TAVERN STORIES is an anthology collection of stories set in the world of the medieval mercenary Valguard.
Some are scenes removed from other stories, some tales may be redrafted and be added to ongoing books and some are simply new ideas without a home. They may be of interest to people who are following the ongoing stories of Valguard. The stories may not even feature the mercenary at all but are sketches based around supporting characters from the novels or just out of shot.
Enjoy and please leave comments, good or bad
© David N. Humphrey, All rights reserved 2018.
The relentlessness of the siege was only matched by the constant deluge of rain. The soldiers of Blackmore had been at war with House of Lambert for so long now they could barely remember what sunshine felt like. Everyone and everything was covered in the same mud making movement hard and even recognising each other difficult. Dead soldiers and equipment of both sides lay half submerged in the mire.
With the curtain walls of Lambert Castle finally breached, only the inner wall and the Keep remained untaken. It was around this Gatehouse that Blackmore had concentrated its attack. The stronghold's heavy gates were shattered and the portcullis twisted by this morning's gunpowder explosion. The defenders were desperately trying to hold what remained of their outpost from the invaders and equally the attackers knew it wouldn't be long now.
Panicked foot-soldiers in dented armour splashed along standing columns of soaked men who hadn't felt dry for weeks, running past the hopeless corpses to drag injured men away from the melee to be patched up. Each footstep slipped in mud or sunk deep into puddles of rainwater that mixed with spilt blood created oily reddish-brown pools. As the wounded were removed the next line of soldiers advanced to fight the Lambert guards and push hard into the Gatehouse.
With the Castle walls broken in many places and the Keep full and barricaded, the absent King had left his loyal garrison to fight for their lives between their outer walls and the safety of the Keep to which they were not permitted. With their backs pushed up to the stronghold's big doors they were ordered to hold the keep from the formidable soldiers and protect the lords, ladies and their attendants who cowered within.
Despite their casualties sustained in the attack, the Blackmore raiders were cunning and began to draw out their opponents from their stronghold. It could be Lambert's enthusiasm or just that they didn't hear their leader screaming in the rain for them to remain within their walls, but it was a tactical mistake.
The Knight in charge of the attack was Sir Bernard 'the Beast' Marsden of Mitford, a huge angry knight in dirty and bloodied plate mail. He was the King of Blackmore's Champion and a fierce soldier of war. Swiping his colossal double-handed broadsword he has cut down all who have come before him in this battle, cleaving opponents down the middle with a single stroke and even beheading cavalry horses as they charged him. He swings almost constantly and despite being out of breath he manages to yell insults at his opponents and screams instructions at his own men. Teeth spitting with every command, rain running off his red face throbbing with veins at his neck and temple with the exertion of battle. Most avoid him in melee and the ones who are brave enough to face him, soon realise too late their last mistake.
Dodging a high swing form a defender, the blade misses his head by inches but catches one of the jutting horns of his massive helmet which twists the helm clear off the knight's head. He yells out at the loss of protection as one hand automatically goes up to check his exposed head. The Helm spins away behind him, rolls back over the hill, bounces twice and is trampled into the watery mud by soldiers boots as they fight behind their leader. His helmet had been presented to him during a tournament once by a wily rival who wanted the giant to go easy on him the next day, he wore it proudly in combat and opponent thought he would have an easy contest but he still ran him through the belly with his lance. But he is a man on fire and doesn't need his helmet -- nothing can stop him on this day of victory. His angry face will surely terrify his opponents even more than the beloved headgear he always wore in battle.
He swung his broadsword wide and chopped up members of the elite Lambert guard as he cut a path into the opposing force. Hands, whole arms and heads roll away from their owners during the onslaught as the defenders realise this man must be stopped at all costs.
He stands on the bodies of the dead as he advances on the Keep, stomping their lifeless faces into the mud. Elbows and knees are jabbed into ribs and groins as he wades through the best Lambert can offer.
With an almighty yell, a tall Knight of Lambert breaks his ranks and runs through the rain at The Beast, his sword high in the air. Sir Bernard hears the man and turns to meet his steel. He has just enough time to notice the muddy black shoulder plate on his armour that denoted he was in charge. *Finally, I get to kill their leader* he thought with a grin. However, what promised to be a masterly fight only lasts a mere two blocks and a swipe before the newcomer is efficiently dispatched to his god as The Beast continues to hack away unnecessarily as the body drops.
Behind him, his tiny squire screams as he sees his Lord and Master chopped into red chunks of human. The person he had looked after him for over a decade since the lad was taken from his family was gone. The single father figure in his life was horribly hacked into pieces like a pig's carcass in a butcher's stall.
