To Kill A King

Reads: 161  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 3

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
My entry for the RaeBlair Five "W" Fun Contest.
It was quite a challenge but.........fun!!

Submitted: June 10, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 10, 2016

A A A

A A A


To Kill A King.

 

Three figures sat hunched around the table. They were all dressed in hooded cloaks and the hoods were pulled low so as to cover as much of their faces as possible. To any casual observer they would have looked suspicious, like they were up to no good at all. But these three men were no thieves or vagabonds.

 

The man on the right was a commander of the King's Guard. His name was Jard and it was at his suggestion that the meeting was taking place. The man in the centre was called Gara and he was known as the Kings Man. He held the position of highest trust and closest contact with the king himself. The third man had the most reason to hide as he had a price on his head. Brok had refused to swear allegiance to the new king and was now wanted, dead or alive.

 

The room where they sat was small and dark, lit by the flame of a single candle. It smelt stale, musty, as though it had not been used for a long period of time. There were no other people around to observe them. Only the very brave, the very reckless, or the very desperate ventured out during the night since Ahlred had seized the throne.

 

He is getting worse. Soon he will not stop his destruction for anything and no one will be safe.” Jard was familiar with the kings intended forays into neighbouring lands, and the orders that were being issued to accompany them.

 

He has respect for nobody but himself,” Gara agreed. “There will be nowhere safe left if he is not brought under control.”

 

There is a rumour that Ahlred is going to target his own lands next. Those of the forest are said to be under threat of flame.” Brok was the only one of the three who was aware of what the beliefs were throughout the general population.

 

But why would he be doing that? What would he have to gain?” Jard was unaware of any such plan. If indeed there was one it was not to be carried out by the Kings Guard.

 

It is said that there is someone who dwells there that could expose the truth of his gaining the throne.” Brok said, then gestured the others to silence as feet were heard to pass by outside.

 

He gained the throne on his brothers death. What is so secret about that?” Gara looked to be genuinely perplexed.

 

Perhaps Stephens death was not so natural as it was made out to be. Ahlred would not be reluctant to take steps to forward his own plans.” Jard had no love for the king and had no trouble in believing him capable of murder for his own advancement. Even when it came to the slaying of his own brother.

 

And he will do anything to hold on to his power. There is no sacrifice too great.” Brok rose to his feet. “Somehow we must find a way to stop him going any further with his plans.”

 

But how can we?” asked Gara.

 

Call for Hemlock. He will know where to find the one who's help we shall need.” Jard had no love for the three-eyed cat either, but if he could help them find Audrina Willow, he would tolerate the creature.

 

I'll try to find him,” said Brok.

 

********************

 

Hemlock was sitting in the shade of a tree, carefully licking every last trace of fish from his paws. He had stolen it from the fishmongers stall, and it had been delicious. For some reason, Hemlock always found things he pilfered tastier than those meals that he caught himself, and having that extra eye was always an advantage when hunting.

 

Hemlock knew he was about to be called. He could sense it before his name had been spoken. He even had a good idea what he was being called for and the voice was easily recognised as that of his sometimes companion Brok.

 

Both cat and man tried to stay hidden from as many eyes as possible. Brok was a wanted felon who would like as not be shot on sight, while Hemlock himself was regarded as a freak. Many were heard to say that if such an abomination of a creature existed it must be because he was in league with the devil, or at least be familiar to a witch.

 

And with that idea they would not be far wrong. Hemlock spent much of his time in the company of the girl in the woods, the girl who slept through the day and lived through the night. Audrina Willow, the local witch.

 

Hemlock trotted obediently to stand beside Brok. When Brok reached a hand down to stroke his back, Hemlock coiled his body around the man’s legs. The cat loved to be stroked but only by those two people; the one man and the one woman that he trusted.

 

Gara and Jard watched from a distance as Brok bent down to speak to the cat. They could not help but be wary of the creature with three eyes. There was something so unnatural about it.

 

Brok seemed confident that Hemlock understood his words. He gave the cat a final stroke then stood and turned to face his companions.

 

Audrina will get our message,” he said. “Keep watch for Hemlock tomorrow.”

 

********************

 

The cat made his way confidently into the forest. Hemlock could sense Audrina's location, he hardly even had to look where he was going to be able to reach her. She loved him and he loved her back, both sure of each other's loyalty.

