This is a piece I did, using the keyboard that I reviewed and while it might be a little clunky, I like it.
Comments and suggestions, please.
After the heavy rains, stillness abounded. The freshness of the air was complemented by the silkiness of renewed leaves. The recent dry spell had not been good for anything or anyone. The farmers breathed a sigh of relief in between their sighs of worry. Animals stared out at the still pools of water in troughs with a bit of disbelief still.
The hooded figure stood silently on the large flat rock and waited with a barely concealed air of impatience. Soon others emerged from the glen with mutters of discontent. About twenty-five in number, most of the group had wet clothing. A few had either found sufficient shelter during the heavy thunderstorms or had weatherproof cloaks, like the man on the rock. Here and there complaints could be heard, followed by corrections from the others. Some of those corrections didn’t involve speaking but did involve blows.
He waited for the curses to subside, then smoothly descended from the rock in a deceptively powerful jump. He was of middle height and had strong shoulders, but that was all anyone could see. He wore a long cloak of darkest green and a hood that concealed every other detail about him. A giant of a man pushed through the crowd toward him. He was the largest of the group, and confronted him at the base of the rock with an angry growl and a bared dagger. Markings on his body, long and unkempt stringy hair, a missing eye, two powerful scarred arms, and a foul disposition told the others that he wasn’t a kind soul. He reached out for the hooded man with an enraged growl.
His target wasn’t there at the base of the rock, as it quickly turned out. He had ducked away from the bigger man’s grasp, and moved away several steps. The man in the green cloak drew a small keen blade that seemed to shimmer on its malevolent edges. The larger man felt a sharp cut across the small of his back, and enraged, turned to crush the other man. The giant’s opponent stood ready several feet away, and waited for the larger man reach him. He didn’t seem to be very worried. The others in the group of brigands formed a loose circle, and several men opened their mouths to start betting.
That is, only to snap their mouths shut as the aggressor collapsed on suddenly limp legs and numb hips. The fire in his lone eye changed quickly to alarmed panic and he screamed. The others heard him babble fearfully about poisons and a lack of feeling in his legs for a short moment, then the giant was silenced abruptly as a foot of steel pounded through his temples. His own dagger stood upright, pinning his insensate head to the ground. The jeweled pommel shook and glinted as the giant convulsed in his death throes.
As the smaller man stood with his small knife and the dead man’s cloak in his hands, the hood fell back. The malicious evil in those bloodshot eyes froze the others, and they surreptitiously kept a collective eye on the hand using the cloak to clean the blade. The owner of that hand straightened and put the knife away, then reached deeper into the cloak for something unknown. The circle was widened as everyone quickly stepped back. The killer saw this. He threw his head back gleefully and chortled.
“Oh, it’s not so bad as that, lads! He just forgot his place in this group! A simple mistake that was quickly rectified, and he’ll be sure not to make that mistake again. Or any other mistake, for that matter.”
His smile promised agony and a rapid demise for anyone who doubted him.
“Since no one knows me, I’m called Shul Ghost-walker.”
A fearful shudder ran through the small crowd at this revelation. Shul Ghost-walker was a local legend, reputed to be a ravening madman with no respect for lives or property. No sheriff had caught him, and more than a few had lost their lives in gruesome ways. The King had a bounty on his head.
“That’s not my real name, of course, but that’s the one I live and work under. I bid you to gather around and listen. I have a job for this group, so long as everyone understands that there will be no problems. If there are any issues …”
He waited for any questions, and finding none offered, gestured to the stiffening body behind him. No one doubted the consequences that he referred to for any “issues.”
“So gather around, my boys, and hear what I have planned to do.”
At the insistent gestures of the man in the green cloak, the group closed up. The dead man was given a wide berth, as the others moved around to hear what Ghost-walker had planned. No one said anything now, since they was unsure if he would stab anyone else. They watched as he quickly jumped onto the rock again – his pulpit to preach his message to the group.
