves. As the dragons’ curiosity piqued and appetites grew, they moved closer to the men who immediately began to run for the thickest parts of the trees in order to carry out more of their work.

“Mmm, this poses quite a challenge, and is it worth it?” Arnold pondered..

“I do feel peckish, but what about the bloomin’ trees, and they’re such small bites, is it indeed worth the effort; they could get away before we begin to plough through such a lush, ripe green….god – I am hungry.” The dragon flared its nostrils, and wafts of putrid green smoke emanated, souring the air around them both.

Staring down the barrel of both nostrils and the billowing puffs gave Arnold the idea to attack from above with fire. Both dragons would make a clearing of the treetops then his chum could block any nearby exits.

Arnold sucked in his fat belly and regretted his idle days of obesity before engaging his tail – the very ragged and sharp end of which caught Tarragon across the head. His somewhat singed wings spread and engulfed the air in a pathetic but almost poetic slow motion until he gained momentum enough to hover, being careful not to breath so ferociously as to alert the tasty bites unaware of their imminent danger.

“Are you ready yet?” Fumed Tarragon waiting down below.

“Will you stop bellowing and breathing so much dam fire…they will see it!” Arnold rallied from above before he swooped – as well as an unfit, old demon from hell could swoop – onto and into the dry, green vegetation.

Very soon a portion of forest near the swamp was ablaze but the dragons could see nothing of the men who had heard the commotion of the unkempt and rather poor excuses for dragons before their plan and them had even got off the ground, and so they had ran as fast as they could over the swamplands which, since the dragons occupied most of the time, they thought was their best chance for escape, and they were right. The men had abandoned their tools and satchels containing old tax notices, which now lay all around, littering the parts of the forest.

Back on terra firma, Arnold was soon joined by Tarragon, done with hovering over the scorched forest.

“Dam! I was rather looking forward to exercising and using my talons to pluck them like wild strawberries.

“Never mind,” panted Arnold, “we have made a start on the clearing and a path to that juicy kingdom over there….Crap!  I’ve got a stitch!”

The other dragon seemed pre occupied. With one clawed foot he held down large scraps of paper and turned them, surprisingly deftly….

“What on earth are you doing?” Enquired Arnold.

“Oh, these just look like a bunch of those TAXDEM thingys…. and some numbers. Kingdom business. Must have been what they were doing, all that banging.”

Arnold took a closer look. “Tax Demands you idiot. No wonder we get a bad press!

Arnold read on, “Hmmm, they are being screwed. 3,000 shelics to rummage around in squalor – I ask you. We’ll probably be doing them all a favour by eating them, save them from more misery. Apparently the King and his lot are twerps, so it shouldn’t be that hard either.”

At this point, Arnold swung suddenly, not giving Tarragon enough time to dodge the huge ball of fire ricocheting off Arnold’s behind and a nearby broad English oak.

“You really are an inconsiderate bastard, aren’t you Arnold?”

To be continued…

* Goggly – In cricket a googly is a type of delivery bowled by a right-arm leg spin bowler…or so I am informed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Apprenctice

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The familiar but intimidating cobalt tip shone aloft as Gustav approached through the heavily shadowed arch of the cold, granite message tunnel. Snaking through the shuffling and twitching as we stood as apprehensive as ever, an unusual aroma struck us and soon made us still. Something was different this eve; doom was in the air amidst the ghastly stench now roaming closer as it threatened our nostrils and sent shivers through our very souls.

Gustav waved a free hand to the granite floor, and soon his body descended flawlessly. Nothing less was expected of Gustav, and so all appeared normal – at least for now.

As he floated between the two stone-pillared receptacles, which held the fire of the lost spirits, Gustav looked among us eagerly searching. Quizzical, but soulless black eyes held each of the boys standing nervously awaiting, and then one by one he let them go; as he did they would drop to the floor once the grip of his abusive power loosened.

