This is is my entry for the September 2019 Blog Battle. Be sure to check out the other entries. This month’s challenge is to write a story incorporating a “Shield” in a thousand words, more or less. A little more (~30 words) in my case. I hope it entertains and if you haven’t already, why not consider having a go yourself?
She was having the time of her life, desperate to kick back and lose herself for a few hours, as midnight approached she was well on track. Hours of drinking, dancing and cheap wine had taken their toll as she fell into the lap of one of the many lads that vied for her attention.
With a crash, the inn door burst open. A huge menacing beast of a man stepped in from the cold. The music stopped abruptly; a hush descended. The only noise was her oblivious giggles. He growled and marched towards her, grabbing her by the arm. “You’re drunk!” he roared.
“And what o’fit?” she slurred, twisting away. Wine spilt from her glass, “You’re not m’father!”
He paused for a moment. “That’s right,” he growled, grabbing her by the scruff of the neck.
The glass went over the table as he dragged her from the soldier’s lap. For a second, the lads considered interfering but none fancied their chances against the captain of the guard. They weren’t that drunk.
“You lot, back to the barracks now,” he barked, “I’ll deal with you later.’
To a man, they were falling over themselves and not for the first time that evening. Straightening their attire, they staggered towards the exit. The Captain dragged her kicking and screaming out the back into the alley and threw her unceremoniously onto the icy cobbles.
“How dare you!” she raged, unsteadily pulling herself up using the wall to aid her wobbly ascent. “Who the hell d’ya think y’are?” she slurred.
The Captain stepped in close, his red face an inch from hers. “Who the hell am I!” he bellowed back at her. He spat each measured word in her face.
In her drunken state, the outburst left her dumbfounded. No one talked to her like that.
“Who the hell are you?” he spat back at her, accusingly.
The words hit her like a slap. She sobered up in an instance on a rising wave of shame. He could see the tears swelling in her eyes.
“Exactly,” he said solemnly, “Start acting like it.”
“I just wanted, ” she sobbed, but the words died on her tongue. The Captain was already halfway up the alley.
It took her a minute to regain her composure. The breathing exercises he’d taught her always helped. She recalled the hours they’d spent playing in the grounds. Only later had she understood the real purpose of his games. With a last quivering breath, she headed after him.
Emerging from the poorly lit alley, she could see him silhouetted under a gas lamp across the empty street. The snow was falling heavily. She called after him “I’m sorry.”
He didn’t turn, his attention was focussed on the shadows further up the street. A moment later his hand flicked up. The signal. Danger!
Her conditioning kicked in automatically as her world slowed. In a heartbeat, she was back in the darkness of the alley watching as the Captain turned and began to run. His eyes wide, he mouthed the single word, “Wait!”
The first arrow hit him in the shoulder, the sharp point pierced through his back and out the front of his tunic. He stumbled but continued his retreat. The second arrow hit him in the calf, sending him sprawling. She watched as he pulled himself back up, just as the third arrow exploded through the small of his back, dropping him to his knees. She could see the assassins now, two cloaked figures with crossbows stepped from the shadows and approached him slowly, carefully.
The Captain stood once more, turning to confront his assailants. He snorted angrily, inviting the next two shots. They landed squarely in his chest and he smiled. Dark blood dripped from his lips and he spat it on the floor in defiance. The assassins reloaded and prepared to deliver the coup de grace. It would never come, she saw to that. Swiftly, with well-practised stealth, she landed between them. They fell to the ground in unison. Her blood-soaked daggers dripped their warm life’s blood onto the snow. The Captain looked up at her with a broad red smile and nodded his last. He’d taught her well.
Her hands still shook as she removed the last leather harness from her leg. Her bloody dress lay on the ground beside the dresser.
“Catherine, are you alright?” her father said, rushing into the bedroom.
“I’m okay father,” she said. She welcomed his embrace. She was far from okay.
“He’s dead,” she stuttered.
“I know,” he pulled her closer and stroked her hair.
“He saved me. He drew them out,” she sobbed. “I …“ she swallowed hard, “I killed him. If I hadn’t …”
“Shhh,” he said, “He did his job.”
“Father!” she said angrily, pushing him away, outrage in her eyes.
“Catherine,” her father snapped, “Understand this. I’ve a thousand brothers. Each one has pledged his life to the crown. To protect you and me from our enemies.” He pulled a small patch of fabric from his pocket and squeezed it hard into her hand.
She looked down at the stained insignia of The Guard, the familiar gold stitched shield and crossed silver swords the Captain had always worn on his lapel.
“He did his job!” his eyes flashed with fire as he gently placed his hands around her trembling fingers, “You honour his sacrifice by making sure you do yours!”
She nodded, tears streaming down her face.
“Sacrifice Catherine. That is the last and most important lesson he’ll be able to teach you,” he turned to leave, “I pray you learn it well.”
It wouldn’t be the last stained shield insignia she would hold in her palm. She’d collect a dozen more before her coronation. Each another hard learnt lesson.
In time, she would become their Queen – not sat on that high throne draped in jewels and finery. No, she became their Queen sat at her father’s bureau holding a silver box. His box. Filled with a lifetime of shield insignia. Brave men who’d given their lives and done their jobs, so that she could now do hers.
She would not let them down.
Image courtesy of: Patrick Hendry