Short Fiction - 'A Medieval Tale'
A short story inspired by something odd I noticed in a recent television series.
The heavy wooden doors of the great hall were pushed open – the sound of creaking wood bringing an end to the dull murmur of conversation. A man entered... a soldier or a knight... clad in chain mail and with a heavy cloak resting over his shoulders – damp hair hung over his face, concealing his identity. His head was bowed as he entered... his steps uncertain... stumbling forward... one hand pressed to his side. His armour was torn, here – broken links of chain hanging uselessly. His hand was stained red.
He moved through the great hall. Various finely clad courtiers parted before him – watching him warily and whispering among themselves. At the far end of the hall was a raised dais of stone, and upon it rested two finely crafted chairs – thrones... seats of power for the reigning king, and his bride. Though, only one was occupied. The soldier's path was leading him directly to them.
The figure seated on one of the two ornate chairs was an older man, dressed in sombre, muted, colours – a stark contrast to the garish finery of the courtiers. A crown of gold circled his head, and a neatly trimmed beard, grey though flecked with patches of its original black, covered the lower half of his face. He leaned forward as the wounded soldier approached, watching – a faint frown marring weary features.
"My lord...", the soldier's voice was weak – he raised his head to regard his King, pushing wet and tangled strands of hair back from his face. A startled gasp ran through the gathered courtiers as they recognised on of their own beneath the grime. One of the King's own knights, clad as a common mercenary – a brigand, or a hired sword. "My lord... we were ambushed... I... I'm sorry."
A shocked murmur ran through the gathered crowd, tension and fear evident in the hushed voices, now. The King closed his raised, raising a hand to his face – for a moment, his weariness, and the pain and sorrow he felt, were clearly evident. "Were there any other survivors?"
"I... I'm sorry, my lord...", his breath came in ragged gasps, his teeth clenched against the pain of his would as he forced himself to continue, "...I... was barely able to escape myself...", he allowed himself another pause to catch his breath, "They... they knew exactly where we would be, my lord... I... I think there is a traitor in the court."
The tone of the murmured voices changed, becoming shocked and incredulous – more than one was staring openly at the wounded knight, now. "That is not a claim you should make lightly...", the moment past, the King's expression was stern, though touched with weariness, once more as he regarded his knight, "...do you have any evidence to support this?"
"I...", the knight's voice trailed off, seeming uncertain for a moment, before pressing on with a defiant frown, "yes, my lord... I do...."
The knight raised one hand, pointed to a figure standing on the stone dais, behind the King's throne – a young woman, attractive though severe, clad in a flowing gown that matched the sombre colours of the King. "Her, my lord... I know she is a guest in her court, and I know you care for her... but...", the knight trailed off once more, hesitating, before shaking his head and forcing the words past his lips before the King could interrupt, "...when you sent us out... I saw her... standing behind you... she was... smirking... my lord."
The King had pushed himself to his feet, a towering figure of noble authority, his lips parting to speak, though he blinked, brought to a sudden stop by his knights words, "excuse me?"
"Smirking, my lord... she was, uh... smirking."
The King looked back over one shoulder, toward the young woman – a frown marred her own features as she regarded the knight, "my lord... do we truly have to listen to this... this... nonsense!"
"I agree...", the King gave a nod, turning back to his knight, "...you are walking on dangerous ground... I would advise you to choose your words more carefully."
"N-no...", another figure stepped forward, a young woman clad in the simple clothing of a castle servant, she gave a curtsey, her voice trembling as she spoke, "I... I think he may be right... a week ago, remember..? When the villages were under attack... I... I'm sure I saw her standing at her window... watching... she was... she was... smirking, my lord!"
Another figure stepped forward, "yes... and, the week before that... when I was accused of poisoning those foreign nobles... you had the guards drag me off, and I saw her... standing behind you... watching... she was smirking!"
The murmuring of the gathered crowd grew louder, now, as another man came forward, dressed in the uniform of a castle guard. "And... the dragon... do you remember the dragon?", he had to shout to be heard over the sound of the crowd, now, "she was at her window, then, too... and, now that I think of it, I'm sure she was smirking."
"And... that time you almost married the woman that slipped you that love potion!"
"And... that time we all thought your son had been killed by bandits!"
"Or... that other time we all thought he'd been eaten by that troll!"
"What about that time you were sick... she did nothing but smirk that day!"
"It's like... every time things are going badly for us... there she is... smirking!"
"Enough!", the King's voice cut through the voices of the crowd, bringing silence to the room, "I refuse to listen to any of this... I have no reason to suspect that there is any basis to any of these wild accusations...."
A stunned gasp ran through the crowded – many hands raised and pointed toward the young woman standing behind the King. He turned quickly, catching sight of the triumphant smirk touching her lips. She attempted to compose herself, trying to force her features into an expression of wounded pride, "uh...."
The King could do little else but stare for a long moment, as stunned silence fell over the gathered crowd. "Alright...", he gave a curt wave of one hand, motioning his nearby guards toward the woman, "...I've heard enough... take her to the dungeons."
© 2011 Dallas Matier
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