A small face that held the most impish of grin’s despite the theatrics of this demonic spectacle belonged to Hythro who grabbed at my robe sleeve and tugged.

“What day is it tomorrow?”

I gave him a puzzled scowl.

“Ssh, young friend. Wait until this is over, then we can talk till the moon is exhausted.”

Not to be swathed, Hythro came back, “It’s my birthing day. I will be chosen tonight, you’ll see!”

I brought a thick, heavy grey sleeve to my mouth to muffle laughter that might escape. As I turned to look at his exuberant face, a vision of death appeared in its place. The cruel and ghastly mask that had overtaken the young boy’s pale and gentle face shook my very core.

“What is it Jansus?” He pleaded with creased brows and a quizzical stare; I was clearly frightening him.

I could not hear him, his voice became tame and separate in its own muted bubble. All I heard were dense voices reverberating inside my head and a swirl of mist had gathered where my thoughts once were. I watched my dear friend, who had become more of a duty to me since our inception and as near to a real brother as one could have, be lifted and held whilst the followers chanted and naked flames from torches licked at his tortured body.

One by one, arms of sweat and muscle released their grasp, and Hyrtho levitated before the dark and sinister black of the tunnel. I was abruptly brought to my senses by the bustle of the fellows preparing for prayers to be held before the mighty Gustav – our Teacher and Chooser.

Gustav prodded me through the air with his sceptre to force me to worship along with the others, as I knelt I was forced to look away and to the floor by the familiar pressure of obedience emanating from his staff. I could not pray, instead I thought of Hyrtho and his exuberance, and knew only too well what fate awaited him this night.

Was I the only one among us who was cursed with these visions? With every service I saw the face of the ‘next’. Do I send them to their doom? Are my eyes the only eyes he finds whilst he searches? I had come to fear every service because all of my visions had been honoured thus far.

Whilst the others prayed, I tried to thwart the sensation and images in my mind. Desperation forced me to summon my own demons to rewrite the premonition. Serpents of time snaked between my wrists and pried open each palm, mocking prayer. I watched as they weaved and writhed and listened as they spoke to me.

“Look to what looks inside you, look at him and see.”

I lifted my head and peered through the half-light of my hood at Gustav’s burning eyes; eyes that were already awaiting mine. The beads of sweat on his naked crown glimmered with the ricochet of flame either side of him. He paced heavily, his eyes not leaving the inside of my head for one second. I felt I was being buried deeper and deeper into the uneven stone floor we had adorned for years and years, and into the black light that was our lives. The humbled gathering smothered the hall in murmurs and prayer, which gave Gustav the opportunity for ceaseless battle with my mind.

Hell’s door opened wide and the same foul smell grew stronger, nearly suffocating me before I was all but swallowed whole, and before my demons had time to gather their wits and surge upon his soldiers awaiting us. Flickering fires tormented me by engulfing my fellow prisoners. I gasped with an urgency to give in, but my warriors placated me and fought the fire with conviction and showed me how false and cold the wall of fire that surrounded them was – that it was just an illusion created by Gustav’s trickery and deception.

Whilst the vision of a black robe and the cobalt eye of Gustav’s sceptre remained ahead to deceive the praying boys, Gustav loomed above me and choked me with a cold, black stare until I was sent to my knees – my hands no equal combat against his sheer force. The emerald and ochre serpents released to me a power, which raised me bodily, high and level with my oppressor’s angry stare.

“You dare to challenge me now?” Gustav snarled. “Tell me what has brought about such insubordination; all of this for such an insignificant, small and weak chink in our display – a link that will endanger all we have built, all we are – surely not?”

“Don’t mock me Gustav, don’t underestimate me either. I am done being your instrument. I am done with this black putrid space we call our home. I have grown and maybe I have outgrown you!”