 

Audrina Willow was tall and thin, with long blonde hair that fell straight down her back. Her skin was pale. She rarely ventured outside during hours of daylight and this had accentuated her haunting look. Her eyes were pale but seemed to glow; again probably as a consequence of never seeing daylight. The forest where she dwelt was so dense that even at high noon it would still remain dark inside.

 

As Hemlock leapt nimbly onto a log beside her, Audrina stretched out an arm. He carefully made his way up it to sit on her right shoulder. Porta, the owl, was already perched on her left one. He blinked once in greeting to Hemlock then resumed grooming his plumage.

 

Anyone watching would have sworn they'd seen the cat whispering into the girls ear. And they would have been right for that is how Hemlock delivered Brok's message. He curled himself against her neck when he had finished speaking, giving Audrina time to think on her response.

 

Talking was not something that Audrina did much of since she had fled alone to the forest. She so rarely saw another human being and she had other ways of communicating with the birds and beasts that were now her friends. She frowned, then turned to her left to glance at Porta.

 

The owl regarded her solemnly. He stretched out his wings, brushing against Hemlock's back: then blinked once, very slowly and deliberately. Audrina nodded, bent towards Hemlock and whispered back into his ear. The cat stood, trotted his way back down her arm to jump nimbly to the ground. A quick sharpen of his claws and then he padded off back the way he had came.

 

********************

 

Ahlred was angry. He did not know which was worse; to have his orders questioned, or to be interrupted while he was delivering them. He glared backwards and forwards at the two men.

Quin had dared to question the wisdom of setting their own forest abalze. Much of their timber was gathered around its edges, many of the animals they hunted came out of those woods. But more important than either of these facts was the regard the population had towards it. The forest was viewed with an almost sacred awe and the people would not look kindly on its destruction.

 

The other man that was a focus of Ahlred's anger was a ranger, an observer of the city, and he was reporting the sighting of a suspicious person. There was no certainty but this man was believed to be the traitor, Brok.

 

Ahlred turned to the ranger. “Where is this suspicious character? How come he is not accompanying you, suitably restrained of course? If I took notice of every so called sighting of this villain I would have no guards left in the palace. They would all be off searching for some fictitious ghost.”

 

The ranger knew his words were about to bring about a fresh onslaught but he could not contain them. “But Sir, I saw this man myself. I would swear it on my mother's life that it was him.”

 

Well, where is he then?” Never a patient man, Ahlred's anger won and he roared and lashed out at the unfortunate man before him. “Get from my sight and do not bother me with such nonsense again unless you have the proof with you in the form of the traitor himself.”

 

Without even pausing for a breath Ahlred whirled round to face Quin. “And you! Who would you obey? A bunch of superstitious peasants or your own king. I want to see that forest burnt to the ground within the week. No excuses. Now, get from my sight and see that it is done!”

 

********************

 

Later that night, Ahlred summoned Gara to a private meeting in his chambers. He had been seriously disturbed by the suggestion that Brok was in the area. The fool should know better than to return to the area. He should have known that his king would show him no mercy.

 

Am I to believe that Brok would be so foolish?” he asked Gara.

 

It is quite possible that the man was mistaken. There is nothing really remarkable in Brok's appearance.” Gara tried to make light of the supposed sighting but Ahlred was not giving up the idea yet.

 

He was foolish enough to betray me. Why wouldn't he be foolish enough to return? We will double the number of guards on the street. If that traitor is here I want his head!”

 

Gara thought Ahlred had finished his outburst and was about to take his leave when Ahlred called him back once more.

 

The forest. I want it burnt to the ground. I do not want to see one tree left that has not been turned into an ashy stump. This task I am trusting to you to arrange. You will have to find volunteers among the general populace if the Kings Guard are to busy patrolling. See to it. You have two days.”

 

But, Sir...” Gara tried to raise an objection.

 

Your King has spoken. Do not abuse your position, Gara.”

 

Yes, sire.” Gara found himself half-bowing as he made his way from the room.

 

********************

 

When Hemlock found Brok the man was lying half under a bush with his head resting on his pack. Both cat and man were startled by each others arrival, ready to defend themselves. Hemlock was all claws and teeth, while Brok clutched a knife in his right hand.

 

As the initial shock wore off, both relaxed. Hemlock allowed Brok to scratch his ears, then wrapped himself around the man's legs. He let himself indulge in a few soft purrs before getting down to the business of delivering Audrina Willow's message. She would see Brok, but him alone. She did not trust Gara and she would not even consider allowing the commander of the Kings Guard to enter her forest.

