Sir Banyon looked out over the battlements above the gate.
Banyon could see the small fires burning in the distance. There was movement in front of and behind the flames.
He strained, but he could not hear the crackling of wood, in fact, he could not hear much of anything. A profound silence had come with the darkness.
It was so quiet that Banyon could hear the dull thud of his heart. Banyon looked out to the ocean of darkness before the gate. The glisten of large blinking eyes gave away the horde that waited beyond the gate. Banyon reached out and steadied himself on the stone wall. He slumped forward taking the weight off his feet.
“Sir Banyon, the Queen, requests your company,” said a voice from below. Banyon straightened himself up and descended the ladder.
At ground level, Banyon observed the scene. Foot soldiers were busying themselves, sharpening swords and reinforcing barricades. Banyon saw a one-foot soldier with wood standing staring at the gate lever. The foot soldier was in a trance. Banyon approached him.
“Let me lighten your load,” Banyon said taking several blocks from the soldier. The soldier did not respond. “Hey,” Banyon said, the soldier turned to face him, “Let’s get these logs to the shed”.
Banyon and the foot soldier deposited the wood in a shed. “Here, you have my permission to take some extra soup,” Banyon said handing the soldier a coin. The foot soldier nodded and ran in the direction of the mess hall.
Banyon saw Vrigamere talking with some other men. They huddled around a map illuminated by an overhead lamp. Vrigamere saw Banyon approaching and dismissed his council.
“The queen has requested your presence,” Vrigamere said.
“I am aware if she dies of waiting that is a better end than the rest of us are likely to meet,” Banyon said.
“You are more likely to die from making her wait.”
“See how highly strung the men are. The gate lever speaks to them; I caught a man listening”
“The orcs don’t have access to such wizardry.”
“I don’t think they do either. Whatever the cause of bewitchment all it takes is one pull, and our planning has been for nought.”
“We could sabotage the contraption,” said Vrigamere.
“No I don’t want to go down in history as the one who broke the Grand Gate of Tulluthcarr,” Banyon said.
“You don’t need to worry about going down in history sir, I’ve heard the songs that orcs sing to each other”
“I want an archer in the west tower. If someone comes within a pikes distance, then you are to shoot them until dead.”
“Yes sir, permission to speak freely.”
“You look, terrible sir, get some sleep.”
“I reckon that I only have a few more hours of consciousness left in this life, I want to see as much as I can,” Banyon said. A soldier approached Vrigamere, “Right to see what her highness wants”. The two men saluted each other. Banyon walked in the direction of the keep.
Tulluthcarr was a shadow of its former self. Once a jewel of the west now a groove where a jewel once laid. The cobbled stones that were the streets were always wet despite it having not rained in over a week.
Banyon was glad that it was dark. The city in the sunlight made him sad. Emaciated women were carrying skeletal children. Sometimes the babes in arms were already dead. People wanting to separate mother and the dead newborns. Not to ease her suffering but that they might get nourishment.
The orc invasion took Talluthcarr by surprise. Banyon remembered submitting reports of orc advancement. Banyon also recalled superiors casting aside those reports.
“Orcs are creatures of habit. They never venture a days journey from their cave,” Sir Igniol said at one of the conflict councils.
Banyon remembered arguing for reinforcements in the outer townships. Banyon was right; they were wrong. He was alive; they were dead. Banyon envied his fallen colleagues. Eternal rest, no decisions to make.
As Banyon made his way towards the keep, he heard a groaning. He looked towards the source of the sound. Banyon could make out the silhouette of a group of children picking at something. Banyon put a hand on his sword and approached.
“Get get” shouted Banyon pulling his sword halfway out of the sheath.
The children hissed and scattered. Banyon stood over what they had been picking at, an old man. The children had gnawed the fingers from his left hand.
“Thank you, sir,” the old man said, frail, hard to hear.
“They will return once I have left,” Banyon said.
“I know sir, could you afford me small mercy?” The old man said. Banyon nodded.
Banyon knelt down close in front of the old man and removed a small knife.
“My biggest fear was the birds would eat my corpse, not the young to eat my living body. I was a traveller from” the old man started, but Banyon cut him off.
“Old man I will do my utmost to ease your suffering, quicken your passing. Please, the last thing the air need carry is another tale of woe. Now, give me your hand.” Banyon said taking off a glove. “Your good hand, that’s it”
“I don’t need my palm read, I know my fate,” said the old man, smile on his face.
“You have a good humour old man considering your circumstance, but I don’t wish to tell you your future,” Banyon said.
“Then what need have you for my hand, I hope you are not peckish yourself.”
“When I part from this plane I would like someone to hold my hand. I would rather feel the warmth of another rather than the cold of steel. Look at the stars; the clerics say that is where we come from and that is where we return”.
Banyon slid the blade underneath the old man’s ribcage as he spoke. The old man gasped, shuddered and was dead.
Banyon watched the old man for a moment longer to make sure that he was gone. The knight continued along the road to the keep.
Banyon entered the keep.
He could see the aristocracy, their little dress half eaten by insects. They may have nibbled on it themselves in their struggle with hunger.
Banyon smiled and walked towards the stairwell. Before he got there a guard with sunken eyes stopped him.
“Sir, the Queen, requests your company in the throne room,” the sunken-eyed guard said.
“The throne room is back in the palace, no one goes to the palace,” said Banyon.
“That was the old one; there is a new one now in the ale store,” sunken eyes said. Banyon nodded and went on his way.
