Guard Duty

Maybe there was a time when a woman walked alone along the ramparts of this castle in the evenings as the sun set over the far blue hills. Maybe she did stop and stand at one particular place on these walls. Maybe she stood at the place above where the road from the castle gates passed through the ramshackle hovels of the village. Perhaps she looked down at the village as it spread out along the road away from the shelter of the castle. Maybe she did stare out at that road, watching the distance where it met the horizon. Maybe she did stay there each evening until it was too dark to see the road that far away any longer.

Maybe the sentries on guard each night would stand silently nearby. They were ostensibly watching the horizon too, but occasionally watching her out of the corner of their eyes. At least until she gave one final shiver in the cool night air and wrapped her cloak around herself as if for comfort, then walked away.

Maybe too, moments later, those sentries would gradually edge their way towards each other and talk of the lady and what she watched for.

‘I saw tears in her eyes,’ Plotkin said, rubbing his calloused hand up and down the rough wood of his spear.

‘No, I hear from the maids that she’s glad to be rid of him.’ Shen spat over the wall. ‘No one could love a Lord like him.’ He peered around at the darkness and the shadows. The Lord may have been gone for five years, but his spies still lurked. The Lord’s torture chamber and dungeons were not about to go out of business from lack of custom.

‘I think she wants him back.’ Plotkin gripped his spear as though its solidity gave him the certainty his words lacked. ‘You know what women are like. They like to know their place.’

Shen laughed. ‘Know about women, do you?’

‘I’ve had my share.’

‘Yeah?’

Plotkin felt the heat in his face and neck, despite the cool breeze on the high wall. He pulled and tugged at his mail coat. He pressed his helmet down on his head and casually took a few steps back towards his sentry position. ‘Yeah. Including both your sisters, and your mother.’

Shen laughed as he made the mock thrust at Plotkin with his spear. ‘From what I hear your mother gives a discount for family.’

‘Only from what you hear? I heard your mo-’

They both heard the chink of mail and the rattle of wooden spears striking against the flagstones. The guard sergeant and his hourly wall patrol were coming. Plotkin hurried back to his proper post. He stood alert and at attention.

‘I could hear you two mouthy bastards from the bottom of the steps,’ Sergeant Grench bellowed as he drew closer. ‘A fuckin’ herd of buffalo could have crept up under the wall while you two were gossiping like a pair of market women.’ He strode up until his face was less than a finger-length from Plotkin’s nose.

Plotkin could feel the heat of the sergeant’s breath on his face. He could tell too what the sergeant had just ate and could almost taste the beer on his superior’s tongue.

‘Fuckin’ useless, the pair of you. I ought to-’

Plotkin’s eyes widened in sympathy with the sergeant’s staring eyes. The sergeant’s mouth fell open, blood dripped from his bottom lip as he staggered. The sergeant tried to reach something behind his back out of reach of his grasping fingers.

The sergeant fell.

Plotkin stared in amazement at the arrow sticking from the back of the still-twitching sergeant.

Then something thumped Plotkin in the chest as if someone had slammed a door into him. He looked down to see another arrow. This arrow was sticking out of his own chest. It had passed through his mail as though it was nothing.

All Plotkin knew was that he would never taste another flagon of beer. He would never know what it would be like to be with a woman. He would never again see the lady he loved from afar standing on these battlements.

It all felt so unfair.

He fell, feeling nothing at all ever again.

 

Published by David Hadley

A Bloke. Occasionally points at ducks.

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