I watched an onslaught of black images grow in number before me before I was snatched back into darkness and my tomblike existence; the only existence I had ever known. I was used by each successive in the Order and chosen for my power; a power they quickly ceased on and were loath to let go – hence my survival. I was their tool. A tool that delivered to them what it is they sought, without blood stains touching their hands – all of their sacrificial gifts to the Source. Should Gustav fail then his soul would be torn from him and fed to the depths of depravity in Hell. The latter did not worry Gustav, the idea of not being The Chooser of five hundred years this eve, and cajoling with his demons and his master, Satan, did.

I had never in all my ‘existence’, until Hythro, experienced the inner peacefulness of human bonding, kinsmanship and duty…or love – brotherly love. It had touched upon something in my lost being, from a time taken from me but that would never be snuffed out. This past echo ignited further powers in my possession, hitherto hidden and suppressed.

“Hythro is the chosen one and will die tonight, whether you like it or not. You chose him. It is your black blood that sends him to his death and to our Saviour! Be honoured that he chose you to channel his thoughts and hears what you have to say.”

“I am ashamed and insulted,” I conceded. I could feel the hatred as my face creased when I spat out the words, “Our Saviour, the loathsome spiral on which we all slid ignorantly and you the weak subservient who drove us, are nothing but a fallacy, a want, a fairytale made in ‘hell’, and you are so weak as to believe in it. I will not allow this anymore!”

“Ha! Oh you won’t? Then die!”

My screams wrung out and seeped into those gathered below me. Gustav’s blue sceptre of torment pierced my brain and summoned black putrid showers of molten liquid upon the boys.

“Look! Shouted Gustave, “See what your brother is doing, how he thinks for all of you. You should despise his whims and feelings…we must punish him… he must die. Now!” The army of serpents rose again to shield them and the voices breathed life into the boys.

“Fight! Fight! Use all you see, look into each others eyes and see. Look deeply.”

Hythro broke from the trance first and removed the hood of the boy next to him and ushered the next to do the same until all watched the air above them. As the smothering putrefaction dripped onto their robes a few cries were let out before a realisation that they were unharmed. The liquid turned to water and Gustav dropped to the floor and his weak and broken body lay crumpled before them.

The valiant Serpents tore through his tunic and gorged on Gustav; the cobalt blue flickered until its breath was finally extinguished. The warrior Serpents and their effervescent trail  paved a pathway through the cold tunnel, and the boys followed it until a luminous end greeted them; its warmth and radiance took their breath away.

Spirits that were released from the ruptured fires; kept burning for centuries in the vessels that guarded the tunnel’s doorway – pranced and spread laughter ahead of the children who turned and called to their new leader, still away in the distance in the sour darkness. Jansus walked towards them and they engulfed him with the power of the love that had assured their deliverance once and for all.

Jansus felt a familiar tug at his arm.

It must be my birthing day by now, mustn’t it?” A small imp like nose turned skyward only to be met by a sturdy cuff at the back of his neck.

“Don’t you ever give up?” Jansus picked up his small brother and ran into the new family awaiting them.

Black Christmas

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Charlie touched his brown-rimmed glasses knowingly, his freckles crinkling as he marched down to the garden’s borders. He noticed how austere it all looked this time of year and remembered from school how the birds might find it difficult finding food and contemplated eking out worms and other treasures just for them. His eyes smiled at the gaping hole in the deep green hedge his father took pride in and decided to follow a walk of footprints leading off to the street which was paved with gold – Christmas gold.

The huge black lead street lamp shined a golden yellow on the neighbour’s efforts. They had gone to town with sledges, reindeer, Santas and lots of glittering sights and sounds. His mind was still on the tracks though and the puzzle they presented. Charlie’s jaw dropped at the magnificence of next door’s sled where he noticed similar prints and more right beside the giant Santa, which was red and white and had a smile for everyone.

Charlie knelt down and checked under the sled and inside it holding onto his specs as he moved them up and down in inspection mode, murmuring the occasional ‘aha’ but he could see noting really. He scratched his head with stiff cold fingers while he simultaneously rubbed his cold, red nose wiping the overspill on his new, red scarf and saying an apology to Aunt Mildred for the mess. He clapped his padded hands together before they clasped behind his back, and a shudder took him into high-speed detective work.

