The Guard’s Dream – A Vitruvian H.A.C.K.S. story

Boss Fight Studio has created something amazing with their Vitruvian H.A.C.K.S. action figures and each series has provided me with inspiration.  They recently announced their Guard of Accord figure and my creativity got going.

I should point out that this is my own story using the Boss Fight concepts.  I don’t know their official lore (beyond the bios on the back of the figures) so keep that in mind.  This is just an idea that the Guard of Accord and Knight of Accord figures created.  This is actually my third short story based on the Vitruvian H.A.C.K.S. and someday the others will get published.

But I really like this one and how it turned out.

THE GUARD’S DREAM
by Troy Osgood

   There are two ways to become a Knight of Accord.

    One, it’s pretty much going to happen.  The other?  It’s rarely happened.  They, the Knights, have always said it can happen.  As an incentive, to give us something to strive for.  Looking through the old histories of the Knights and there are no mentions of it happening.

    The first is to be a squire.  All knights start out as squires.  All knights are nobles as well.  That probably helps.  Second, third sons.  They get sent off to squire and eventually become full Knights of Accord, with all the benefits that means.

    The second is to work you way up as a Guard of Accord.  But not just any Guard can become a Knight.  You need to perform a great deed, something worthy of the Knights of Accord and everything they represent. It is not as easy as it sounds.  Like I said, it’s rarely happened.

   There’s a difference between the Knights and the Guards.  Many differences really, but one big one.  The Knights get all the glory, well the guards don’t.

    The Guards of Accord are just that, guards.  We guard the castle.  We guard the prisoners.  We guard the roads.  And we “guard” the battlefield.  We’re the footsoldiers.

    The old vets say we’re the Knights fodder.

    No way to find glory in that.

    Didn’t stop me from dreaming though.

    I’ve always wanted to be a knight.  Ever since I was a lad.  Grew up in the village closest to the castle.  Used to see a young Joshua Steelblade, just a prince then, ride through the square.  Tall, regal.  Impressive on the horse with it’s armored barding.  His armor shining white, with the cape flowing behind.  What lad wouldn’t look up to that or aspire to be that?

    Da was just a blacksmith and Ma a scrubber, but both did work for the castle and the Knights so I was always in the keep, around the grounds.  I learned what I could, would watch them sparring on the field.  I snuck in places, got caught, but it was worth it.  They called me ‘Sneak’.  The King, Joshua’s father, would laugh every time I was caught.

    “No harm,” he would say.  “Let the boy have his fun.”

    I saw my first orc when I was just eight.  I was in the castle, where I shouldn’t have been, when the creature came in.  Tall, green, covered in fur and leathers with rough armor.  It was every bit the monster that I had heard.

    Orcs never bothered our village, we were too close to the castle.  They weren’t that stupid, so most of the people had never seen one up close.  But I did.

    Evil.  That was the best way to describe it.  A monster from nightmares and there were so many of them out there.  Just like this one.  Ready to kill and destroy our way of life.  It was defiant up until the end, cursing at Joshua’s father as the axe came down and chopped off it’s head.  I don’t know why it was there, never did find out, but it doesn’t matter.

   I had wanted to be a Knight, but in that instance I knew that I had to do what I could to defend the people from such creatures.

   All the boys in the village wanted to be Knights, even though we knew it wasn’t possible.  Eventually they grew out of it, started learning their real trades.  But not me.  Da tried to make me a blacksmith, like him, but my mind was made up and couldn’t be changed.

   No matter how many times he told me, I wouldn’t listen.

    “The Knights only take nobles,” he would say.  Over and over.

   “But Da, a Guard can become a knight,” I would say.  Over and over.

   He’d shake his head and find something else to do.

    I don’t think he wanted to crush my dreams.

   I finally became a guard and it did not take long for my dreams to be crushed.

   It did not take long for me to learn a Guard would never become a Knight.

*****

   “Stop daydreaming Sneak,” the sergeant yelled, angrily.

   But he was always angry, so this was no different.

   And I wasn’t daydreaming.

   Not this time anyways.

   I stood up straighter, clutched my spear tighter, and continued marching.

