Merry Christmas, Seasons greetings, Happy holidays!
As a Christmas treat, I have created a winterised chapter #1 of Knight of Coins as a 2,800 word short story called 'Silent Knight' for you to read over the Yuletide season. The eponymous antihero, Valguard, says very little as he invades the compound of some unsavoury bandits in the hope of rescuing a hostage before she can be killed. Originally the beginning of Valguard #1 Knight of Coins and called 'Chapter 1 - His Job is Death' and released in 2015. If you have read this novella I'm afraid there is very little new here but I thought it would be fun to have a 'Festive Feelbad Free Read' as a give-away. So I have let it snow on the high moors over Hartside and written in white, ice and cold breath smoke. If you like it, have a look at the rest of the story when our silent Knight has a bit more to say...
Be warm, well fed and surrounded by friends.
Best wishes, Dave.
(A Christmas tale)
by David N Humphrey
He knew that before the winter sun came up he would have to kill everyone in that house. Hidden amongst the surrounding white snow drifts and lying on his front, he watched and waited for movement, his eyes fixed intently on the remote farmstead sat on the white moors. Snowflakes gently wafted down to the ground down in front of his eyes that were adjusted to the dark and could see the fortified building of Mardale sat in a gully.
As he watched, a dark figure in dirty armour carrying a ten-foot long wooden pike at his shoulder casually walked around the perimeter once again treading over his footsteps in the snow.
Farmhouses don't normally have perimeter guards but in reality, this was a stronghold and its inhabitants were definitely not farmers.
Being only a few miles from the border meant the outpost had seen many raids in its lifetime and over the years had been fortified. The windows were fewer and smaller than you'd expect and had almost been reduced to slits. To the right side was a square, heavily defended gatehouse arching over a wooden entrance with a thick perimeter wall of stone, wide enough to walk along, connecting each of the buildings in turn. It was modifications like these that the new owners had been looking for when they stole it.
The guard was average height and build and had a lumpy nose and greasy, red face. His slightly oversized and dented helmet together with a simple breastplate gave the appearance of a military man but was undermined by the tatty clothes underneath and his boots, which were too worn and uncared for. A wide leather belt wound around him and had several pouches attached along with a dagger and a sword. His gang colours, a sash of red was tied around him too, probably to remind him which side he was on. Nothing on him seemed to match and he had the manner of someone who had been put on the perimeter because there wasn’t anyone else available. His helm and shoulders were covered in snow and he blew on his gloved hands as he walked.
As the sentry disappeared around the corner, the watcher sprang up from the ground and leaving his white camouflaged cloak and groundsheet in the snow, sprinted almost silently towards the blind side of the building. His legs whipped through the powdery snow before he crossed a low wooden bridge over the icy, half frozen stream, his feet touching the planks three times in a soft 'thump-thump-thump' before he raced back up the grassed ground stopping only when his body slammed flat into the edge of the cold wall. He held his breath, listening for any noise that he had been spotted.
Avoiding the patrolling guard meant that without a confrontation there wouldn’t be a subsequent break in his laps and no-one would trigger the alarm. Best to leave him walking outside unaware of his planned incursion and get him on the way out.
His next step would be to sneak over the perimeter wall and stop the watcher on the gatehouse, he wouldn't be able to make progress inside the yard without removing him. He let out a warm breath and rolled himself around the cornerstones of the wall and sunk into the shadows once again.
At the front of the compound, on the roof of the gatehouse, a roundish figure shuffled back and forth in the cold, occasionally disappearing behind the stone box of the lookout post. He did not notice fifty feet behind him, the fingers of a pair of hands curl over the battlements followed by the top of a hooded head. The head waited until the guard was behind the post and with the courtyard clear, sprang over the wall and dropped low on the walkway. Glancing behind, he quietly hurried unseen towards the gatehouse, softly crunching over the footprints in the snow, stopping at the stone wall beneath the turret before creeping around going up the steps.
On the exposed platform above the thick, oak front doors, an enormous, obese man with a mess of matted hair and patchy beard on his sweaty, fat head lumbered along behind the battlements of the outer wall of the gatehouse and stopped in the slightly sheltered corner. Sniffing and wheezing, he leaned against the wall and with another sniff pulled the mucus back into his cold nose before his sleeve wiped across his nostrils. His wet hand tucked itself into his coat, reappearing holding a metal flask of spirit. He knew only too well he couldn't drink on watch but he was arrogant enough to know the Chief's rules didn't apply to him. On bloody watch again. It never seemed to be his turn to have some fun. Bastards.