He decided to sit on a large leather seat to shelter from the snow falling once again. The sledge began to move slightly making him a bit uneasy. That soon went as Charlie was soon in awe of the blue-black sky and the twinkling stars amid the white dotted snow falling around him in the sledge before it turned into a storm like whir. From behind he heard a booming laugh and bells; there was shrill ringing behind him then all around. His excitement was tinged with longings of home and the warmth and his mom and the Christmas tree and just all the familiar things, but maybe that was Santa. Was it Santa?

Charlie’s eyes were drawn to the sled floor and the tiny prints which had reappeared. He pushed his glasses onto his nose and pulled back as he noticed a small creature on the seat beside him. Charlie smiled at the furry paws though dirty and wet with very ragged nails; he was anything but cute and the stench emanating from him – it, was becoming unbearable.. Charlie’s smile was met with a dark face with crooked menacing teeth that dripped saliva that turned the sled floor a greenish yellow. Charlie’s heart sank together with the thoughts his companion might be an elf and he held onto his red scarf from aunt Mildred and smelled his moms mince pies on his glove, which bore some squished crumbs.

He was pulled out of regret, and near tears, when he was jolted by the roar of ‘Santa’s’ instructions to the beasts pulling the sled. The horrible goblin like creature that terrified Charlie turned to ‘Santa’, and with a hyena’s laugh and to Charlie’s disbelief, it uttered the words, ‘One more and we will be done for this evening.’ Charlie and the sled flew into the air and he was never seen again.

 

Callie

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The frenzied scratching and bloodied paws made Callie wince and her frame shudder more. She rubbed her arms to work up some heat, but ridges of mud provided no comfort. The dog yelped as if he had been hurt, and she dropped to her knees in the five inches or so of cold water.

“What is it, boy?”

He was panting hard but wouldn’t stop. Callie was convinced by now that he knew. He knew how bad things were and that they were both stuck and could soon die. The smell of gas was growing stronger and her chest wheezed. The more she wheezed the faster he dug – time was running out.

Callie had grown up with her devoted Pup as she liked to call him. No longer a pup, the majestic stance of the animal was something to cling to in the dank, cold, gas-filled tunnel they found themselves trapped in. He was dirty, wet, bedraggled and looked half the size of his true capabilities.

He was bought as a bribe to entice her to love the small village her parents had dragged her to. Soon though they were inseparable, and Pup made it easy for Callie to love the place. He was into everything. They would take snacks down to the streams and follow old rail lines and climb the grassy slag heaps, once the old coal mines of long ago, which were now overgrown with bramble and bluebells, and it was idyllic.

Callie’s head felt like it would explode as, kneeling helplessly, she remembered that small boy up on the hill. She was surprised when he had called to Pup. The dog whined and his restless head was unsure when he stared at the small, waif like figure, but despite that, Pup bolted up the hill towards the boy who by then had simply disappeared from view.

Callie followed and was met by sounds of crying in the entrance of an old mine shaft; mounds of soil and overgrown weeds had nearly swallowed it up. The ground felt soft, and she was very wary with each step until, whoosh, both her knees sank followed by her elbows until she was up to her small neck in soil and debris. She screamed in blind panic before disappearing from sight. Pup dug furiously and was soon lost with her in an old vein of the coal mine.

Just then the boy appeared again. Pup stopped digging and whined at the boy before running towards him. He greeted Pup, then smiled and led them down the old tracks to reveal a clearing and the sunlight. Inside a nearby cart was a tiny skeleton.

Clinging onto Pup, Callie trembled as she stumbled through the water towards the figure who gently reached out. Pup gave him his paw.

‘Thank you for coming to find me, boy.’

The small figure seemed happy as he turned and faded into the crevasses of the black night walls of the mineshaft.