Allister removed his armor and laid it by his sword. He let out a deep sigh as he gazed around the small hut. They weren't the best accommodations, but they would do for tonight. He shouldn’t be complaining anyway, he was one of the lucky ones.
King Harrod of Heraclete had sent many of his best knights off to war with the neighboring kingdom of Droville. It was a suicide mission, very likely to end in slaughter, but the knights marched off dutifully. After all, to sacrifice life and limb for your king is the job of every good knight.
Luckily for Allister, the king ordered him to patrol the border. There were fifty of them spread across the kingdom. Each cottage had two knights performing alternating patrols. Though the attack itself was pretty much doomed to fail, the court officials were certain Droville wouldn’t retaliate. Their king was far busier with his personal affairs than retaliation against what he considered a “minor kingdom.”
Insults such as this were the exact reason King Harrod was attacking them. Heraclete wasn’t the richest or the most advanced, but it had honor, traditions, and a sense of pride. All of which were constantly mocked and demeaned by Droville’s king. Even if their attack would only inconvenience Droville, King Harrod felt it worth doing to send a message. They were not a kingdom that would be walked over. They would stand and fight at any cost. Even their own men. After all, to defend the honor of your kingdom is the job of every good knight.
Allister’s partner for this patrol was Darby. He was a young man, newly knighted. Allister had been the boy’s mentor when he was a mere squire. Darby happily volunteered to take the night patrol this evening. Allister remembered what it was like to be that young. Eager to do good in his kingdom, to serve his king, to make a name for himself. Allister still felt this way, of course, but somewhere along the way, the passion had disappeared. He saw a future for himself outside of the knighthood now.
He thought back to his times as a boy on his father’s farm. Chickens and grains. They weren’t very rich, but it was an honest living, a happy one. His life was full of simple joy then. Nothing made him happier as a boy than finding a well-hidden egg or chewing on a stalk of wheat as he reaped the season’s harvest. Boys become men all too quickly.
The promise of wealth and fame, the dream they dangled before the young boys of the village, that is what drew him to knighthood. But he was older now. He had a wife and four children, nearly grown. His responsibilities toward them were almost at an end and he once again longed for the peace of a simple life.
His retirement drew nearer every day. The king had offered him some good land and a generous satchel of gold for his years of service and loyalty. In a few seasons’ time, it would just be him and his wife in a cozy cottage on their farmland. The girls had good marriages arranged, a hefty dowry in place for each, and his son was already off earning his own fortune as a merchant. He had everything in order, only time stood in his way.
Allister heard the muffled clanking of Darby’s armor in the distance. Allister had no regrets about training Darby to take his place. The boy was capable, hard-working, and fully devoted to his kingdom. He was the first to volunteer when the king asked men to fight, but the king, in his wisdom, thought better than to send a fresh knight to such a bloody battle. Despite his minor disappointment of not being chosen, Darby intended to perform his assigned task to the best of his abilities. Allister was actually glad the king had assigned two men per patrol, Darby might patrol himself to death if left to his own devices. After all, to show unwavering vigilance in the performance of your duties was the job of every good knight.
Allister listened as the clanking of the armor drew closer. He glanced out the window, it wasn’t sunrise. Why was Darby returning so soon? Was there a problem?
His question was quickly answered as the door to the hut was kicked in. Several knights burst forth and wrestled Allister to a kneeling position in seconds. They had him trapped before he knew what happened. Another knight stepped through the door. His armor was more elegant, his face more weathered than the others, a true veteran. He bore the crest of Droville.
The man stepped forward and threw something at Allister’s feet. The horror-frozen face of Darby stared back at him from the floor. Allister felt himself gag at the sight. The veteran knight gave a woeful look.
“Poor boy, so young. He had potential,” he said, shaking his head. “We aren’t savages. We offered him a choice: we could render him unconscious and continue on our quest, or he would be killed. The fool tried to fight all seven of us.”
Allister didn’t speak. He couldn’t. Darby. Just a boy. The age of his own son. A good knight shows no weakness, but Allister felt tears welling in his eyes. The veteran knight leaned down to meet his eyes.
“As one weathered knight to another, I will be honest with you. Our king was not pleased when he got wind of your king’s plans for an attack. Your small army was quickly taken care of, but our king feels more of a lesson should be taught. What is a king who would send his own people to slaughter this way?” The veteran shook his head, disgusted. “He told us to kill the court of Heraclete, but leave the rest alive if possible. Offer them a choice. Your friend denied us, I encourage you to accept.”
Allister never took his eyes off Darby’s head. A small pool of blood was forming at the neck. Allister saw his reflection in it. His hair was graying, wrinkles were carved deep in his flesh, and the light his eyes once held had all but vanished. He saw his dreams again in the puddle. His wife by the fire, he in the field. Grandchildren to run around his land, excitedly showing him a well-hidden egg they discovered.
To sacrifice life and limb for your king is the job of every good knight. To defend the honor of your kingdom is the job of every good knight. To show unwavering vigilance in the performance of your duties is the job of every good knight. Darby was a good knight. Now his face stayed in a position of unwavering terror. What good could come of two dead knights? Allister lowered his head in submission.
The Droville knights released him. He didn’t move from his position. The veteran reached out and put his hand on Allister’s shoulder.
“You have made the wise choice today. Like me, I imagine you are not too far from your freedom. I am glad you will be alive to fully appreciate it,” the veteran said, his voice was that of a brother.
The veteran motioned to the knights and Allister felt a sharp pain on the back of his head. He fell forward onto the floor. His vision was fading quickly, but he saw as the veteran stood to leave. The last thing he saw was Darby’s eyes, staring into his. A good knight has many duties, if he is lucky he will live to tell of them. Only if he is lucky though. Allister didn’t regret the choice he made. Eventually, every good knight must come to an end.