   “You better watch out,” Gerald, another Guard next to me in formation said.  “He’s in a foul mood today.”

    Sergeant Gerrick was always in a foul mood.  In my five years as a Guard, I had never seen him smile.  Ever.

   But it was understandable why he was in a more foul mood today.

   This was supposed to have been a normal patrol.  A couple days out and back.  Not that far from the castle.  No danger.  Not even bandits.  These were well traveled roads.

   Which was part of the daydream problem.  In five years, I couldn’t count the number of times I’d been along this very stretch of road.

   This time was different though, and I knew it and should have been paying more attention.

   This time, the King’s son was with us.  Prince Lance Steelblade, son of Joshua.  The next commander of the Knights of Accord and King of the land.

    We were about the same age, twenty-five, but I was who I was and was who he was.  So age was the only thing we had in common.  I liked him well enough, what little I had interacted with him.

    I’m just a Guard.  He’s the Prince.  Not much interaction.  There was that one time, so long ago he probably doesn’t remember it, and it was so fleeting. He’s much like his father was at this age, from what I’ve heard.  So that’s good news for the future.  I wondered if he inspired any young boys when he rode through the villages, like his father had?

    Prince Joshua was riding in the middle of the formation.  Four knights on horseback in front, the prince, four more knights on horseback behind and then the twenty Guards walking.  Sergeant Gerrick led our march.  Gerald and I were in the third rank.

    The road was wide enough for three horses side by side, but we were in standard formation of two horses and two walkers.  Spread out, with about ten feet between each group.  There was almost twenty or more between the last horses and first walking Guards.  We were trained to march at speed, keep up with the trotting horses, but on these winding mountain roads it was difficult.  This stretch was coming down the mountain, the cliff on one side and trees starting on the other.  We’d round this bend and be into the dense forest for another ten miles before that opened up to farmland the rest of the way to the castle.

   Joshua’s horse had just rounded the corner and we lost sight of him when we heard the first noise.  Shouts, horses neighing loudly, rocks tumbled and the war cries of orcs from above.

    An ambush.

   But here?  So close to the castle itself?

    “Move,” Sargeant Gerrick yelled, waving his hand and running forward.

   None of us saw or heard the rock that took his life until it landed on him.  It tumbled against the cliff, falling and rolling, and somehow landed on his shoulder.  It drove him to the ground, bending his body unnaturally.

    If he’d been wearing full armor, like a knight, maybe he would have been okay.

    Looking up we saw orcs clinging against the side of the cliff.  They were throwing off gray and brown cloaks.  Hanging tight to the cliff, with those cloaks, they had blended in enough that we did not see them.  Now they were throwing down rocks, making us duck and find cover.

   The black war paint over their bald heads and along their arms marked them as scouts.  These orcs were fast, not as strong as the others, not as big but still just as deadly.  They wore no boots, somehow using their toes and one arm to hold onto the rough stones of the cliffs.  How long had they been there waiting for us to pass?

   Without Sargeant Gerrick to lead, we were unsure what to do.  I looked at my fellow Guards, surprised that no one was stepping up.  Gerald himself was senior to me, had been around for five more years.  A ten year veteran, this ambush should be something he knew how to respond to.  But he was frozen like the others, spread out and ducking rocks from above.

   The scouts weren’t trying to kill or wound, some shots were getting lucky, they were trying to keep us occupied, out of the fight.  If we had shields, this wouldn’t have been a problem.  But again, only knights had shields.  Guards had sword and spear.  Neither of which helped when the attack came from above.

   We crowded against the wall, trying to avoid the falling missiles. The angle of the orcs prevented them from dropping the stones directly on us but we did have to avoid the ones that bounced off the road.

   “Get to the prince,” I yelled, trying to push the Guard in front of me.

   If we just moved forward, keeping tight to the wall, we could get to our Prince.  But he did not move.  With his head turned away from me, I could not tell who it was.

   “Move,” I ordered.  But he still did not move.