The young lad, no more than fifteen, pale and skinny stares at the fractured remains his Lord and Master lying dead in the mud. His master's sword thrown clear and discarded in the soggy dirt. Instinctively, he needs revenge for this callous murder. He drops his defensive dagger and slowly walks between the tussling men like a spirit passing through a busy hall of dancers, oblivious to the violent destruction around him and fixated on his master's discarded weapon.
When the bloody and dirty sword lies in the mud next to his sodden boots he bends at the knees and picks up his dead Master's sword. It looks massive in the little boy's hand and he uses a second hand to steady the metal. This was the elegant sword he had trained with when he was alone and sharpened and cleaned when he wasn't. He hoped to become a knight like his vassal one day when he was ready, but those hopes were dashed now. Now was the time to take up the fight.
"You want to die too, boy?!" said Sir Marsden seeing the boy holding the sword.
The young squire didn't answer but looked up with watery red eyes, tears streaking down his cheeks as he holds the gaze of his master's killer with a surprisingly flinty stare.
Slowly raising the bloodied and chipped sword of his master he stares at the huge knight, terrified at the prospect of what he is about to do.
"Excellent! More blood for the mud!" he laughed. And respecting the fire inside the squire's belly, he steps over the Lord's torso to attack, this should be a one-swing death he thinks.
As the new opponent runs at him, he thinks his opponent's ranks must be getting low on soldiers now as they must be fielding their reserves of children and a slight one at that. Despite the boy's casual appearance, the lad is not killed with a single strike, he dodges and parries -- surprisingly well, Marsden thinks -- and even matches some of his thrusts of his own. Marsden is impressed, the squire must have been a keen student but no matter, it makes a change from simply hacking at the usual sword fodder. The huge knight isn't concerned with this young pretender, he is already lining up his next opponent in the battle.
As he brings up his broadsword for the next swing, the squire's lunge accidentally finds a miraculous gap in the side of his chest armour where a join wasn't fastened properly or had simply worked loose. Marsden feels the thin blade pierce his side, cut through his lungs and divide his heart in half.
"Aaarrrrghghhhh!!" he screams. The pain is like nothing he has ever experienced in all his life and his hands open to drop his big sword in great pain, aware that his body 'doesn't feel right'. He knows he has been killed and looks around at the place he will die. This simple stab was all that was needed to end a man -- nothing as brutal or impressive as one of his customary beheadings.
Yet this cannot be? He had only ever had flesh wounds and broken bones in combat in all his career as a noted soldier. He had fought bigger and better than this bloody runt and as his assailant struggled to withdraw his weapon from his side, Marsden drops to his knees, freeing the blade. His useless armour digs into his flesh as he lies back in an unnatural slumped position, struggling to breathe as his destroyed heart stops pumping blood around his body and instead seeps into his chest cavity. Arteries inside him have been severed and pour warm red blood from out of his chest wound and run down his armour.
The squire who himself is surprised he's still alive doesn't linger or gloat on his success, instead he simply moves on to fight another invader but despite battling well against Marsden his luck runs out quickly and he mistimes his first strike on the next knight and being too slow to parry, his head his cleaved from his shoulders and tumbles through the air. It splashes down in the mud in front of a fading Marsden, who looks into the boy's wide dead eyes as he too takes his last breath.
As Sir Marsden dies, he cannot make sense of his end at the sword of some lucky punk other than war is shit. Sometimes the winner is not always the best swordsman. Fate and chance always play an important part in such matters and ultimately every death is a futile waste.
One of Sir Bernard's comrades slides down in the mud to be at his side and help him but is too late and their leader has already gone. More and more men-at-arms surround Bernard's body in a futile act of protection. Around them, the battle continues as other men lead the charge and hundreds more swords continue to clash on blades or shields as soldiers kill and soldiers die.
* * *
Many, many years later, that same Keep gatehouse -- which once seemed so important and was fought over so desperately -- had long been abandoned. It became irrelevant soon after the bloody siege as the House of Blackmore itself collapsed in a conflict in a far off land.
Bodies had long been collected and buried elsewhere; without the constant footsteps the mud dried up and the grass returned; bushes and trees grew back bigger than ever. Its broken walls were once again reclaimed by the relentless growth of thriving plants and overgrown by creeping vines and greenery. Where once there was screaming and crashing of steel, there was no sound. Just the gentle hum of bees moving from flower to flower collecting pollen in a dedicated, yet unhurried way.
This calm was interrupted by the sound of something approaching from within the green vegetation. Smaller plants are brushed to one side with the thicker ones hacked down and occasionally a swear word might be heard from within the dense bracken. Eventually, the foliage is punctured with a rustling noise by a wandering mercenary who emerges from the bushes, brambles catching on his clothes as he pushes his way along a badly overgrown path.