“Boys, we’re going to do something that will be told in tales and sung by bards all over the kingdom. Something that isn’t original, unfortunately, but still worthy of note. There will be rewards for you, depending on how much you do for me, but I’m very fair. Each according to his ability and work, and how much effort you put in. For that matter, how much loyalty you show me.”
Another gesture to the dead body. The implied message was very clear. Everyone was very quiet, not wanting to trigger the madman. A rustle in the trees signaled the presence of other bodies. A few in the small gathering looked to see drawn swords, several staves, and a few arbalests. They looked back to see a knowing gleam in Ghost-walker’s eyes, and waited for him to reveal the reason they all stood there. They knew that they could not escape, so waiting was all they could do. He did not disappoint any longer. The green cloak rustled when he spread his arms wide and issued his gleeful proclamation.
“We’re going to kidnap the princess!”
Aleister Greyblade, Captain of the Guards for Castle Cairfield, squinted critically at the young man standing before him. He had doubts. More to the point, he was starting to regret leaving his door open to anyone who had something that they want to discuss. The youngster had been issued in by the Sergeant of the Guard with a suitably grave expression, but Greyblade had detected the gleam in the older man’s eyes. The torches on the walls stood ready for the night, and the officer briefly entertained a thought about using one in a highly improper fashion on the Sergeant. He leaned back in his chair and continued his squint. He’d been listening to this boy for more time than he wanted to, already.
“Tell me again. Why do you want to be a gate guard?”
The youth puffed up at the question. Here was his opportunity to impress the Captain with his knowledge, competence, and all-around general ability. He stood tall and confidently delivered his reason for visiting.
“I want to keep the castle safe from intruders, learn about the workings of the castle’s keepers, and become a knight – Sir!”
A fervent nod accompanied this bold statement, and Greyblade hid a sigh of disbelief at the rawness of this recruit. Seeing that the young man’s eyes strayed from the garrison walls to the window where feminine laughter was quite noticeable, the captain mentally moaned in despair at what he had to work with. He decided to take this particular scrawny bull by the horns.
“More like, lad, you want to meet the Princess or one of the other maids for common and base means.”
Greyblade had to stifle a laugh and school his face to stillness at the rapidity with which the young man’s face fell in dismay, but it wasn’t easy. Biting his tongue helped, a little. He couldn’t remember the last time he himself been this pristine. He kept listening to hear the youth squeak as he moved, but was disappointed.
“But nothing! Get that idea out of your head, right now! You enlisted with that in mind and you are finding out truth. Gods above and below! How you got through the basic training, I’ll never know. If you’re an example of what’s being turned out nowadays, I’m going to despair for the safety of this castle! Now, boy, if you don’t want to find yourself in more trouble, you need to think with the right head. Otherwise, you won’t survive in the King’s service. Now, no more. No more! Get back to your squad and don’t come back here with that fool’s talk again! You do, and I’ll shove my foot up your ass so far, I’ll be able to wiggle my toes and tickle your tonsils!”
The boy gaped at him. Greyblade slammed his fist down on his desk as hard as he could and bellowed at him.
The boy fled, dragging his pride, and it was all Greyblade could do to wait long enough to not be heard bawling with laughter. He shook his head and bit his tongue again as he listened to the sound of the boy’s feet running away from his office as fast as he could, knocking some things over and getting yelled at more by others. His sergeant came in after a few minutes, and saw the captain’s purple face. After the explosion of mirth, Greyblade took a deep breath. He affixed a mock-angry glare on the sergeant.
“What are we coming to? Callow youths dreaming of adventures!”
The sergeant shook his head, a dour expression on his face.
“If by adventures, you mean in battle or under sheets, I’m afraid to say the first is much more probable. And judging by the looks of that one, never for the second.”
He held out a sealed letter, in a gauntleted hand. It bore a thick wax seal, which looked very official. The governor’s crest gleamed from the wax. If anything, the sergeant’s expression got more solemn.