   I thought about darting out, away from the relative safety of the wall and making a run for it, but sounds from the forest stopped that idea.  We could hear yelling, cursing, in the language of the orcs.  From out of the depths came a flood of the creatures.  These were the armored orcs, with roughly made wooden shields and battered armor.  They carried swords crudely carved from stone.  Wicked looked weapons, heavy with sharp edges.  Being hit with one would result in either a lost limb or broken bones.  Others carried heavy clubs that were just tree stumps on handles.  They wore a mix of helms, some even taken from murdered knights.  Most of the orcs were males, but there was a scattering of the females in their bone helmets.

    With the yelling it was a fearsome sight.

    A long line of them, that must have been waiting deep in the woods, rushed towards us.  Some came towards us Guards, others splitting off to go after the knights.  The barrage from above slowed but did not stop.

   I looked up and down the line of Guards.  Most were scared, unsure what to do.  We were used to following orders, not having to think for ourselves.  Without someone to give those orders, no one moved.

  The orcs came closer.  There was madness in their eyes, hatred, but also glee.  They were going to enjoy killing us.

   This was not how I wanted my life to end.

   I was scared, don’t get me wrong.  Incredibly scared.  I had fought orcs before but always under battlefield conditions with plans and orders.  Never like this.

   The Guards were frozen.  The orcs were closer.

   To hell with this!

   “For Accord!,” I shouted and pushed off the wall.

  My spear had been dropped, laying on the road, the shaft shattered by boulders but I still had my sword.  With it drawn I ran to meet the orcs, not looking to see if any others followed.

  The beast in front of me raised it’s shield, it’s heavy sword swinging in an arc.  I side stepped the swing and moved in behind, striking with my sword.  I cut across the beast’s shoulder, away from the armor around its chest.  The orc yelled, stepping back and I swung again, stabbing up into the unarmored under arm.  My sword pierced deep and I kicked at the orc, knocking it down.  Blood spurted everywhere as it fell off my blade.
  I narrowly avoided an attack from a second orc.  Luck was with me.

  “Accord!”

  The cry echoed across the road as the rest of the Guards joined in the fight.

  I didn’t have time to see the charge of my fellow Guards, I was too busy fighting for my life.

*****

    The fight seemed to go on for a long time.  It felt like hours but was only minutes.

    There were more orcs than Guards and Knights.  I was too busy fighting to see what was happening further up the road.  I kept trying to get my fellow Guards organized into some semblance of a formation, something that we could fight side by side and make our way towards the Knights and the Prince.  But it wasn’t happening.

    We were scattered, surrounding by superior numbers.

    The orcs kept coming.

   I avoided the sweep of one sword and almost got caught by another.  I parried the first, turning my body away from the second.  The two orcs pushed me back, using their swords and shields. I had just my one sword, no shield.  My training, even as a Guard, was superior to their blunt force tactics.  That was the only thing keeping me alive.

   Barely.

   They kept forcing me back.

   And then I heard it, from behind me.  A grunt and curse.  The voice rough and gravelly.  An orc.

  I tried to turn, to duck and felt the heavy head of a hammer slam into my shoulder.

  I fell.  Hard.

  I slammed onto the road, my head bouncing against rocks.  My vision started to go black, my vision blurry and I saw nothing else.

*****

    “He’s alive.”

    The sound of a voice, a human voice, brought me back to consciousness.  It was a struggle, part of me wanted to stay in the blackness, but I forced myself awake.  I opened my eyes and looked up at the sky above me as well as two helmeted heads looking down.  Both Guards.  A hand came into view.

   I took the offered hand and struggled to stand.  The world wavered before my eyes and only the steadying hand on my shoulder kept me upright.  When I was steadier and could see clearly I looked around and was shocked at what I saw.

    Bodies.  Everywhere.

   More orc, their black blood leaking onto the ground but mixing with the now drying red of my fellow Guards, but a lot of human.  I couldn’t count, some bodies hacked to pieces.  And I didn’t want to count.  I turned away from the gruesome scene and focused on the living.

   I saw two Knights, battered and bleeding. Their armor was scratched, rent in places, and one had his arm in a sling.  Blood dripped down from a head wound on the other.  Sirs Merck and Donal.  There were four Guards out of the twenty, two behind the knights and the two assisting me.  I was glad to see one was Gerald.

