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Sabre and Hoof - A Short Story Collection

By Harry Elphick All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy

Blurb

A collection of fantasy short stories with a dark tone - together they form something of a bildungsroman. It is currently a work in progress.

Tale One - Learning Honour

Every man who has ever lived has been faced with a moment in which he could achieve greatness. The Viking idea of Valhalla; the Heaven of Judaeo-Christian faith; the fields of Elysium in ancient Greek tradition are promises that one will be rewarded for achieving this greatness regardless of the suffering they face in doing so in this life. My life has not had but one of these moments and for that I am eternally grateful - if my first chance had been my only chance I would have failed the test of Fate.

I want to blame my youth for failing. I want to tell you that I was too young to know what was right or that I was too young to have the courage to do what was right. I want to lie to you as I have to myself for many long years. I won't though.

I lived in a rural village on the fringes of my country. The land was owned by a minor noble who's kinsmen had been forced from the favour of our King before the reigning monarch and noble were born; an old feud controlling the fate of the present. As such, the village was comprised mainly of those who subsisted from the land or craftsmen who had invaluable skills to the survival of the village.

My father was a carpenter,the man who had constructed a great many of the houses in the village and the only man who could maintain them. It was my duty as his son to learn his trade for the good of my village - it was a duty I fulfilled. I met my birthright with open arms, knowing if I did not it was not only me that would suffer.

Through my childhood, I had been drawn to a girl in our village. I had been told all my young life that she was beautiful to look upon though this perplexed me as to me her face merely was. It was deserving of no adjective for her face had only the quality of her existence. Perhaps our story is terribly cliché, but to me it was simply an unavoidable consequence of fate.

As you can undoubtedly guess, I grew to hold not only Philia in my heart for her. Eros and Philia gripped me and I simply had to wed her. Within six moons she was my bride.

Her dowry was modest and her dress was second hand but none of this mattered to me. There were whispers of her lack of purity in the ceremony; there were whispers that I would starve her due to my lack of skill at my trade. The whispers held no sway on us, yet they should have. The judgemental crowd predicted my future.

My father died after the birth of my first child. I was no longer supported in my trade by a master of the art. Slowly, but surely, it became apparent that my skill had limits and some carpentry would have to be done by the woodworkers of the next village. My income declined and my family grew.

Perhaps the disruption to my life that would follow was a blessing - I doubt if it had not come I should have failed to provide for my family. The feud in the upper echelons of society came to strike the peasantry. The King's men came to crush the rebellious nobleman and it was our village they came to.

They came for grain. They came for women. They burned the houses, devoured the food stocks and violated the women and girls. Those who fought were killed. Everyone except me.

My wife's resistance was met with violence, and in my need to protect her I crushed her assailant's skull. The retaliation was to disarm and beat me. Then kill my family - wife, mother and child - before my eyes. Their blood stained the ground for a time, but my soul for a lifetime.

They took me, bound, beaten and broken from the village. They left me in a nearby forest in the hope that I should die slowly over the next few days.

As the sun rose the next day a lone man returned to my bound body. He had had his moment to be great - to save a man with no hope. He took the opportunity to earn a reward in the afterlife and suffered the consequences while he still lived. After my bonds were cut, my hands found his throat. He had not beaten me; he had not bound me; he had not harmed my wife, my child or my mother; he had not burned a single house; he had not harmed a single woman or girl; he had murdered none. I killed him regardless.

I took his sword and rations - he had no use for them now. I surveyed the still smoking wreck of my village in the distance and thought of the mockery of my father's work I would build in its place. In shame and fear I turned away from the still warm corpses of those I loved and entered the forest.

The following months made me a man of the earth and the road. I grew gaunt and weathered. For years I heard tell of the innocent young soldier that was killed helping a prisoner - an act of kindness that was met with violent rage. Every time the tale met me in a village I grew ever more remorseful. I longed for a chance to regain my honour.

That time came. The village I was visiting was attacked by men of the King. A vile mirror of the night I lost my life. My savagery and knowledge of how the raid would transpire inspired the villagers and protected them. I made 3 men killers that night. I had not learned much; I was still a murderous beast but I had found my honour.

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