Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Siege of the White Mountain Vol. 3: Due to the Dead--Part 28

Osric stared at the line of men advancing down the mountain path.  They were very menacing men, holding long spears with terrifying metal points that looked like they could punch through a man's armor, and then puch through the man wearing that armor.

"Perhaps," said the serjeant at his side, "we should start moving, sir."

"The Duke left us here to guard his retreat," declared Osric.  "We shall do so."

The serjeant nodded at that, and the men looked... worried, but willing to accept his rule.  In his heart, Osric found himself wishing that even one of them hard started a protest.  That would have given him an excuse to flee.  Instead, he would have to stay here, stay here as these men with sharp things closed on him.  He shuddered slightly.    "Cold out, isn't it?" said Osric with a laugh.  "I'm shivering.  It's that cold you see!"

"Not really," said the serjeant.

One of the men nodded.  "Fairly warm," he said.

"Oh, what are you talkin' about?" said another.  "I can see my breath."

"Well, I'm not saying it's a bleeding summer day!" noted the first.  "But compared to what we've been having it's fairly warm."  He gave an epic shrug.  "Why, I've half a mind to take off me cloak."  He coughed and gestured to the advancing soldiers.  "Except... you know..."

The men nodded.  The second man gave a snort.  "Oh, sure. Sure you would.  Except for those soldiers, you'd have your cloak off in a second.  You're that rugged."

"You know what?" bellowed the first.  "I'll do it anyway!"  He began to slide off his cloak.

"Please stop," said Osric quietly.

The man ignored him, and tossed off his cloak.  "There!  I'm standing here without my cloak!  And I'm FINE!"  He glared at the advancing soldiers.  "You here that you pike-holding bastards!  I'm FINE!"

"Those are partisans," said the second man.

"Oh--first, those are pikes!" snapped the first man.  "Second, IT DOESN'T MATTER!"

"Please stop," said Osric again, with a bit more force. This time, they did, but he rather got the idea it was more because they had realized that terrifying men were getting very dangerously close now.

"Perhaps now we should go," said the serjeant.

Osric started to say something, then stopped.  He wasn't brave man.  He knew that now.  He wasn't a bright man either.  He'd known that for years, but had hoped to get by.  And he was... starting to suspect he was not on the side of right and justice in this matter, in as much as such things existed. 

And that was a horrible thing to realize, even if you weren't entirely sure about it.

No, Osric was not a great man, not a man of note.  Just a man.  But... he was going to die soon.  He was sure of it, sure that he was running out of chances, that if not this time then the next, he was going to die.  And that being so, he wanted to die well.

He just... wasn't sure he could.

He heard a sweet song echoing in the trees.  Turning, he saw a brightly colored bird, chirping on a branch.  He stared at it idly.

It stared back.  And for the first time in his life, Osric felt he was being regarded by someone special, and most important of all, someone special who did not despise him.  If that bird stays, stays to watch, I'll stay here.  Stay here to die.

The bird took flight.  For a moment, Osric felt a sinking feeling in his stomach.  And then the bird flew over his head.  And towards the soldiers.  And then he knew what he had to do.

"Right," he said, drawing his sword.  "Well, the Duke asked us to guard his retreat, men.  We won't do that standing here.  At least--not well."  He spurred on his horse.

"Sir...?" said the serjeant.

"Come on men!" said Osric, his voice lifting. The words of his house, the old words, written on an old wooden shield came to him, words that had terrified him, as a boy, but now... now seemed almost cheering.  "You ride with a Ross!  And we say--to death undeserved, to glory unmarked, and to an unknown grave!" 

He rode forward towards the spears, and thought for a moment he rode alone.  But then he heard the hooves behind him, and heard the voices.  "Lord de Ross!  Lord de Ross!  Death, glory, and the grave!"  And Osric de Ross knew then for all his flaws, for all his failures, for this moment at least, he would stand with pride when he stood in the hall of his ancestors.

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