   But it was who I didn’t see that worried me.

    “The Prince,” I asked but already knew the answer.

   Gerald shook his head.

   “Gone. Taken,” Sir Merck said grimacing in pain.

   “But alive?”

   “Last we saw,” this time it was Sir Donal replying.  “The orcs took him that way.”

   He pointed into the trees and I saw a path that could easily be followed.  In their haste to make off with their prize, the orcs were not bothering to hide their path.

   “We have to go after them,” I said taking a couple stumbling steps forward.  I almost fell.

   Donal snorted and laughed.

   “We?,” he said, his voice filled with condescension.  “We cannot do anything.  Look around you fool.  We are hurt.  We will go back to the castle and get reinforcements.”

    “That will take too long,” I protested.  “They could leave with the prince or,” I stopped unable to finish the thought.

   It was the truth and the knights knew it.  I could tell by the look they exchanged.  Going back to the castle meant that we would most likely never find the prince or find him alive.  It would take too long and the orcs would disappear with their hostage or just kill him as a lesson.  If we were to rescue the prince, it had to be now.

    “You know nothing Guard,” Merck said, the last word with contempt.  He stood up in pain, which I thought exaggerated.  “We will go back to the castle.”

   None of the Guards moved.  We looked at each other, unsure.  We knew our duty and this was not it.

   “Now,” Donal snapped in a tone that brooked no argument.

   Reluctantly, more so on my part than the others, we started following the two knights.  We left our comrades where they lay, stepping over them.  I whispered a couple prayers for their safe passage to the next life, hearing a couple others do the same.  We turned the corner and I saw the rest of the battlefield for the first time.

   The horses lay dead.  The armor of the dead knights gleamed in the sun, parts of it now running and stained with red.  There were a lot of orc dead, piled high.  The beasts had paid dearly for their prize.

   Sir Merck led us around the carnage.  Gerald and I were in the back and we stared at the dead.  I glanced towards the forest where the orcs had taken the Prince.

   “This isn’t right,” I said in a whisper, for Gerald’s ears alone.

    “They are right,” he said, motioning towards the two Knights ahead.  “There is nothing the few of us can do.  We are all hurt and there are so many orcs.”

   He was right I knew.  Everything they said made sense.  And yet I couldn’t stop thinking of Lance, the prince.  My prince.  I had taken an oath as a Guard.  Knights should not run.

  I stopped walking, staring at the stones at my feet.

   It was a couple steps before Gerald realized I was not next to him.

   “What are you doing,” he asked.

   I didn’t answer.  I looked up at him and he knew from the look in my eyes.

   I turned and started running.

   “Wait,” he yelled, catching the attention of the others.

  “Stop,” one of them yelled.  I think it was Donal but at that point I was already at the edge of the forest.

   “Let him go,” another said and I’m positive it was Merck.  “The fool will get himself killed.”

    I ran into the shadows of the trees.  I felt dizzy, my head pounding, but I kept moving.  I could not stop.  I would not stop.

*****

    I was a loyal Guard.  Even though I knew I would never become a Knight I was loyal.  I took my oaths and unlike some Knights that only paid them lip service, I lived them.

   That and remembering the one time that Prince Lance and I had interacted, long ago, that drove me on.  I knew he did not remember.  That did not matter.

   I was hurt, my ribs now aching, my head pounding and breath was hard to come by.  But I ran.  I ran slow, working to conserve my energy, knowing I would need it.  But also knowing that time was of the essence.  There was none to waste.

   So I pushed on.

   I was tempted to release my sword and scabbard.  My unsteady run kept getting it caught against trees and bushes, but I knew I would need it.

   The trail was easy to follow.  The orcs knew there would be no pursuit and were in a hurry.  Broken branches, trampled grass, muddy footprints.  Untrained, I could still follow them.

   I knew not how many there were or what condition the prince was in.  It didn’t matter.  I would find him and rescue him.

    Somehow.

*****

    I could hear voices ahead.  Orc voices.

    A stream ran alongside, plunging down the slope into a small valley with a rising hill on one side.  Rocks covered the hill, the top exposed stone.  The stream ran down and around the hill, disappearing from my view.  That was where the voices came from.