“This came a few minutes ago.”
Greyblade’s light mood was swiftly chased off by the serious tone in the other man’s voice. The captain took the letter, and broke the seal. He read for a few moments, then stood quickly. He glanced at the sergeant.
“How much did you know already?”
“I only suspected, sir, but if that is a note about Ghost-walker, then it can’t be good.”
“Damned right it isn’t. Turn out the guard and double it until further notice. Make all of them painfully aware that if I catch them sleeping on watch, they’ll hang. Move quick. I need to show this to the King.”
In the King’s audience chamber, a line of supplicants was waiting. They ran the gamut from arguing over the ownership of a chicken to arguing over who owed who money, plus any number of other things. The King seemed bored, yet strangely interested still. He cared for his subjects, the Guards Captain knew, but sometime wearied of it. This was especially true when those under him failed to take care of matters that they should, and passed the problems up to him. Greyblade crossed over and whispered discreetly in the King’s ear.
His Majesty stood up and addressed the subject kneeling before him.
“You are right. Chamberlain, see to it that this man is recompensed, plus half. Then take over here.”
The King strode off without waiting for a reply. Outside the audience chamber, he motioned the Captain into a quiet corner. The King’s expression was pained.
“Good thing you showed up. I was about to fall asleep.”
Aleister Greyblade grimaced.
“Your Majesty, you might not thank me when you hear the troubling news I bring.”
A kingly glance accompanied the raising eyebrow.
“Well, spit it out. What is it?”
Greyblade grimaced even more.
“Sire, we have just discovered that there is a plot to kidnap the princess tonight.”
The King went rigid.
“Shul Ghost-walker is involved, Sire. His reasons are as yet unknown. My informant in in grave danger and could only give me this much.”
The King eyed the other man speculatively.
“Informant, eh? You’re serious about getting rid of Ghost-walker, aren’t you?”
“Sire, you know my reasons. I’ve lost too many people I love and too much else besides, to that man. I will see it stopped, even to my last breath!”
The King waved his hands placatingly, as the other man’s voice rose.
“Softly! Walls echo in here. But, I understand. Well do I remember your beautiful wife Sianne, raped and broken by that man, and little Mairwyn. She died far, far too soon, and I think about her every day. I miss that little girl – but I well know that I can’t miss either one anywhere near the same amount you do. Aleister, do what you need to do to set this aright. Have you made arrangements for the security of my daughter?”
“Aye, and for the rest of your family besides.”
The King stared unseeingly at Greyblade with a troubled mien. After a few minutes, Greyblade ventured forth.
“Sire, what else troubles you?”
A world weary sigh answered him.
“What you haven’t been told, because the nobles keep it close, is that Ghost-walker is also Duke Mossy Breakwater, and he had put in a bid for my daughter’s hand last month. I refused it.”
Greyblade paused for a moment as he digested this new information.
“And tonight he’s coming for her anyway, is that correct?”
“I fear you have it.”
“Then Sire, I have more to do. By your leave?”
The Captain hustled off, shouting orders when he turned the corner. The King turned to stare out the slitted window, his heart heavy. Outside the window, he could see the castle guards drilling in some formation or other, a few merchants headed for the main gate, and town children playing in the fields around the stone edifice. He could hear the faint sounds of blacksmiths and feminine voices calling to each other for this or that. The whickers and neighs of horses blending in with the occasional bray of a mule drifted up to him. After a few minutes of uneasy contemplation, the ruler called for his secretary. He awaited the arrival of the scarred man with tense impatience.
“Kenelm, I need messages sent immediately to Duke Golthem, Earl Blackwater, and Duke Hollow Glen.” The King didn’t bother listening for the man’s acknowledgment, and waiting for him to be ready. As he waited, he mentally composed the words of the message he wanted to send. The three men he listed was only hours away at a hard ride, and one was a sole hour away.
