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“Those ungrateful,” he spoke with dire tone, “of what they have, never earned what they’ve received.” The dark cloaked figure rose from the corner of the dank smelling tavern, his boot heels brought a shutter to the floorboards in his approach of the two seated armored men.
He came to a halt opposite them and said softly, “may I have a seat,” and slouched into the cracked wooden chair without pause.
“Who do you think you are?” said the soldier on the right, his aging eyes squinting to get a clean view. The crow’s feet around his dark browns told the story of days gone by, and his long bushy beard hid most of a haggard winded face. He had the look of an honest woodsman, not of a soldier.
The soldier to the left was younger, a single battle he hadn’t seen, but he was filled with the piss and vinegar he thought would carry him through. His eyes were sharp and face kept a faux snarl for appearance sake. This lad would be running wild through the streets, like a rabid weasel, if he weren’t a soldier.
“Do you not think it odd, that the town must obey your orders?” said the cloaked figure. He leaned back in the broken chair to reveal a finely kept beard.
The armed men, hands upon hilts, looked on trying to discern who this man was. This was no villager, and except for the styled beard, nothing of note could be seen through the dark wrap covering him from head to toe. His stature was average, but relaxed before two of the kings soldiers. A wolf in sheep’s clothing perhaps, thought the woodsman.
The tension, like a mired bog, kept the tavern patrons minding their own, but always a single eye on the central table. If there were to be fireworks a mad dash would be needed. A few near the door were able to shuffle out without a sound, but most remained in their seats, afraid to make any abrupt movements.
A large man stumbled to the table. He seemed to cower behind the stained rags that covered him in place of clothes. He smelled of cabbage and sour wine. His sagging eyes darted about the table at the three uncommon constituents, and said “anything I can get for you, gentlemen?”
All eyes turned to the new arrival and the woodsman began to speak before being abruptly cut off, “Ah, gentlemen? You seem to have found a new definition of the word, tavern keeper. My new friends and I would like to break bread, a bit of meat, and three tankards of your finest spirits. We spare no expense for the kings own men.” He gave a glance to the soldiers and said, “That’ll be all, right gentlemen?” Immediately looking back to the barkeep, “That’ll be all.”
The large man scurried off to fetch the food and ale, and the three returned their attentions.
The stranger spoke with eloquence. Words rolled out, like notes off of a violin. Each one neatly strung together to make a sweet melody. Meanwhile, the soldiers spoke in the manner much like a rock slide or a stampede, cracking and crashing to the end. Each word thumped out with maximum effort.
With fists clenched, leaning across half the wooden table, Weasel spoke through his teeth, “You don’t seem a very smart man. We are soldiers of the King himself, as you have said. Do you believe you are a match for the two of us?”
“Don’t you think there are better things in life?” spoke the cloaked figure. “I mean you go about your day, and your job is to hurt people.”
The weasel seemed pleased with this. With a devilish grin, he said “Don’t you think you’d better run along now before you get yourself hurt?”
“This isn’t getting us anywhere, brothers. Now hear me out. These people never did a thing to you, why would you bring the sword to them?”
“We all have a job to do,” spoke the woodsman. “There’s no sense in fighting it. It’s either them or us.” The elder woodsman’s words were spoken with such calm.
The rabid weasel, on the other hand said, “this is our God given right. We have been given the arms and ability to carry out the king’s justice in any way we see fit.” Failing to speak with bravado, his voice began to shake.
“So you are the hands of the king, himself, are you not?”
“We are the arms of the law,” insisted the woodsman.
“Still, the king writes the laws and brings on the grand army of lads, such as yourselves, to uphold them. If the king put into law tomorrow that all infants of the kingdom must be destroyed, would you follow the order?”
The weasel, wanting to speak, bit his tongue, while the woodsman begrudgingly said, “you know as well as I, if the king orders it, we must obey. It is not the right of simple soldiers to decide which laws are to be followed and which are not.”
“Then answer me this, my wise friend. A king is not a king without a kingdom, and a kingdom is not a kingdom without its people. By executing its infants you are in essence destroying its king.”
The stoic veneer of the woodsman began to wear away to show irritation. “You know, good sir, we have sat here listening to your rant and I cannot help wondering who you are?”
“Let’s just say my name is Prince, shall we. My question stands. If you can see carrying out the kings orders will destroy him, is it an order worth following?”
The weasel burst out of his chair, his face matched the shivering red tabard wrapped around him, and his chain-mail shimmered as he pointed a self-righteous finger in the hooded stranger's face. “Of course it is you twit,” shouted the weasel! “You’re not actually listening to this blackguard , are you!”
The woodsman, still in check, turned sharply, “Weasel, sit down and shut it!”
“You call him, weasel?”
“Yes, that’s his nickname. It’s a long story. Look, who are you really and what do you want?”
“Look, I don’t want anything from the two of you, fine soldiers. You are a credit to the crest you wear so proudly. All I want is to show you something that has needed to see the light for some time. Now, if you will bear with me, I’d like to show you one more thing, if you will allow me?”
The tavern keeper arrived, slogging their food down and slamming all three tankards full of ale to the wooden table. “Will there be anything else?” He noticeably left off the gentlemen this time.
The woodsman said, “No, that’ll be all,” and waved the man away taking a slug from the nearest tankard. “Now then, since our food and drink have arrived, and I have no intention of going anywhere until my belly is full, you may as well show us whatever it is.”
“Thank you, then. And Weasel, are you with me, as well?”
“I suppose so,” he said, augmenting his snarl.
“Close your eyes then for a moment.”
The two uneasy soldiers looked on with uncertainty.
“Go on, go ahead. I need you to see what I see.”
The two relaxed and closed their eyes. Hands folded the woodsman said, “Go ahead. I’m listening.”
“Now then, can you imagine a world with a sort of board of advisors to the king that could inform him of his best interests? This assembly would be in a position to assist the king in making the best possible decisions he could make. Now add to this another group of advisors, whose part it is to oversee the interests of the people of the kingdom. These representatives would be there to advise the king in matters of the people. To tell him, your people are overtaxed, overworked and overburdened. They are near revolt, and they need a savior. The king swoops in, makes a few changes, instant hero. Now let this picture sink in for a few moments.”
The tranquil soldiers seemed dazed in their meditation over this new concept the stranger had brought them. They remained in silence for a bit before the woodsman opened a single eye to notice the stranger had disappeared without a sound.
The woodsman opened his eyes fully and nudged his compatriot. “Weasel, you can open your eyes now. It seems our friend has abandoned us as quickly as he came.”
Weasel’s eyes popped opened, and with a shot, “Oh, bloody hell!”
“The coin purse we taxed all day for. It’s gone!”
The tavern keeper approached the table once again with two new tankards, clanked them on the table, and said “your friend left, but he said you earned these.
”The woodsman bowed his face into his folded hands and chuckled.
“What’ll we do?” moaned Weasel.
“I suppose for that show, he deserves a bit of a head start.”
Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
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