    I was breathing heavy, leaning against a tree hoping there were no sentries.  If I was, I was dead.  But luck was with me.

    It had been over an hour of hard running to catch up to the orcs.  At points I was afraid that it would never happen, but I had faith.

    The voices were still too far and drowned out by the sound of the stream falling over rocks, that I could not hear what was being said.  Not that I would have gotten it all, I only had a grasp of the orc language.  Guards were trained in select words, things that would help us on the battlefield.

    I studied the landscape, the way the ground sloped down, the way the hill rose.  I was no tactician.  I was running on instinct and impulse.  I needed to know more of what I faced.

   Moving quietly, I climbed the short rise.  At the top I laid down, sliding closer to the edge.  Removing my helm, I looked down.  I could see the stream, a couple feet out from the edge of the rock.  I could see ten orcs scattered around.  One kept looking in the direction they were heading.  Others were crouched down, scooping up water from the stream.

    I knew not if this was all that was left, if they had split from the others or if there were more near by.  But it did not matter for there was my prince.

    He was standing up, leaning against the cliff.  His face was bloodied, his arms bound behind his back.  But he looked relatively unharmed, mobile.  So far the orcs had not done anything to him.

    This was where I needed to stop them.  I knew that once they left, I would not be able to keep up.  I was not sure I would even be able to escape.  But if I could free the prince and hold them long enough for him to get away, that would be enough.

    But first, I needed a plan.

*****

    I admit, it was not much of one.  But it was a plan.

    I thought about putting my helm back on but felt that I would need to be able to hear and see as much as possible.  The plan hinged on me being quick and moving.  Two things that I wasn’t sure I could do in my state.  Tired, legs and chest hurting, head pounding.  This was going to take a miracle.

    Standing up, on the edge, I looked down and almost fell.  The world swam before my eyes.  Not that high, with my head injury it was high enough.  I forced the world to stop and took a deep breath.  Holding my sword in my right hand, a rock in the other, I threw the rock as hard as I could.

    I hit one of the drinking orcs, the brute falling into the water with a splash.  The others, and the prince as well, all looked up at me.  Alone I stood and I hoped I made an imposing figure.  The orcs were all surprised.

    “Sir Merck come in from the north,” I yelled smiling as the orcs turned that way.  “Sir Donal, take your men in from the south.  Sir Gerald, the west is yours.”

    Now the orcs were looking in all directions.  Up, north, south and west.  I don’t know if they understood what I said, but enough of it carried that they were on alert.  They had their weapons out, ready and waiting.

    “Archers moved forward,” I yelled.

    One of the orcs, a larger brute and the leader, barked orders.  Two of the creatures ran along the cliff’s edge, coming for me.  The others did what I hoped and stayed in the bowl, waiting for the approaching Knights.

    Stepping back from the edge I moved halfway down the slope and waited.  The two orcs came slowly around, swords in hand and paused when they caught sight of me.  They looked around them, trying to see into the forest.   Seeing nothing they turned their attention back to me.

    I looked over their heads, into the woods.

    “Now men,” I shouted.  “Attack now!”

   The two orcs turned.  Stupid beasts.

   I charged.

   “ACCORD!!,” I yelled as loud as I could.

   My charge was wild, aided by running downhill, I led with my sword.  I felt myself tripping, starting to fall as my weakened legs could not hold against my downward momentum. The orcs were startled by my charge and luckily the one on the left stopped my fall with his own body.

   I kept the presence of mind to stab out with my sword, catching the right orc.  Hitting the left was like hitting a wall and my already hurt ribs felt like they cracked.  I swiped with my sword, cutting a long cut across the other orc.  It staggered back.

    My momentum had caused the one to stumble and I pushed out with my free hand.  It fell back more and I was able to stab with my sword.  The orc hit the ground hard, dying.  Before the other could recover, I swung again and it joined its comrade dead on the ground.

   Two down, eight to go.

   “Merck, hurry.  Archers, where are you,” I shouted.

   I did not know if my words were working. I hoped they were.  I needed to thin the number of orcs and I could not fight them all.  The only way to do so was to draw them out.