"Some bloody shortcut," he mutters to no one but himself before he is struck at the tranquillity of the small, idyllic clearing. Valguard was a man in his mid-thirties, with long dark hair that went off in strange directions, like it would be if he was riding a horse in a gale. He was in good shape, if not his best and wore a dark vest, canvas trousers and boots. A belt and harness rig went over his shoulders, that held pouches and the empty scabbards for the two swords he was using to hack his way through the vegetation. His long coat had been removed with the warmth and was tied to the pack on his back as his bare arms glistened with sweat from the effort of cutting through the undergrowth. Valguard looks at the overgrown archway, noticeable because of its size and that it is the only man-made structure here. It once would have been important and would have held a mighty portcullis by the look of it. Puzzled, he pulls a tattered square of map from his coat pocket and has a look, turns it the right way up and tries again to find his location. There is no mention of any fortified buildings nearby on his scrap of chart. He looks around at the chunks of ruined fort visible amongst the overgrowth and wonders why it's not marked? Odd.
Without an answer and no one to ask, he away puts the map and moves on to more urgent matters. Turning toward a suitable bush and loosening his trousers at the front, he begins to piss into the foliage, enjoying the cooling breeze on his nethers. When he is finished, he walks back to the hint of a path, takes a swig of water from his waterskin and swishes it around his mouth as he takes a last look at the mystery fortification. With his break finished he sets off again for his destination, Cadden Harbour, still a couple of days away. As quickly as he arrived he disappears into the undergrowth once more, hacking a path into the green.
Behind him, his trickle of piss begins to flow away over a slope, gaining speed and running a channel between the rocks and roots until it washes away a clump of soil that slides off a long forgotten and sunken artefact. Exposing metal to the filtered rays of the sun for the first time in years, Sir Bernard's great helm glints in the light once more, its precious stones washed of soil, its colours dazzle in the daylight but now there is no one left to see it.
© David N. Humphrey, All rights reserved 2019. 20 Jan 2019 . 2,417 words.
Bergamont looked across the desk at the official scribbling away with a large ostrich feather. The quill's nib scratching the parchment as the oversized feather twitches.
The visitor says nothing but is obviously not enjoying being made to wait. Eventually, he starts a conversation.
"You will struggle to write without any hands."
The quill stops moving and eyes roll up to peer at the customer over the rim of simple glasses.
He sees the man standing over him reach for his sword handle, he backs off from the table and pulls out a sword from under his desk and levels it at Bergamont, the flat of the blade parallel to the table.
Surprised the clerk is armed, Bergamont resheathes his own sword, the metal scrapping as it slides back before he shoots out his arm and slaps the blade pointing at him flat on the desk. With his left hand, he reaches over and grabs the clerk's hair. Holding his head, he smiles at him for a moment then violently smashes his head down on the table with all his strength. And again and again shouting a word in between each slam. The clerk's hands try to grab at his bloody nose.
"I. DON'T. LIKE. WAITING!" he shouts.
Turning his head over so that the clerk twists onto his back, he pulls the official closer.
"Dlease, dlease, shtop!" He pleads through bloody nostrils.
Bergamont notices the quill next to him on the desk that had caused him so much irritation. He picks it up.
"They say 'the quill is mightier than the sword', but I'm not so sure..."
He grips his head tighter and resting his elbow on the clerk's chest, aligns the point of the quill's nib with his left eye.
Staring up at the nib, the clerk screamed out, "Doh! Doh! Dlease, dohhh!"
Bergamont left the tip hovering above his eye, savouring the cruel torment he was inflicting on his victim. A bulbous drop of black ink gathered on the nib until it finally dripped onto the eyeball, the thick ink swirling amongst his tears, diluting the ink and making the orb turn black.
His screams continued as he tried in vain to flick the darkness out of this eye.
Then after sufficient wait, Bergamont lowers the nib until it touches the eyeball. His screams intensify as the quill's point pushes into the surface of his eye, pinning it and stopping it from moving in its socket as the other eye darts around in every direction. The curvature of the ball becomes dented with the increasing pressure of the nib and the black ink pools in the indentation. He pushes more as the screams increase and finally the eye pops with a spurt of inky blood and aqueous jelly, the elongated shaft of the writing instrument burrowing deep into the hollow ball and into the skull by its optic nerve.
Wiggling the quill, he points it upwards until he feels a softer area and then pushes the quill right into the roof of his socket and into the base of his brain.
The screaming ceases as the man loses consciousness.
After a moment, Bergamont releases his hold on the quill and walks to a padded seat without saying anything. He sits down and looks the body in front of him, pleased with his handiwork he takes out his pipe and loads it with fresh tobacco. He brings a candle to the pipe and lights the dry weed, sucking the air into enjoy the taste. He puffs on the long stem of the pipe and stares impassively at the bloody feather sticking vertically out of the clerk's head.
He sits back in the chair and gets comfortable.
"Seems it is mightier, after all."
24.8.16 © David N. Humphrey, All rights reserved.