In anticipation, his mouth began to water and he spat on the floor to make room for the drink. As he unscrewed the cap, he looked to his left and then to his right to make sure he was unobserved. He wasn't sure which way was his left and right but he checked them all the same.
He raised the flask to his lips, tilted his head backwards and looking at the clear night sky took several thirsty gulps of the harsh alcohol. The first few swigs tasted good with a sharp kick to it but the last glug choked him in pain as he felt his throat fill up, he spat and splattered and sprayed the mixture of drink and blood out through his gritted teeth. His ears popped with the pressure on his throat stopping his head from moving. As his wide eyes looked down he saw the silhouette of a hooded man standing perfectly still directly in front of him where seconds ago there was no-one. His right arm was outstretched and stopped at the cross-guard of a sword whose blade extended into the guard's burbling throat. The guard's tongue had by now balled-up into his bloodied mouth and pushed his teeth apart as his relaxed arm holding the drink canister fell away to his side. His eyes continued to roll downwards with just enough life to see the torchlight flickering on the gleaming shaft of metal that had pierced his upper throat between his tongue and voice box. With that last image sent to his brain, his eyelids slid over his empty eyes and a final breath of warm air leaked out of his ventilated neck.
The intruder waited for a moment to ensure the guard was dead, before ripping out his gleaming sword and concealing within his silhouette. As silently as he had appeared, he vanished back down the steps into the courtyard.
The guard's massive, lifeless body slid down the wall, its head knocking on every stone on the way, the long, tangled hair marking a vertical red stripe down the wall like a paintbrush as it went.
Creeping carefully along the inner wall of the yard, passing unnoticed the paddock of settled horses who were standing asleep, each with a bent leg resting on its hoof tip. Suddenly a door ahead of him opened inwards about fifteen feet away, light shone out onto the white cobbles of the courtyard making a couple of horses turn their necks. Before he could press himself back into the shadows of a convenient buttress, he could just about hear a man shout an insult from inside.
'...it'll take a while fer ya to empty that big bladder through that small tap, Ladner haha ha!'
A fat man staggered onto the courtyard in front of him, grinning to himself and mumbling a slurred insult back to his heckler. After taking a few steps, he suddenly stopped. The intruder tensed, expecting the man to have seen him, spin round and attack, but he didn't. Instead, he just unbuttoned the front of his pants and just starting pissing right where he stood in the middle of the open yard.
He was still moaning and mumbling and cursing someone as he waved the steaming piss left and right of him. The beer stinking urine was arcing away from its maker and melting the snow on the cobbles. The assassin waited. He wasn't going to attack him mid-flow, at least let him finish, but he looked about furtively to both sides, it was still clear. The liquid kept on flowing and showed no sign of slowing -- that was a lot of beer! Finally, the jet of hot piss began to droop, became a dotted line and then after a couple of splashes, stopped altogether. The intruder's fists clenched waiting for the miscreant to put himself away. What he didn't expect next was instead of putting his nob back in his pants, he pulled them straight down to his knees and then squatted. His bare, pimply arse sticking out from under his tunic shirt.
He's gonna have a shit!
In the middle of the courtyard? Nobody does that.
The stranger dashed from the shadows and grabbed the top of the filthy bastard's hair and pulled his head back. The drunk man was in an awkward, vulnerable position anyway and as his head went back his mouth opened in shock, but he was either too surprised or too slow to shout out before a knife crossed the length of his throat at the windpipe sending a waterfall of warm red cascading down his front. Air silently left his lungs through his split neck, his chest arched out briefly before going limp and slumping backwards. Needing his other hand back, the assassin casually jabbed the knife into the dead man's chest, using it like a pin cushion. With his free hand could now grab his collar and dragged him backwards away from the pool of piss that he had left at his feet. His trousers still halfway down his legs and the bottom of his vest just about covering his drippy tackle.
Hauled over the stones into a nearby arched alcove that housed an unused cart, he was dropped behind it, a boot curled under his stomach to roll the body over a couple of times until he stopped between its wheels. He still had his balls out.
Avoiding the puddle of piss, the assassin moved back to the door that his last victim had used and slipped inside the porch of a side building.
There was no-one inside the porch now, the man must have gone back inside. The intruder crossed the room towards the interior door, past the winter coats and cloaks hanging on the walls and several boots littering the floor. Before he got there he froze, hearing a noise on the other side and then the door handle began to turn. There was no time to get out or take cover. Damn!