    “The east is clear, move that way,” I yelled as I turned north.

    It was the long way around the hill, but brought me out on the side the orcs had been heading.  I stopped and listened.  I could hear the orcs yelling and what sounded like movement, steps away from the bowl.

   This was the moment of truth, if my feeble plan had worked.

   Taking a deep breath I stepped out into the open and looked into the bowl.

    The prince was still against the wall, but no longer leaning.  He was standing, studying the orcs around him.  There were two in front of him, both looking away and out.  There were two others in the bowl.  The rest were gone.

    Without waiting I charged.  Blood dripped from my sword as I swung at the first orc.  It parried, steel meeting the iron of its jagged blade.  The blow almost knocked my sword from my hand but I held on.  I had to.  Another orc charged in at me, the two guarding the prince stayed but all their attention was on me.

   Before the orc could swing again, I reached out with my free hand and grabbed his sword right above his hand.  I used what strength I had to push it away and the orc countered, pushing against me.  He was stronger but I was quicker.

    Still holding on, I stepped back and freed my sword.  I swung at his unarmored legs, cutting across both.  The beast howled, dropped its sword and stepped back.  I struck and the beast dropped dead.

   The second orc swung, an overhand chop, and I side stepped.  It had been too eager, committing to the act well I was engaged with the other.  I swung and it fell.

    Now it was just me and two orcs.  I was breathing heavy, the exertions starting to take its toll.  They did not move and I took a couple steps forward. I paused and picked up a shield, struggling to get a grip without letting go of my sword.  I had practiced with a shield but was not used to it and this wooden one was lighter than the ones the Knights used.

    Round, made of wooden plans and banded in iron, it was notched with pieces missing.  It was decent enough against our swords, but the heavy blades of the orcs would destroy it quickly.

    Better than nothing.

    I advanced, working my way so that I faced both head on.  They stared at me, waiting.  They knew their fellows would return and I would be done.  Time was on their side.

   They knew it.  I knew it.

    The Prince knew it.

   I saw his movements and was ready for it.  The orcs were not.

   Prince Lance ran into one of the orcs, pushing against it.  The monster stumbled, the other turned and I charged at it.

   I couldn’t swing as much as I wanted, the prince was now tangled up with the orc.  The one I faced caught my stroke on its shield and swung with it’s heavy blade.  Splinters flew from the my shield, cracks forming in the wood.  It would not take many more blows.

    The prince’s orc pushed him down.  Bound as he would, Lance could not stop his fall and hit hard.  The second orc turned towards me and swung his sword.

   I could not get out of the way, tangled as I was with my opponent.

   I felt the blade cut, a jagged line across my side.  It hurt and I wanted to scream, to step back or to fall.  All of it.  Any of it.

   But I did not.

   I pushed against my orc, striking out with the shield and swung at the second with my sword.  It parried with it’s own sword and I used the force of that connection to aid my reverse swing.  I brought my sword down and into the leg of the orc in front of me.  It fell backwards and I clubbed the second with the shield.

    With both down it was quick work to finish them.

    I almost fell then, the excitement and energy of the battle quickly fading.  It had been the fight that had been keeping me up.  I could feel my blood falling from the wound on my side.

   I limped to my prince.  He used the cliff to stand up and turned so I could cut his bounds.

    “Are you alright,” I asked, having to pause between words to take a breath.

   “I am fine,” the prince answered.  “You are not.”

   I knew he was hurt, not as bad as I was most likely, but still hurt.  He quickly grabbed a sword and shield from the dead orcs.

    “We need to go,” I said.

    “Too late,” he answered looking over my shoulder.

   Turning I saw the other four orcs.  They were running through the forest towards us.

   I could barely stand.

   “Run,” I told the prince.  “I will hold them off as long as I can.”

   “I will not leave you,” he said and stepped in front of me.

   Before I could argue, the orcs were upon us.


*****

    I do not remember much of that last fight.  None of it really.  I was bleeding from the wound in my side, feeling my life leaving. I was tired.  I had no more energy, all my wounds and the exertions from the run and the fight, it all added up and I had no more.

    We survived.  I don’t know how.

