A single arrow.
That’s all it took.
Jon ran across the field. “General! They’re coming!” the little boy shouted. His older brother, Simon, slapped a hand over his mouth.
“Quiet! They will hear you!” Simon handed a wooden sword to Jon with a solemn countenance. “They’ve got us surrounded, private. It’s time for war.” The two brothers picked up fake shields and put on cloth helmets that their mother had sewed for them. They crawled through the ditch that they were currently taking cover in.
Jon peeked out. Four other children with the same wooden swords were coming towards them, some older, some younger. Of course, it was all in good fun, but the brothers took it very seriously. This was the third battle. All their playmates had been “killed”, and were waiting at the edge of the field for the game to end.
Simon lifted his hand, then dropped it. That was the signal. The brothers bravely leaped out of the ditch and ran towards the other children, yelling war cries. Most of the other children stood their ground as the wooden playthings crashed against each other, but one ran away in fright. He hadn’t wanted to play anyway, but the other children had made him.
Simon took on two of the other children, and Jon took a big one. He parried a lunge, then immediately blocked an overhead swipe with his shield. He swiped at the boy’s legs, and the other boy collapsed, pretending that his leg had been cut off. Jon tapped him on the chest with his sword. He placed his foot on the boy’s chest in triumph, then turned to see how Simon was faring.
Simon had held his own fairly well. One girl had been dispatched and sent to the other dead children, but now he had to battle a boy that was at least three years his senior. Jon joined him. Now, the older boy was forced to block with his sword on one side, and with his shield on another. Jon whooped. “We’ve got him now, Simon!” he crowed.
But he’d forgotten something. Seeing a chance, the boy that had run away came up as quietly as possible behind Simon, and tapped him on the back. Stunned, Jon looked at the boy. In this pause, the older one swung his sword, and Jon was out as well. “We win!” the runaway laughed.
He might actually start to enjoy this game.
Fifteen year later, Jon was hugging his wife and giving his children tearful goodbyes. He’d been called to real war this time. He was wearing a copper helmet that glinted in the sun, and a shining breastplate. At his side dangled a sword of the same metal, and a shield was on his horse’s saddlebag. “I’ll come back,” he vowed, hugging his son and daughter. “I promise.”
Jon turned to his wife and kissed her for a few seconds, then climbed up onto his horse. The soldier snapped the reins. Looking stoically forward, he rode off into the failing light.
Later that night, Jon arrived at the army’s camp. He could see at least two thousand tents, but he knew that their enemy had twice that many.
On the morrow, they were to ride to their deaths.
Torchlight lit the camp from all sides, and almost a score of hastily constructed towers stood on the edges, holding up watchmen. Five black tents stood in the center, in stark contrast with the red tents around them: these were the commanders’ tents. Campfires were dotted around the tents, with black figures huddling around them.
Jon rode up and dismounted. A watchman halted him. “Name?” he asked, his spear across Jon’s chest.
The watchman flipped through a stack of parchments, then nodded. “Go ahead. You’re in the third sector of the camp.” He pointed. Jon thanked him, then led his horse towards the area that the watchman had gestured to.
Most of these men had been out here much, much longer than Jon would, he realized. Haggard faces and dreary eyes told him this. Cold hands clasped over small fires, wounds still aching throughout the body, armor dented and scraped . . . this was how most of the soldiers there must have felt.
Jon found an empty tent and rolled out his blanket and bed inside, and removed his armor and sword belt. Stripping down to his tunic, he fell into his bed and was asleep in two minutes.
Two weeks later . . .
Jon crouched behind a boulder, barely breathing. About two hundred other men were doing the exact same thing around him, all hidden and ready for an ambush. Intelligence had gathered that half of the enemy’s force was moving in this direction, and would have to pass through the ravine to take Jon’s camp on the other side.
Jon had been promoted to a captain. Now, he was leading two hundred in a doomed crusade against those who would kill them anyway. He watched the bend in the ravine, three hundred yards away, with unblinking eyes.