As the man set up, the King sent word for three of the stable’s fastest horses to be made ready, and three of the castle’s best riders to attend him directly. Presently, his secretary discreetly cleared his throat to indicate that he was ready. The King took one last look outside, then nodded and turned to face the other man. His secretary was waiting with a quill in his hand.
“Cairfield is soon to be under siege and attack tonight. I need fully equipped fighting men to report forthwith, as this attack has been determined to be upon the Royal Family itself. Send word out to those farther out to send troops as well. Move extremely quickly, as your oath to your liege lord demands.”
The king waited for the secretary to finish the first copy, then looked at it and approved of it with a nod.
“Get the messages out within the next few minutes.”
“Yes, Sire. At your command.” The man busily set to work and soon had six envelopes sealed with wax, bearing the King’s sigil. He distributed them out to the newly-arrived riders. The King had resumed his view outside, but turned to the riders with a hard expression.
“Make sure you put those letters in the hand of the people they’re intended for. No chamberlain, no secretary, no knight with delusions of grandeur. Give each an extra to send to the others lying farther out. Report back.”
The men nodded, saluted, and left at a run to the stables. The horses stood ready for them. They mounted up and tore out of the castle grounds as fast as they could.
The Captain had his hands full. The armories in the castle was being emptied, edges was being put on swords, axes, spears, pikes, and anything with an edge as quickly as possible. Armor was being checked over as hurriedly, and meals was being gulped down. Sergeants and their officers was haranguing the men into formations and assigning patrol areas without care for diplomatic words.
“Sergeant!” The bellow was easily distinguished as coming from Greyblade. The fact that he was currently putting on chain mail and his weapons didn’t seem to much matter to him.
“Aye.” The man’s earlier laconic tone was gone, replaced with a long service warrior’s hard edge. He wore his mail and sword as though they were integrated parts of himself.
“Get conscript parties going. All the slackers, drunkards, roustabouts, and other such paragons of humanity, and put them on the outer walls with tough sergeants to mind them. If they won’t be useful in times of peace, they damn well will be useful now.”
“Good. Send Alec in to see me, wherever he is. I need a scouting party.”
“Aye, sir.” The man left, hustling out the stone doorway. Various people, intent on their own jobs, got out of his way quickly. Aleister Greyblade turned back to his thoughts, and kept examining what else needed to be done.
“Get me the sentry officer of the watch!”
As twilight arrived, the unease among the guards in the castle grew. The soldiers had been told what was going on and weapons had been distributed out. A few of the younger soldiers stroked their sword hilts nervously and wondered. The archers had filled the time checking their bows and rejecting warped arrows. Now they stood ready. Aleister Greyblade waited for his scouts to report back, a forgotten ale and sandwich at his side.
A clatter at the main gate caught his attention. A bedraggled man was there, talking to the guards. The Captain recognized him and motioned for him to be brought in. As he was escorted in, Greyblade could see dried blood on him along with several uncared for wounds.
The man saluted weakly, trembling.
“Sir, Millerson reporting. We found the main force five miles from here, toward the coast. We tried to sneak out, but was almost completely apprehended. In the battle we killed all or most of their advance party, but I fear they will be here soon. I am the only survivor.”
Greyblade nodded, trying to ignore the loss of an old friend.
“Get your wounds tended to. I need you to help with the defense. Eat something and do it quickly. Then get a blade, and join the group on the west side.”
The man saluted again and left.
The preparations continued, until the castle was silent for the waiting. Full dark had arrived and the moon shone in the sky. Every ear listened, and every eye searched. Some unexplained noises had been heard but no one was sure exactly what it was, except that it wasn’t the normal sounds of night time. A scout party was sent out to investigate.
A series of shouts rang out, a loud crash hammered the night air and a burning fireball arose, impacting on the arch above the portcullis at the end of it’s fiery arc. Another lofted through the air after a moment or two to drop into the courtyard. Flames shot up from forgotten carts and other items, easily ignited, and soon people dashed in to beat at the hungry fires.