    I did not black out but I remember almost nothing of that fight and the journey back through the woods.  I remember coming back to the road, the carrion birds and other animals already at work on my dead comrades.

   I remember leaving that nightmare scene behind, the prince and I supporting each other as we walked.  The prince had bandaged my wound as best he could, the white cloth stained red.

  I remember hearing the thunder of hooves as the rescue party came.  I do not know how many. I recognized voices, so weak that I could not see much.

   “My son,” I heard King Joshua say.  “You are safe.”

   “Thanks to this Guard,” the prince replied.  “He alone saved me.”

    “We had ordered him to follow and scout out the enemy,” a voice said.  I thought it was Merck but I would later be told it was Donal.

   “Lies.” It was Gerald and I was surprised he had spoken up.  Against the word of a Knight no less.  “Sneak was the only one that wanted to chase the orcs. You ordered us to return to the castle.”

    Donal did not reply.  I know not what was exchanged but he remained silent.

    “Sneak,” the king said.  “The young village lad that used to hang around the castle?”

    I could feel the king’s gaze studying me.

    “This Guard alone and wounded rescued my son,” he said.  This was a note of surprise and wonder.

    What was said next, I remembered clearly.  The prince looked at me, blond haired and blue eyes.  Hurt as he was, blood dried on his face from a cut in his scalp, bruised, he smiled as he looked at me.

    “His name is not Sneak,” the prince said. “It is Matthew and he deserves a reward.”

    “How should we reward him my son?”

    “There is only one reward fit for one such as this,” the prince replied.

*****

    “Be careful Sneak,” one of the guards said as he walked along the wall on his rounds.

    “I will,” the young boy said.

    Only eight, he was well known around the castle and had earned the name ‘Sneak’ for the ability to get into places he should not be.  He wore tattered clothing, his arms bearing many small scratches and scrapes.

   He climbed up onto the battlement, standing in a  crennel and looked out over the village.  His home, down below the castle.  This was one of his favorite spots.  From this high up, he could see the entire village and most of the land beyond.

    “Hello,” a voice said.

   He turned and saw a young boy, about the same age.  Brown hair and blue eyes in contrast to Sneaks own dark hair and eyes.  The boy’s pale skin was in contrast to Sneak’s own dark skin.  The boy’s clothes were of the finest quality.  No stains, tears or patches.

    “Hello,” he said.

   The blond haired boy pulled himself up onto the battlement, settling into a crennel next to Sneak.  Both their legs dangled over the long drop below.  Where Sneak did not hold on, the other boy did, not used to this seat.

    They sat like that for a couple of minutes, staring out over the countryside.

    “Are you from there,” the blond boy said finally, pointing at the village.

   “That’s my house,” Sneak said pointing at a particular building.  “The smithy.  I’m Matthew but everyone calls me Sneak,” he added.

    “Lance,” the blond boy said and at that moment Matthew knew who the boy was.

    Prince Joshua’s son.

    “I live here,” Lance said pointing at the castle behind him.

    “I know,” Matthew said.  “You’re going to be a Knight.”

    It was a silly thing to say.  This was the prince, he was going to be more than just a Knight but being a Knight was all that Matthew thought about.

    “Someday I guess,” Lance said.  “Are you?”

    “I want to be,” Matthew told him honestly.  “But I’m just a commoner, I don’t think I can ever be.”

   Before Lance could say anything else, they heard a sharp voice.

    “Your highness,” a man said.  “Get down this instance.”

   It was the castellan, an older man, with a look that was just as sharp as his voice.  Reluctantly Lance climbed down.  The castellan laid him away but Lance stopped and turned back towards Matthew.

   “Goodbye,” the young prince said.  “I hope you get to be a Knight too.”

*****

    I could feel the steel of the King’s sword as it touched my shoulder, even through the new suit of armor I wore.  The shoulder pauldrons were big and thick, but that did not matter. I could feel the touch as he rested the flat of the blade against first my right and then my left.

   I recited the oaths, new and stronger oaths, repeating them after the King.  I could feel the gazes of the villagers on me.  Especially that of my Da and Ma.