The door to the ale store had become lopsided and dragged along the ground. It was heavy as Banyon lifted it to open more. Upon entering Banyon saw the barrels and at the far end, there was the queen. A throne of barrels improvised for her to sit. As Banyon approached, he saw Miregard on her left-hand side. Someone was standing before them, slouched forward, head bowed. It was not until Banyon passed the person that he could see that it was Flotsom. Flotsam the court jester, a grey blanket, holes left by moths covering a long stained shirt. Barefoot, bare legged, cuts on every part of exposed flesh and knees shaking.
Banyon approached the throne, bowed then instructed to rise with a gesture from the queen.
“Gald that you could join us Sir Banyon,” Miregard said.
“To be of service is to live in pleasure,” Banyon said.
“A great injustice has occurred,” said Miregard
“Yes, the men are exhausted. We’re not getting the required reinforcements.”
“Silence,” the queen said.
“We talk not of military matters, something far closer to home,” Miregard said.
“I see,” said Banyon.
“That is why you are to bear witness to this trial”
“Formal trials can wait for there is a far more pressing one that we must deal with.”
“How do you expect an army to stand united if there is discord in the ranks?”
“You speak of mutiny?” said Banyon
“Worse, insubordination, Flotsom has been found to be a dealer of offensive material.”
“Present it then,” the knight said.
“It is not physical; it is spoken, the words wildfire burning through the keep.”
“He is a jester; it is his job to lighten the mood of the court.”
“Not when the queen herself put restrictions on merriment, Flotsom is in breach.”
“And I am to be his defence,” said the knight.
“No, we have you here as a formality, to bear witness, so that there are no accusations of a secret trial. When they ask you was justice done, you are to say yes.”
“As a knight, it is one of my sacred duties. If you want me to respond in the affirmative, then I must see justice done.”
“You always find a way to slow progress,” Miregard said.
“You’re trying to say that killing someone over the killing of a joke is the most important matter for us right now. I disagree with that; there are far more pressing concerns upon us that need to be addressed.”
“And you will want to attend those concerns promptly, all you need to do is agree to the set conditions.”
“I would ask to postpone the trial until a later date. Provided there is one.”
“It would take more effort to abandon the trial now. Seeing as it is so close to the end of proceedings, all you need to do is say yes.”
“I must know what I agree to.”
“You know Banyon, your insistence on slowing us down is what is causing the real problems.”
“Fine, get on with it.”
“Well, we were wrapping up, closing statements.”
“I need to see the evidence.”
“Repeat yourself Banyon; I did not hear you.”
“I am to send a man to his death over a joke then at least let me hear it so that I may judge.”
“That would not be appropriate.”
“Unless he has denied that he has told the joke.”
“That is irrelevant; it doesn’t matter if he told the joke or not.”
“You don’t even know if he told the joke, that isn’t fair,” said Banyon.
“He is the court jester; he has a responsibility for humour.”
“Flotsom, the devils come for you.”
“Do not speak of devils in these times.”
“The joke, let me hear it.”
Miregard looked at Flotsom and nodded.
“It’s more visual humour than anything,” Flotsom said lying down on the stone floor. Flotsom lay on his back. Folding himself in two, bringing his legs over his head he began to moan and convulse as if possessed by a demon.
“I don’t get it; this is neither funny or offensive,” Banyon said.
“Hold on,” Miregard said, “Flotsom, tell me the name of this piece.”
“I call it, “The Queen next week,” Flotsom said.
“Right that is enough,” said Miregard. Flotsom got back to his feet. There was a smirk noticeable on his face.
“That isn’t a joke Miregard,” said Banyon.
“I agree it was the worse judged attempt at humour I have ever seen.”
“That’s not what I am saying. A joke is a small truth exaggerated. What Flotsom did was a big truth diminished. Nothing in that act was untrue. Flotsom is being tried for telling the truth.”
“Remember yourself Sir Banyon,” the Queen said.
“With how things are going, Flotsom’s piece will be regarded as an act of prophecy. The orc will get through that gate, and they will take you as plumbers do an old pipe. They will plug every leak.”
“There is no need to be so coarse.”
“There may be no need, but there are those out there who will not care for need and only concern themselves with want. As for me and my needs. I need to get back to the gate.”
“If you need to get back to the gate then there is nothing stopping you except for one thing.”
Banyon looked at Flotsom. Flotsom raised his head and met Sir Banyon’s gaze.
“The kingdom is at stake,” Banyon said.
“I understand Sir,” Flotsom said. “I would sooner be dead than the horror that will be coming through that gate. You lot will look at me with envy. Her highness will wish that those who have their way were as gentle as my joke. Although roughness may give her the pleasure that she so badly needs.”
“Get on with it,” the Queen said.
“Very well,” said Miregard. Miregard turned went out a door. He returned with an axe wielder.
Banyon took off a glove. The crate dropped in front of Flotsom. The axe-wielder forced Flotsom to his knees and his head on the box. He approached and held Flotsom’s hand.
“Get away from him,” Miregard said.
“I only mean to help ease his passing.”
“His passing should not be easy; he was instigating insubordination.”
“Fine, then you no longer need me. Dismiss me so that I may be able to return to the gate.”
“Very well,” The Queen said.
Banyon bowed and left for the gate.
As Banyon approached the gate, he saw the lever. Banyon continued to walk towards the lever. He heard their shouts and cries. Banyon felt the strike of the arrows. He slowed but continued forward. More arrows, his hand reached the lever.