The door was pulled open revealing another bandit, much less scummy than the others, who the intruder recognised straight away. This was Manto and he stopped when he saw the unexpected visitor, dropping the apple he was eating. They looked at each other for a moment before Manto reached for the knife in his belt, but the intruder was already running straight at him, grabbing his neck and carrying him backwards until he slammed into the wall of the kitchen ten feet behind him. His head cracked into the wood and before he could defend himself the stranger had punched him in the stomach, in the face and was banging his head back into the wall.
Despite Manto's pulled knife had been batted away and spun into a corner, he wasn't giving in, his arms were grabbing and hitting back, mostly to the guts or missing his chin due to how he was pinned. His feet kicked out at his opponent then with a huge effort he forced his attacker away from the wall. Free to attack, they sparred evenly now, exchanging quick blows and blocks to each other. This bandit was fast and strong and although his punches didn't always land on target he was more of a challenge than the others he had encountered so far. Apart from the odd groan, neither spoke. The intruder was glad he hadn't shouted for help but that probably meant this one was a professional and thought he needed no help to win.
The melee was more or less equal but their exchanged blows made them take turns crashing into the furniture of the kitchen. Chairs were knocked over, tables were pushed away and its contents knocked off. Amongst hanging towels, a pan of hot water was thrown but missed, in return, some tankards were thrown back, deflected away by an empty pan. When each thought he had the upper hand his opponent would rally back and it occurred to the intruder that he might not the superior combatant here, his opponent was bigger and stronger than him and he could be in real trouble.
With this doubt placed in his mind the intruder made a bad mistake as he lunged with a right that missed the head, his arm followed through and he was grabbed at the shoulder, the enemy's hands wound round under his armpits and behind his neck and began to push his head down, going for the snap. The intruder resisted but soon he was struggling to breathe and would eventually pass out. Forced to his knees, his limbs were of no use to him in this position and gradually his eyes began to close.
Behind them, a flat iron that would normally be used for pressing clothes and which had been knocked off the table earlier rose up and hovered unsteadily in the air just above the bandit's sweaty head. It seemed to wait, then dived suddenly -- point first -- into the back of the bandit's skull. He crumpled instantly to the floor releasing the stranger, who fell with him. Gasping for breath, and rolling his head on his neck to get the feeling back the freed man grabbed the motionless iron on the floor and, adding to the blood on it already, smashed it across his opponent's so nearly victorious face.
The assassin's hidden advantage was the gift of telekinesis. He could, with concentration, move objects with his mind and in this case, very effectively. This wasn't magic. He wasn't a spell caster. This was a childhood freak ability that had been gradually controlled in his youth and now he found it second nature.
It had also helped him earlier allowing him to scale the outer wall more easily and without a rope and hook. His ability was a useful one but only used as an occasional supplement to what he could do with his hands or a sword.
He had had it easy up to now, but that was a tough fight. He wiped away the blood that was trickling down his face with the back of his hand, his punched eye stung as he brushed it. A few less encounters like that was needed. Still, three down and no alarm raised, things were going well. Now to sneak into the main hall...
Unfortunately, that was his last thought he had before his head received a massive blow from behind and the lights went out.
Out of the shadow of a doorway stepped a massive thug of a man holding a cracked chair leg who had got the drop on the intruder and sent him to the floor in an untidy heap.
A younger lad burst into the room, slightly out of breath, his eyes staring worriedly over to where the prone intruder lay.
The victor of the fight whistled without putting his fingers in his mouth to get the smaller man's attention and snap him out of it. Then he flicked his head to indicate he come over so he could show off his trophy to the beginner.
That was how you do it, son. No-one gets past me.
The kid rushed over holding his sword grip so it wouldn't clatter into his legs as he ran.
'erm... You alright, Brotton?' he nervously asked.
The big man ignored his enquiry. 'Get everyone up,' he said calmly.
The young lad nodded in fear and ran off the way he had come.
Brotton looked down at the crumpled figure unconscious at his feet and grinned. Then a bell started ringing outside, followed by the increasing noises of different voices, doors banging and multiple boots running as the compound came to life...
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© 2017 David N. Humphrey, All Rights Reserved. Winterised in December 2017. Updated in January 2020. Previously published as Chapter 1 of Valguard: Knight of Coins, 'His Job is Death'.