[Inspired by George R R Martin’s “A Game of Thrones” which I just finished]
They were in a small clearing, many miles away from battle. The dense woods hemmed them from all sides like a phalanx of ancient giants, silent sentinels from the time of Early Men. The roars, the battle axes grinding against each other, the fizzle of sparks flying, the cries of anguish, the jeering of the crowds seemed far far away, almost as in another world. The only sound was that of the brook gurgling forward, its waters glistening like diamonds as it caught the last rays of the setting sun.
The Wall sat on a giant black rock by the side of the stream balancing his chin at the edge of his broadsword. His chain armor, heavy with the memories of blood, tears, sweat and time. His face, black and ominous as an approaching storm. His lips pursed into a grimace, as if trying to dam an ocean of wrath.
But the Wall crumbled. It had to.
“We should be ashamed of ourselves, us, the House of Bharat. Hiding in the forest like craven eunuchs, decimated by the House of the Lions. There is no shame in defeat, never. But not like this. Not like this.” The Wall gripped the handle of his sword hard. “How long must we avoid the Emperor’s Road, how long must we hide like exiles?”
The Marauding Knight sat a distance away, the one known as the Daredevil because he fought under the Daredevil banner. He looked up lazily, like a peaceful pigeon fattened by corn from the bountiful granaries of the Middle Plains. “Do not look at me Wall. I never wanted to be in this battle. I have fought too much. I needed rest in my castle. But they sent me here to act as the vanguard for the troops. ”
The Wall’s anger showed no sign of abating. “We know you do not like to fight after the Great Golden League. Every year, your shoulder becomes as frozen as ice, which many call rather fortuitous since it always happens the Great Golden League.”
Daredevil kept his voice soft, soft as the lard that slides off the carcass of a suckling pig as it turns in fire. ” We are all sell-swords here. The Great Golden League pays more gold than anything else. And I fight for gold. Let he who does not fight or work for gold cast his first stone at me and my ilk. Long five-day battles are not worth it—-they take away too much and give too little. And spare us the lectures of honor and tradition, I have heard such stories at bedtime from old chambermaids. I have no wish to hear them again.” Daredevil wiped away the spittle that drooled from the side of his mouth. “We fight too much. Too much. There is so much that flesh, bone and spirit can take.”
The Wall pointed his sword towards the clump of trees. “For some it is too much fighting. For some it is too less fighting. Look at our master archer Zak the Mighty. He walks onto the battlefield and falls before a feather can strike him, holding his thighs. I wager that even a song-bird is more sturdy than him.”
The Daredevil sneered “Too much meat and mead sire. You seem to have forgotten we are the Conqueror of the World, a crown won by our Great Doctor King, who used his famous whirling sword-move to slay the Enemy From the South. Oh I understand why you do not recall Oh Wall. I forgot, you were not fighting under our banner at that time.” A smile lit up the Daredevil’s face, a smile that had no mirth in it.
“Mind your tongue Daredevil. My blade may be old but it can still cleave through flesh and bone as silently sure as a ghost’s whisper.”
The Little Bird hopped between the two. “Please knights. Let us not behave like childlings on the playground.”
The Wall laughed “Here comes the Little Bird who stands cravenly on his back foot in front of the enemy archers lest they send arrows above his shoulder. You sir are a disgrace to the Banner.”
The stones crunched as the Little Bird paced between around. “Be it the case. I command more gold than you and let that be the last word on the matter.” He knitted his eyes together “Why do you take this so personally sire? As the Daredevil said, no one cares about long battles. The Men of the Seven Kingdoms care only for the shorter jousts. That is where the gold galleons are. This five-day scrap is too trivial to feel shame over. Yes some subjects may be vexed but all we need to do is wait and bide our time. Let the shorter jousts begin and everything will be forgotten.”
“That may be Little Bird. But I will not forget the craven capitulations of our once proud Banner. Defeat is one thing. This is abject surrender.”
“So what do you want us to do sire? Fall on our swords?” The Doctor King, the standard-holder, asked, his voice steady as a ship through rough seas.
“Considering how well you used your own sword, you would possibly miss if you tried doing that.” snorted Wall dismissively.
The Doctor King was known in the Seven Kingdoms for his patience. He never lost his equanimity. As he had told his newly-wed queen “Whenever anyone insults me, I tell myself—-every breath I take is worth golden galleons. No use wasting them for free.” The Wall’s verbal thrust made no impression on him. He smiled his smile that made maidens liquify like ice when put on flame.
“Sire, we were not prepared for battle. By the time we understood the grounds, the Lion’s Army had overrun us. We bled, we broke and we never recovered. Every time we tried to stand up, our enemies scythed our legs from below us. It was a massacre.”
The Wall’s eyes were hard as flint.” We could have had more time if the Grand Committee gave us time. But no they only care for the golden coins of the Great Golden League. As do you.”
“But everyone cares for the Great Golden League sire. The reason why there is gold in it is because the people watch it. And they want it. If they wanted long five-day battles, there would be more gold here. And the Grand Committee would give us more time for the longer jousts. Why blame us for being human? Why not blame the people for not caring for the five-day battles?”
The Wall fell silent, his anger scarcely constrained.
The Doctor King continued “We were blessed by the Gods to have had the crown in the five-day battles for some time. Very blessed. It was inevitable that sooner or later the Gods would turn their heads away from us. To be truthful, even the Gods cannot save our archers once Zak the Mighty withdrew. Look at them.” He pointed to the Ser Nath Berserker, climbing a tree trying to frighten birds in the branches, a man who it was whispered had half his brain eaten away by crows when he had been born. “Not even the Dragon Kings would be able to defeat a village of dwarves with these jesters on his side.”
The Doctor King raised his sword idly. It glowed gold. “The Gods were against us. Our mighty swordsmen, on whom we have always relied heavily on, failed us. The Daredevil did not bother to lead the vanguard and even when he did, I wished he did not. The Ever-Angry Lord, always reliable, after he joined the Cursed Banner in the Great Golden League has most unfortunately been put under a black hex, unable to see, unable to move. The Victorious Viscount of the South , who has always brought up the rear of our flanks, failed miserably too. The Little Bird, I think we do not seriously expect anything from him unless he puts on the Yellow Armour of the Super Lions and does short jousts. And the less we say about the Prince of Paunch the better, he must be having venison and summer ale as we speak happily surrounded by fair maidens. All these disasters we still could have weathered had the Grandmaster…..”
The Doctor King looked to his side. Beneath an ancient white tree sat the Grandmaster, his white beard flowing down to his knees, his heavy broadsword propped against the trunk. He was using something that looked like a card to work on his helmet, adjusting a bolt that had come loose there. At the mention of his name, he looked upwards where the branches rustled in the evening breeze. And said, to no one in particular “I need the Sapphire Stone that will unleash the Century of Centuries. I must have it. My precious. Else I cannot….concentrate.” Hearing him speak, the Easily Offended Squire, who had been sitting at his feet, asked with hope “But have I made it large?”
The Doctor King shook his head sadly and breathed heavy.
The Wall said “At least you feel grief. It’s a start on the path of redemption.”
The Doctor King breathed heavily once again, this time with greater force. Holding up his shield and twirling it around like a fan, he smiled towards a gap in the foliage and said ” Kone main hawa naheen lagti?”
The Wall looked at him, befuddlement writ large on his face.
The Doctor King smiled seductively: “Orient PSPO. Kone kone main zyada hawa”
The Wall wept.