 

Not long after she had fled to the forest Audrina had cast a protective spell around the perimeter of it. Anyone that could manage to find a way in would never be able to find their way out again. The trees would see to that. Hemlock was familiar with the safe path and walked slowly so that Brok could keep up.

 

After what had felt like hours they finally neared a clearing and it was here that Audrina waited for them. Porta observed Brok coldly, fluttering his wings and flexing his talons in warning. Audrina stood and stared impassively. She did not like the company of humans, but understood that this man meant no harm.

 

Brok approached and bowed down on one knee. Audrina held out her hand and helped him rise. She led him to a rocky ledge to one side of the clearing where they could both sit. She took a deep breath, licked her lips.

 

Audrina spoke just one word, “Tell!”

 

********************

 

Brok found it all too easy to relate the details of Ahlred's rise to power. He had the distinct feeling that Audrina already knew much of what he had to tell and he found that in some ways that made the telling so much simpler.

 

King Stephen had been a tough but fair king, treating all his subjects as equals. He would not tolerate mistreatment of anyone but would punish severely anyone found to be victimising others for their own advantage. Because of his views of equality his subjects looked up to him, and were always honoured to serve.

 

Not so Ahlred. It would be hard to find brothers more different from each other than these. Ahlred looked down on everyone and made sure that they knew it. He would dish out punishment to anyone he felt would betray his behaviour to Stephen. Even when he was young Ahlred had his own band of loyal followers who would carry out his bidding.

 

When Ahlred attempted to blackmail their younger brother, Tharak, he went too far. Stephen discovered his plans and summoned Ahlred to him. Not wanting to show family disloyalty the king let his brother off with a stern warning, stripping away any favours he had obtained by birth. And at that moment Stephen sealed his fate.

 

The Willow family were well known in the neighbourhood as being healers, or witches as some would call them. Ahlred found it so easy to sneak into their house one night with five of his own followers. Through intimidation and brute force he coerced Hoken and Evalina Willow to prepare a powder that would ensure he gained the throne.

 

Once the powder was in his hands, Ahlred ordered the execution of the Willows and it was to the sound of her mothers screams that Audrina fled to the forest, taking nothing with her but the family book of spells.

 

The death of King Stephen was blamed on some innocent cook. Ahlred seized the throne immediately even though Stephen's men favoured crowning Tharak, and anyone who spoke openly against him faced banishment at best. The people, used to being treated as equals, now found themselves with very few rights especially against their betters. Their contentment was replaced by fear.

 

And Tharak disappeared. It was suspected that Ahlred had removed him to some secure secret location where he held him prisoner. With him out of the picture, Ahlred had no one that could claim the throne against him.

 

There was just one threat to his security, the witches child who had fled to the forest. The child whose name was Audrina Willow.

 

********************

 

Audrina listened to Brok patiently, even though he had told her nothing she already didn't know. Porta stared solemnly ahead, while Hemlock saw to his grooming. During Brok's telling, other creatures had emerged from the forest knowing that if Audrina accepted his presence there was no threat from this man.

 

Perhaps she was shocked to learn of Ahlred's plan to destroy the forest. Audrina showed no emotion at hearing the news. It was something she had always expected would happen. Ahlred's paranoia had clearly increased and, although he wouldn't be sure, the king must have heard the rumours that she dwelt in this very forest. And he would stop at nothing to secure her silence.

 

Audrina nodded to Brok then closed her eyes. She sat so still and silent that Brok almost believed that she had fallen asleep. Brok shifted uncomfortably. He felt as though he were intruding, that his very presence was ruining the peace of the forest. As he was about to stand Audrina opened her eyes.

 

I will have what you need when next it is dark. Hemlock will escort you home and bring you back to me when the time is right.”

 

Audrina shut her eyes again and when Hemlock stood up and stretched, Brok knew that he had been dismissed. She would have no more words to share with him this night.

 

He still found it hard to keep up with Hemlock as the cat guided him back to the forests edge. Brok knew that he would have to find somewhere to hide up for the day but first he would have to find a way of delivering messages to Jard and Gara.

 

********************

 

Gara and Jard were caught up in having to do the Kings bidding. Gara had summoned Jard to the hall and had passed on the Kings orders. Both men had to struggle to conceal the hatred that they felt for Ahlred.

