A Free Short Story
by Sherwood Smith
Summoned, posted to Zorgon’s castle yestereve.
Looks good. Ancient stonework—cool—damp—busy dungeon. Pretty sure I’ve seen Nargul, Zorgon’s toady, before. The rest of the lads seem a decent lot—average burliness, medium ugly, all fun-loving.
Stood around the dungeon swilling beer and exchanging coarse jokes while the new prisoners were brought in. Promising first day.
Night duty at Zorgon’s chamber. Quiet—except for Zorgon’s snores. Morning, Zorgon had the tailor in, ordered half a dozen more regulation Evil Wizard black robes. Good sign, I thought.
Nargul scuttled in—scratching his hump—asked for the day’s orders.
“Have you doubled the taxes throughout every land?” Zorgon asked.
“Oppressed the peasants?”
“Scorched and raped the earth?”
“Sent my Army of Darkness to conquer another land?”
“Jutht sent, o mathter.”
Zorgon rubbed his hands. “Then let’s get down to the dungeon and see how the tortures are coming along.”
Just like the good old days with Zyrdynyr at Ravenstalon Castle, and Z’ac’th’or at TalonRaven Keep before him. I hope this post lasts longer than those did.
Damn. My stubble looks too much like a beard, and the Sergeant hit me with doling out the regulation prisoner-slop. Don’t like the looks of the prisoner in cell 247-A. Kept quelling me with his piercing blue eyes.
Night duty at the dungeon—card playing and grunting crude jokes. This is a very good post, except for that prisoner in 247-A. I’m suspicious. Some of the vets are too, but the rookies won’t listen.
Duty, Zorgon’s chambers. He put in some time muttering dark spells over his crystal, then a few of the boys brought that prisoner up. Zorgon pulled a nifty little blade from a collection in an ancient trunk. When I got an eyeful of the elven carving on its haft, and the glowing sapphire gemstone, uh oh, I thought. Looks bad.
Zorgon waved the sword around while making a top-grade sinister speech. Good invective-control, nice detail in the personal threats, plenty of reach in the future gloom aspect.
No reaction from the prisoner—no sign of a grovel, but no speech of defiance. Eyes flashed blue fire once or twice. Bad sign? His rags are grubby farmwear—no hint of princely raiment. This could go either way.
Rec shift ducked out to a wayside inn for a quick beer. Found Nargul there.
“Dark Fortreth of Zaech’rawn, right?” he said.
“I remember now.” I snapped my fingers. “No, it was Zunthor’s Evil Keep.”
“That’th it.” He saluted me, then downed his beer. “Nearly ten good yearth we had there.”
“Henchwork at its best,” I said, with deep regret.
After we got axed, turned out he went on to Zornhawk when I got detailed to Zangharad. I’d heard about Zornhawk. Lousy post.
Agreed we ought to do what we can to make this post last.
Nargul five-fingered some gold from Zargon’s stash. Both of us tried 247-A, wearing goggles to avoid getting eye-stabbed, blazed, or flashed. Nargul came on with the promises of power, magic spells, etc, me with cold cash. Bastard not interested.
“Way I see it is, we off him.”
Snorgle, Grunch, the Krapp brothers, and a few of the other vets met me at the inn next rec period.
Shook my head.
“Guess you haven’t been around as long as we have,” Grunch said.
“What’s the problem?” Pilch asked. “Nothing to it—we simply slip something into his food. He gets the trots, we go shovel the corpse out after a week or two. No confrontation.”
Grunch and I both shook our heads.
“You don’t understand,” I said. “He’ll just nobly refuse to eat.”
“So what if we all go in there—”
“Then he pierces us with his flashing blue eyes,” Snorgle snarled.
“Hurts,” I said, rubbing my nose.
“Like a zillion beethtingth,” Nargul added.
Pilch drained off his beer and sat back, picking at his teeth. Any yellower, those teeth, and he’d be promoted for sure.
Glanced out the window just then. “Look.” I pointed.
We stared at the group of people making their way down the middle of the street through the guards, downtrodden serfs, and nameless rabble. Signs were clear as a roadpost: short guy with beard, tall one with cloak masking face. Worst of all, slim one in boy’s attire, single golden tendril escaping from a hood that didn’t hide the outline of an elvish ear.
“I wonder if she’s got an apostrophe in her name,” Grunch muttered with a sour look after them. Then he shook his head. “Emerald eyes. At least three apostrophes for sure. Bad news for us.”
“Crap,” I said.
The brothers jumped. Then sighed.
They got inside the castle.
The elvish swordmaiden alone killed 19 guards. All rookies, of course—rest of us kept busy elsewhere.
Zorgon put me on detail guarding outside the cell of 247-A. Snorgle and I both heard voices—the swordmaiden had mysteriously gotten in. Looks like our boy is a prince in disguise, raised as an orphan on a distant farm.
They attacked at midnight, yelling Elvish gibberish.
I quailed away along with Smelch and Snorgle. Right after his mysterious escape, 247-A took out 90 guys, and that’s before he got to Zorgon’s room and found the sword.
Zorgon spotted us, ordered us to retreat to the tower for the last stand. Damn, damn, damn.
300 of us on hand for the end. 250 lads on the stairs hacked by 247-A and his four followers. At least they didn’t have to hear the speeches. Swordmaiden kept spouting prophesies in bad poetry—worst I’d heard since my stint at Z’ya’chul of Ravyn’sBlaize Tor. 247-A stuck with the standards: “Thus is my father avenged,” and “Begone, foul wraith.”
“He looked at my butt!” Nargul yelped. “He looked at my butt! Ouch,” he added, rubbing a much-pierced buttcheek, as 247-A hashed Zorgon.
Before the elf girl stabbed Nargul, I overheard the old vet toady muttering, “At leatht we get all the good curtheth.”
Last dozen of us taken on by the old guy. Pretty burly—wonder if he’d done some henchwork before hopping the fence.
Got to parry twice before the swordstroke right through my neck.
Damn. Really hate that part.
Summoned back to life, posted to Zorndeth’s fortress midnight today.
Black stone, eternal winter, good variety of orcs, goblins, trolls.
Hope it lasts.