Crest of a knave: A short story

Listen to my story, all ye assembled here in this hall of gold, listen to my story before I set forth with the lust for glory and decay in my blood boils over, its wrath absterging all shreds of loyalty and honour in me. Listen to my story, all ye assembled in this hall of light, for you would hold me devious culprit in this dark affair of travesty and injustice whereas I would hold myself, sans lea or passage, owed the duty of the last word before your judgment scars my destiny forever.

A thousand years ago, while I was still a young man of speed and spirit, I loved a woman of Troban beyond the wishes of my father or hers, and we were discoverers of joy unbounded in the arms of the other and wished, fools that we were, that it would remain so, impenetrable by the poisoned spears of our warrior-brothers or reigned back by the ties we still cherished with our mothers or by the religion that sought to punish us all for the evils of our forefathers; you remember the times, lords and ladies, you do, I know! Those were horrible days of great loss and much deplorable grief, days when freedom faded quickly from memory to return with the intoxicating fumes of khalam only at night.

Our companionship, as has always been, was soon sighted, slighted, condemned for no other reason than the rifts within our peoples, and me and she were soon flung apart, reprimanded and whipped until our flesh burned red with the fire of agony, disappointment and the promise we made unto ourselves repeatedly that there would come a day when our spirits would be reawakened by another foe, a promise that we would succumb to the threat of mortality that always spurs us on against another man, a promise that we would take up spear and shield, sword and gauntlet, and fight to the death all the men who stood between me and her, who stood between her and me.

However, that was not to be so, for soon, she was in love with another man. Oh, the sacrilege rent my heart in two and its tears flooded, I was stricken with not the monstrous affront to my being but quite something else, a curious mixture of acceptance and depravity, as if I had been rewarded with the admonishment of a great father who, with one hand, struck me down and taught me a lesson and, with another, picked me up and dared to walk; I knew not what to do, for she was no longer mine and the saddening truth of that alone lingered in all its palatable cruelty. That he was a great warrior of Troban meant nothing to me for I knew already that he would be the last to be slain as she must and will watch on, the death of a lover, a commemoration of the execution of love itself.

Soon, circumstance bore down upon me, carrying upon their broad shoulders much fortune, and I was swept like a broken vessel upon a strong tide to different shores, vast shores, peopled not with memories nor judgments but with purpose and direction, led by a great king in whose services I found employ and my faith once more in the need for allegiance and friendship in our bloodied lands. Here I stand before you, a great minister of the King of all Troban, and I, his aide, his confidante, his friend, his advisor, his hand that throws down only so it may pick up once more the young man it sought to make an example of all those years ago, and the woman you now see standing before you, pleading unto you that I be imprisoned for all that I have brought upon her… that woman… that woman…

Her husband, that man, that veteran, or thus she would hold, of many, many wars, hundreds of battles, he is now captured by the Lords of the Cult, and now she pleads unto you to imprison me, to sacrifice me unto your foes so she may remit what she herself broke. What would you do? What would you do?! Would you lock me behind bars and set me forth in a vessel so I may be received by my torturers and executioners or would you have me stand guard into the night? Would you handicap I, only a man, for the sake of his youthful follies and now besmirch all his sacrifices or would you give me my freedom only once more as I ask her… as I ask her…

Do you want me to save your lover? Do you want me to be the man you hated, the man you despised, because he valued justice more than concern so you could betray his love and seek consolation in the arms of another? Or would you rather that I was the man you were with once, and have me be the saviour you so direly seek?

*

Simpler version

Listen to me, all you folks assembled here, before you go about besmirching my name! I’ve a story to tell before you listen to the words of the woman before you and pass a judgment that’d only be made with incomplete information. After all, I am owed a word before I am punished.

Long ago, I loved a woman of Troban, and neither of our fathers were supportive of it. It was a terrible time, what with all the civil wars and other such needless battles causing more rifts than we needed. In each other’s arms, we found the relief we really needed at the time, and not only did we find it, but we were entranced by it.

Needless to say, our fathers found out about it and tore us apart, calling upon all sorts of religious rites and says to condemn us further; they used us to vent the anger they bore for the world around. We might’ve understood their wrath, but what I knew I’d always hate and avenge was the wrath of the people who stood by my father on the day he passed judgment on us. That day, I swore I’d slay them all even if at the price of my honour.

Soon, however, something happed that left me like a shattered mirror: seeing with a thousand eyes the horror of her walking hand-in-hand with another man, another lover, so soon after we were forced to leave each other’s side. I didn’t what to do then, I didn’t understand it, but I only told myself that this man would also die by my blade. He’d die while she watches him bleed.

After that, my fortunes in trade and other things began to pick up and I set off on a journey to a new city. All the people there were new to me. I knew then that they didn’t deserve my blighted past, they didn’t deserve to be at the brunt of my voiceless rage. I changed my lifestyle, I changed the way I was; I became more responsible and soon was employed by the King.

Now, I’m your minister, and your King’s right-hand man. I’ve stood by you all, protecting you, saving you, nourishing you, pushing you to seek your dreams without fearing any foe. Now, this woman here is that lover I spoke of, and now, she tells you all to sacrifice me as ransom so she can get back her lover from those who’ve captured him.

He was a man of courage she said, and now, as fate would have it, the blade at his throat pierces at my will. Now, I ask you to tell me if I still will have your mercy and be allowed to decide for myself… whether I choose to mend my heart and leave it broken for your sake. Having known you good men and women for so long, I will take the liberty to assume a just answer.

Now, woman, I ask you: I was once a man who cared for justice, and that was the man you hated; I was once a man who cared for love, and that was the man you loved. Who do you want me to be now? Do you want me to be the one you hated so you can feel fine about leaving me? Or do you want me to be the man you loved so he can save your lover?

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