 

I informed the king that the Guard would have nothing to do with the torching of the forest. If I was to order this, many would just walk away. Morale is already so low.” Jard was adamant that the soldiers would not be made to carry out this task.

 

Jard, Ahlred has ordered me to summon up a group to carry out this task if the Guard will not comply. I do not feel that an undisciplined rabble would be so easy to control.” Gara was worried. He could see no escape from carrying out his kings orders.

 

The populace are more superstitious than the Guard. They would never dare to carry out such an outrage!”

 

No, Jard. I would have no problem in securing such a band of arsonists. Ahlred will already have planted them for me to find.”

 

At that moment both Jard and Gara heard the hoot of an owl. It was the sound that signified Brok's return. They stood talking casually for a few minutes longer before calmly beginning to stroll down the road where they disappeared into the shadows.

 

Brok, you are in grave danger. The king received a report that you were sighted and has ordered immediate detainment of you. He does not need to see you alive. Alhred would be quite content to be handed your head.” Gara warned his friend.

 

And I would beware of the King's Guard, Brok. Even I do not know who I can trust in its ranks any more,” Jard added.

 

Brok would find some shelter near the forest. He would have to stay alert, but under cover he should remain safe while waiting for Hemlock to return.

 

********************

 

In confusion, Brok awoke. He was stiff, sore, could hardly move. The sky was just beginning to darken so night time was on its way. Brok stretched again then, as he was about to stand, became conscious of a noise.

 

Brok stayed down close to the ground and strained his ears to listen. Voices approaching; angry or excited Brok found it hard to tell. The men that were drawing nearer by the minute almost sounded drunk.

 

And then he could see them. A mixed group of about ten individuals were walking towards the forest. A few were wearing the uniform of the King's Guard but most were just local labourers, judging by their attire. One thing they all had in common was the carrying of a flaming torch. Ahlred had decided to act himself.

 

Brok was faced with two choices. He could flee away from the forest but that would put him in clear view of the approaching men. Gara's warning about his head sounded loud, warning of the folly of taking such a course.

 

The other option was to turn and head into the forest. Brok knew that if he did so without safe passage he would quickly become lost. Would a slow death in a burning forest be preferable than being struck down?

 

There was no more time to wait for Hemlock to show up. The men would even now spot him when he made his move. Forest or field? Brok had no idea which was the safest but he made up his mind and headed off into the trees.

 

It didn't take long for the confusion to take hold. Every tree looked the same. Every path seemed to vanish as soon as he set foot on it. Vines seemed to snake across the gaps between the trees, springing up while he watched.

 

The crackling of burning wood pursued him. It was a terrifying sound to listen to, knowing that trees would be dropping in flames all around him. And the smell of scorched timber was so strong it caught in his throat making fleeing even harder than it had been.

 

He had to keep moving. He could not turn back.

 

********************

 

The acrid smell of burning was getting stronger. That, by itself, told Brok what he already knew. He was totally lost. He spun around and started racing in the opposite direction only to find himself lying flat on ground, winded and hurt.

 

Perhaps it was not worth the struggle to get back to his feet. The flames could not now be far.

 

No sooner had that thought formed in Brok's mind he felt something land on his back. He braced himself for the agony of burning only to find himself being batted on the face by a paw.

 

Get up. Now. This is no time for sleeping.” Hemlock tried to make light of their dire situation but the fur that stood up along his back and his tail gave his true feelings of alarm away.

 

Brok pulled himself to his feet. “Hemlock! You have no idea how glad I am to see you.”

 

Oh, I've a pretty good idea but now is not the time. We must make haste to Audrina. She has her own little surprise waiting once she knows that we are safe.”

 

The forest was so much easier to navigate with Hemlock acting as guide once more. The paths stayed clear and the trees stayed still. There was a feeling of unease in the forest, it was not oblivious to the encroaching threat, but there was no feeling of panic or of doom. Brok had the impression that the forest itself knew more of what was going on than he did.

 

Audrina stood in the clearing. Her back was ramrod straight. Porta perched on her shoulder in his usual position, his wings spread wide behind Audrina's head. The instant she caught sight of Hemlock and Brok she raised her arms high.

 

Brok stared at her flung back face. If she was casting a spell should she not be chanting or something. He could not see her lips move at all. Audrina's face was completely devoid of expression; she showed no worry, no fear.

 

Hit the ground,” hissed Hemlock.