Captain of the Guards Greyblade yelled up to the archers.
“Longbows, volley fire toward the trebuchet! Fire!” He knew bows couldn’t possibly reach the range of the trebuchet, but he would have sent men out ahead of the war machine to attack the walls if he’d been on the other side.
His theory was proven correct, as he heard screeches and screams of pain outside the walls.
“Keep firing! Crossbows stand ready! Inner gate, close in!”
The inner portcullis came crashing down and as it landed, a loud bang was heard on the outer gate. A battering ram was in use there. The gate bulged in, but held.
“Get those walls covered up there!” he called as breaching ladders slapped up against the walls. Several enterprising soldiers with poles tried the lever the ladders away from the walls. It worked – sometimes. Another dashed up with a battleaxe, and chopped away at one leg of a ladder, then tipped it over with the imbalance. Seeing his success, he started on another one and raised his axe for a measured blow.
The center of his forehead sprouted a crossbow quarrel, and the axe fell from his lifeless hands. It severed another man’s wrist as it fell and that man reeled back, stumbling over the edge of the castle walls. His screams, strangely louder than all the raging din of the battle, terminated abruptly in a sickening splat as his body intersected the ballista’s inbound bolt. If nothing else, it helped deflect the huge bolt from its intended point of impact, and the line of soldiers held.
Greyblade drew his sword and sent a quick prayer up for success. Some of his men on the outer walls were dead already, from the trebuchet’s impact alone. More heavy smashes on the outer gate, and with a crash it broke free. A crowd of men burst through, firing more crossbows with very deadly accuracy. Right behind them was another crew with a heavy battering ram which shortly slammed into the inner gate.
The archers were fully engaged, although their numbers were dropping rapidly from the directed fire of the opposing force. Some of the castle’s hunters picked up the bows from the fallen archers and began firing arrow after arrow into the horde of crossbowmen. Several fell back with injuries, while some simply died there while their appropriated bows falling silent again.
Greyblade noticed a small group breaking off from the main force swarming in and moving with a distinct purpose toward a little-used door. His instincts screamed a warning at him, and he grabbed three nearby guards, as they put down the attackers they fought.
“Sergeant Cromwell, direct this defense! You three, come with me!”
He pointed at the invaders. The two glanced at them, and nodded to the Captain. Together, they took off in pursuit. The group disappeared inside the castle halls, and the pursuers went deeper in. Sounds of fighting bounced off the hard stone walls, and so did screams, shouts, and the sickening notices that people was meeting their ends at the bloody hands of the invaders. Greyblade and his companions ran harder.
Swords were out and the battle for the castle was in full swing. Blades flashed and here or there a battleaxe sang its song of death. Every armed man was fighting for the castle, and most of the women were too. Their banshee cries wailed their fury and pain, as rolling pins, knives, and heavy handles beat upon every unprotected spot they could reach. Eruptions of flour blinded the attackers, and boiling hot cooking grease scalded them. Here and there, small fires licked out to consume the unfortunate soul that found himself thrown into them after being attacked.
At the keep’s nave, knights in armor advanced in on the throng. Heavy shields in front deflected the crossbow quarrels, while swords swung down to shatter arms and crossbows alike. The crossbowmen found themselves decimated, and to a man, was destroyed. This cleared the way for the next wave to arrive, which came in the form of another fireball. It landed in the midst of the armored knights, and the fireball shattered as it hit the hard cobblestones. The firebomb had been made of flaming pitch and tar, and as it shattered, the fragments stuck onto each knight’s armor. Every man felt the temperature inside his armor rise from the flames, but no one was able to put the flames out by himself. Some threw dirt on themselves and others, or barrels of water, or slapped the sticky pitch off by hand or by sword. Several knights succumbed to the great heat, and lay unmoving.