   This was something special.  Not just for me but the entire village.

    This also normally happened at the castle, but the King had made an exception.  Today, the ceremony was happening in the village square.

    Once the Oaths of Accord were spoken the King leaned down, holding his sword across his hands.  I could see the lines of the steel in the polished blade, the gleaming of the hilt and the jewel embedded in the metal just above the pommel.  I kissed the jewel as was tradition.

    Nodding, the King stood up.  He took a couple steps back, placing his sword in the scabbard at his side.  Even though my head was still down, facing the ground, I knew what he was doing.  I had seen this ceremony many times before.  As a young child I had dreamed of it happening to me.  As an adult I had known it wouldn’t.  But now, somehow, it was.

   The King turned and accepted a new sword from the General of the Knights of Accord.  Standing before me, the King held the new sword with the hilt towards me.

   “Arise Sir Matthew, Knight of Accord.”

   I stood and reached out for the sword, my sword.  My hand gripped the hilt and I lifted it.  It was beautiful, the sun gleaming against the steel. It was perfect.

    I turned and faced the cheering crowd.  I saw my Da and Ma, so proud.  I turned and faced my fellow Knights.  Some cheered, some did not.  I turned and faced the cheering Guards of Accord, so proud to have one of their own become a knight.

   I turned and nodded to Prince Lance Steelblade, who somehow had remembered the words of a little boy from a brief encounter thirteen years ago.

*****

    “Why do I tell you this,” the words of Sir Matthew, Captain of the Guard, echoed across the courtyard.

    He stood fifteen steps up the grand staircase the led to the castle’s entrance.  Before him, in the courtyard, were twenty men and women.  Newly oathed, joining the ranks of the Guards of Accord.  There was no crowd of onlookers.  This was no special ceremony.  At least not to most in the castle, but to Sir Matthew it always was.

   There was gray in his black beard.  Dark skinned and bald, he held his gleaming white helmet in one hand, against his side.  He looked out over the newest members of his Guard.

    “It is to give you hope,” he continued, eyes moving over the Guards, focusing on each in turn.  “To give you something to aspire to.  It is rare that a Guard becomes a Knight but it has happened almost a dozen times over the years since me and it can happen again.  Work hard, follow your oath and it could be you.”

   He paused, letting his words sink in.  It was the same story and the same speech he had given countless times before.

   “But there is another reason.  For a long time I thought being a Knight was all there was, it was everything.  But that is not true.  Guards of Accord are not less than the Knights.  Guards are just as important, just as honorable.  It is a great honor to be a Knight of Accord but it is an equal honor to be a Guard.  Things were different then. Much has changed thanks to our lord, the King, Lance Steelblade.  Remember your oaths to king and country.”

   Sir Matthew sat on the steps now.  The new Guards had dispersed, going to celebrate their graduation to the ranks.   In the early days of his command he had joined them, but not now.  He was getting too old for such things.

   Armor sounded against stone as someone walked down the long flight.

    “That story never gets old.”

    “No, but we do,” Matthew said as a man sat down next to him.  “Your highness,” he added.

    King Lance Steelblade, crown in his graying hair, smiled.

    “It’s a good story,” the King said.

    Matthew nodded, shifting slightly and wincing a bit.  He bore a scar along his side, one of many now, from that day so long ago.  It had healed up but the older he got the more it would hurt.  The King had a smaller scar along his scalp, his reminder.

    Standing up, the King looked towards the battlements along the wall overlooking the village.

    “Come old friend,” he said.  “There’s a celebration happening and I could use a drink.”

   “Yes your highness,” Matthew said standing up with a smile.

_________________________________________________________

For those interested in learning more about Vitruvian H.A.C.K.S. please visit Boss Fight Studio to check out all the amazing stuff the talented folks there have to offer.

The Guard of Accord is up for preorder now well the Knight of Accord is for sale now.  Lance Steelblade is not available yet but you can see what he looks like by visiting my friend Justin’s page Generals Joes and click through the pictures to see what else is coming (and the bald head is Matthew by the way).  This guy is spawning a lot of ideas.

Knight of Accord and Orc Conqueror card art by James Griffiths.

 

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