Finally, he spotted something. A scout was jogging around the corner. He stopped to have a look around, and Jon got a good look at him.
He was dark-skinned, and had black armor. It looked tougher than Jon’s. He carried a light, thin spear, and a round shield, embossed with a dragon’s head. Two others stood behind him, climbing rocks for higher vantage points.
One of Jon’s sergeants lifted his head from behind a fallen ash tree, but Jon waved him back down frantically. The soldier ducked his head, but in his haste, he smashed it against a branch that jutted out from the dead trunk, effectively knocking himself out. Great, Jon thought. Down another man.
The scouts hopped down from their perches and disappeared back around the corner. Rather than be relieved by their absence, Jon was even more nervous and desperate. When scouts leave, armies aren’t very far behind. His troop was doomed.
Unless . . . Jon scanned the valley. Was there something that could be used as a weapon? He looked upward, immediately spotting the answer. At least a dozen large, jagged boulders perched precariously at the top of one particular cliff. Quickly, he stood and whispered fiercely, “I need a score of strong soldiers! Render,” he called to his chief lieutenant. “Pick twenty of your choice and follow me!”
Soon, they were standing above the rest of the troop, and above the quickly approaching enemy force. Their red helmet plumes could be seen about half a mile off, approaching the pass. “They should choose a different color,” Jon muttered. He gestured to the boulders. Now that he was on the same level as them, there were twice as many of them than he had first reasoned. “Men, do you each think that you could successfully move one of these and send it tumbling down into the ranks of the foe?”
“Aye, sir!” they chorused quietly. Jon nodded.
“Good. Now, each of you set your back to a stone, and be ready to push at my call.” As this pass between the mountains was the only way on the east side into Jon’s country, he planned to push the boulders into the narrowest point here and, as well as destroying a good portion of their troops, efficiently block the enemy from passing by. If they tried to get through, Jon’s archers could just pick them off from up here.
We just might make it, he thought.
Ten more minutes passed, and the foreign troops had almost reached the point underneath the cliff. “Ready, men!” Render and his chosen soldiers braced their backs against their stones. Closer, closer . . . Jon thought. Finally, the enemy was in place. “NOW!” the captain yelled.
Twenty two boulders came crashing down with tremendous force, followed by larger pieces of rock and other debris that they knocked loose. They were immediately followed by cries of outrage and pain from below. The rocks were still falling, and when Jon looked over the edge, he saw that the smaller stones had shot in all directions and were slicing into the ranks of the other troops. “It worked!” he laughed, then turned to another soldier. “Sergeant Clipton! Go fetch the archers, as fast as possible!” Jon ordered.
The man saluted. “Yes sir!” He took off towards the path down from the cliffside.
By the time he returned with twoscore more men, the enemy had reformed and were ready to proceed. “Quick! Shoot! Cause confusion!” Jon ordered. Each man took a knee and drew back, waiting for command. “Fire at will! No need for commands!”
Arrows flew thick and fast, each hitting home and driving the foreign men back. As each man climbing the boulders fell, he took at least another or two men with him. Soon, a commander had to call the retreat. The red plumes receded back around the pass’s corner.
Ten minutes passed. Then another five. Then ten more. Finally, Jon had been convinced that the enemy wasn’t coming back, so he whooped. Then slapped a hand over his mouth. Still keeping it there, he waved his men back in the direction of the main camp, to tell his commander how two hundred men held the pass against . . . “Aargh!” one of his men screamed. Two black arrows showed sprouting out of his chest.
For not the first time in his life, Jon was too stunned to think. Until three arrows entered his body at the same time.
The first killed him.
I love fiction, fantasy, roleplaying, and reading. Nice to meet you too. All of my tales are little kid-friendly, except perhaps a few stories in the Rogue Captain universe. Those are more geared towards teens. Check with your parents, just in case.