Greyblade was near a window when he heard a nearby horn sing out a melody. Several others answered it, and as he came to the window he quickly looked out. Some of the King’s allies had answered the call for help, and Greyblade saw the rear and side flanks of the enemy attacked by the fresh troops. There was several different units, but not quite as many there was supposed to be. A fresh worry wormed its way into all the other concerns in Aleister Greyblade’s mind.
He and his men chased on after the small group, who seemed to know where they were going. A sharp sense of consternation made itself known to the Captain. The group was finding its way to the chambers of the King and his family, and doing it as though they knew the way like the back of their hands. Aleister Greyblade wondered in a distant corner of his mind about that, as he ran. How did they know exactly where to go, and without any apparent false turns? He told himself that after all this was over, he would find out. However, he was busy trying to protect his King and his King’s family.
“Faster, lads, we’ve got to catch them!”
The invaders entered a large open room, and all of them came to a sudden stop as they recognized the King, standing patiently in armor beside a guarded door. He held a naked blade, richly ornated, but very sharp and deadly. Four knights in full armor arrayed themselves about him and by the door. Each one radiated deadly menace and cold purpose, even through the armor and helmets hiding their identities. Each one held a different weapon. A sword, every bit as sharp as the King’s, a wickedly spiked mace, a scintillant deadly morning star, and an imposing bardiche all stood ready to shred attackers.
One of the men broke from the group and challenged the King with great contempt.
“Get out of the way, you old fool! You refused me once. You won’t do it again because I will kill you, tonight! I will defile the Queen and kill her, too, after my men have had her. I will put your puling son’s head on a pike, and I will possess the Princess! I, Shul Ghost-walker, promise this!”
The King seemed oddly unmoved, even as the brigands with Ghost-walker raised crossbows at the royal presence. The rogue Duke was quite surprised when they fell, arms lopped off by Aleister Greyblade and the soldiers he had brought with him. An errant crossbow bolt caromed off the walls, striking fire with the metal head, and stuck into the back of a wooden chair. Two of the knights beside the door moved from their positions and stood in front of the King. The other knights, the one bearing the bardiche and the other bearing the morning star advanced to hem in Ghost-walker. Aleister Greyblade and his three men behind the rogue Duke completed the ring around him. The King spoke.
“Duke Mossy Breakwater, sometimes called Shul Ghost-walker, you have been exposed by your actions and by people loyal to the Crown. You have threatened the Crown with great bodily harm. You have attempted to kidnap the Princess, and have also attacked your Sovereign’s lands and possessions. You have made war upon your Sovereign, and by my right as King, I sentence you to death. Your title is formally revoked. All of your lands and properties are forfeit, and will revert back to the Crown.”
“You wouldn’t put a hand on me, you decrepit old bag of bones!”
The King smiled.
“You’re right. I wouldn’t.”
Ghost-walker stood straight in elation at this announcement and sneered, but the King continued.
“But these people would. Aleister, your revenge.”
The rogue Duke was spun around roughly, and eyes widened in disbelief as he recognized the man behind him as one of the many he’d terrorized. The face was emotionless and the eyes empty as three and a half feet of sharp steel was rammed into his belly hard enough to separate the chain mail he wore. The steel tendoned arm and the vise-grip hand twisted the blade halfway around, then withdrew it without a sound.
Ghost-walker sank to the floor, and screamed with pain as his life fled and the others stood around watching without pity.
The fighting was shortly stopped as the aggressors noticed the body of Shul Ghost-walker, Duke Mossy Breakwater carried out and thrown amongst the throng. Every man laid down their arms and was escorted to the dungeons below to await quick sentencing. The Guard secured the castle, and others turned to the job of fixing the damages.
The King sent word to the neighbors that did not respond to his call for help, and those worthies sweated out the sanctions that he decided to levy. The ones that did answer was rewarded richly.
Aleister Greyblade finished his work as the Captain of the Guard, and the King rewarded him with his proactive approach to tracking the rogue Duke with lands of his own. In fact, he was given the same lands, and title, once claimed by Ghost-walker.
No further attempts on the castle were ever attempted.