 

Brok dropped to the ground just as Audrina drew her arms sharply down and spread them wide. There was a rushing sound, starting gently then building to a booming crescendo. Brok felt the ground beneath him shudder and then all was still.

 

Audrina relaxed her posture and smiled at Hemlock. The three-eyed cat needed no more encouragement but flew into her arms and licked at her chin. Looking towards Brok, Audrina cleared her throat.

 

I do not think that they would have expected that,” was all she said.

 

********************

 

The screams that surrounded the forest were horrific. The torch bearers had heard the rushing noise but did not even have a chance to wonder at the cause of it before the boom reached them. All the flames were flung from the forest to land on and amongst those that had caused them. And this time there was nothing to douse the by now ravenous fire.

 

The village was in uproar. Word had spread as soon as the torch bearers had departed. The forest was sacred. The forest kept the village safe. Could the people allow themselves to just stand and observe a desecration so great it was sure to bring a terrible curse on them all?

 

Ahlred had gone insane. That was the only explanation for this madness. The people could no longer stand behind him. His threats may be great but they could not allow a mad man to rule them. Many in the King's Guard agreed.

 

A small band of armed men stood guard around Ahlred as he made his way back inside the castle. As soon as he was inside he shut off the entrance, leaving those of his protectors not already safe to the hands of the angry mob. They would be shown no mercy. They had been brutal and would be treated in exactly the same way.

 

Gara made his way to Ahlred's side, seemingly concerned for his King's well-being. He does not know what has occurred outside and no one is going to enlighten him but he can sense that things are going well and that soon he will be called upon to play his part in the scheme to be rid of this despotic ruler.

 

********************

 

Brok had sustained many injuries to his face and hands during his journey through the forest. At the time he had not noticed them but now that the panic was over he became only too aware of the stinging sensation of cuts, of the uncomfortable sensation of dried blood.

 

Audrina sat beside Brok with a bowl of spring water to which she added some powder. “Plants to aid the healing process,” she explained.

 

A great feeling of peace washed over Brok as Audrina wiped away the blood and cleaned the cuts. He could almost feel the liquid go to work against the impurities of infection. It would be so easy for him just to fall asleep.

 

When Audrina had finished administering to his wounds Brok cleared his throat.

 

You know that you no longer need to remain in the forest. Audrina Willow would be more than welcome back, not just by me but by everyone.”

 

The girl smiled at Brok but shook her head. “No, Brok. The forest is my home now. I could never leave it.”

 

Brok followed her gaze around the forest. He could feel that she belonged, that she was almost a part of the forest herself. He knew that there was nothing that he could say to make her change her mind.

 

We'll see each other again, Audrina. I know we will.”

 

Hemlock will bring you here whenever you should wish to come.”

 

Brok nodded and stood. Audrina reached out and held him back.

 

I have something for you. It is the reason you visited me in the first place, remember. I have waited a long time to exact my revenge.”

 

Brok could not miss the sadness that washed over Audrina Willow's face. “Your revenge will be completed tonight. I will not fail you.”

 

Brok raised her hand towards his lips then swiftly walked away. He did not look back once and only paused a moment to let Hemlock catch him up.

 

********************

 

It was easy to get the tiny packet to Gara. Jard ensured that everyone outside the castle knew that he was on their side. And it was easy for Gara to administer the poison to Ahlred because he never doubted his loyalty. He would never have considered that the King's Man would defect to the side of the traitors.

 

The poison that Audrina Willow had provided was powerful and fast working. There was no long drawn out death for Ahlred. His passing was so quick he would almost have been unaware of what was happening to him. Those who had continued to support him found themselves locked in the dungeons from which Tharak was freed.

 

During the night there was a celebration. Brok and his childhood friend Tharak had years of catching up to do. Jard and Gara were both hailed as hero for their part in the overthrowing of Ahlred. And many a cup was raised in thanks to Audrina Willow, the witches child who had made it all possible.

 

When the sun again rose in the sky Tharak would have to rise to the challenge of being king. Nobody doubted that he would be just as fair as his brother Stephen had been. Not one person mourned the passing of Ahlred and his tyrannical reign.

 

But for this one night Tharak would enjoy being nothing more or less than a man amongst friends.

 

 

 

**************************************************************

 

 

(4781 words)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 hullabaloo22. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Comments

avatar

Author
Reply

avatar

Author
Reply

More Fantasy Short Stories