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The Guardsman


The docks were crowded this day, like every other day. Sailors repaired ships, passengers boarded ferries, and the ever-present porters continued to heave and grunt as they labored to load and unload the frigates docked along the spidery lengths of the shipyard. And in the midst of the fray, a peculiar elven boy stood among the lines of porters. His clothing was drenched in sweat, and his shoulders sore from hours of work. Though he seemed merely a boy of seventeen summers, (in truth, he was in his sixties) he already towered a full head over most humans around him. His features, tanned by weeks of work, were sharp like many other elves. Unkempt sandy, blonde hair fell over his light blue eyes. The boy was slender and apparently weaker than the humans were. Yet, the features that drew the most attention, were the boy's long, slender, delicate elven ears that tapered finely into sharp points well above his head. The boy, Abel, gritted his teeth as he carefully lifted one hand from under the heavy sack of grain, that he carried upon his shoulder, to wipe the sweat beading along his forehead. He quickly replaced his hand upon the sack of grain, least he drop the package. A shout of complaint from the supervisor behind forced young Abel to hasten his pace to close the gap between him and the porter ahead. Sore and tired, Abel continued as he had all the other days before. "Damned sun, always too hot," Abel squinted as he approached the massive frigate docked along one of the piers. Waves of heat distorted the shape of the ship, and Abel groaned at the thought of the other three frigates he must load before the day's end. "Damned sandals, porters can't even buy decent footwear," the boy grumbled under his breath as he shifted the weight of the single bag of grain upon his shoulder. The man in front of Abel groaned and paused a moment to scratch his side, almost slamming his elbow into Abel's belly. "Hey watch it," Abel shouted and took a step back running into the man behind him. "Boy - you had better watch where you are headed," snapped the porter behind Abel before shoving the boy back into place. "What is going on up there? Abel? You again? I swear you are almost good for nothing!" Abel dared not turn and look at his screaming supervisor but instead continued walking. "Why am I even here in this city," the boy groaned the question silently under his breath. He had originally come to this city for work as a guard. Stories had been told of the valor of the guard, and those tales had been alluring enough to draw this young, adventurous elf out from the forests. Unfortunately, Abel's talent was not as well perceived as he had imagined... * * * The captain of the guard looked up from his desk at the young elf. "What in gods name do you want, elfling?" A nearby guard snickered, glancing to the elf, as he handed the captain a stack of papers. The captain snatched the report from the man and quickly read over its contents before turning to the elf again with a look of sheer amusement. "Join the guard? You want to join the guard?" The elf, Abel, opened his mouth to answer but was instead cut off by the laughter of both the captain and his fellow guardsman. Abel grumbled under his breath and spoke loud enough to be heard, "Yes I want to join the guard, sir." The captain scratched his bushy mustache and quelled his laughter, "Oh come now, you are just a boy and look at yourself!" The captain turned his attention to the nearby guard, "Come now Gustave, tell me if this elf can even handle a blade?" Abel growled in frustration; cutting of Gustave, "I can handle my sword well enough!" It took him less than a heartbeat to realize what he had said and how these simple-minded men could contrive a second meaning. As Abel had feared, both the guardsman paused a moment and exchanged glances. Their lips curved upward in a smile before roaring with laughter. There was no getting around this apparently. The elf clenched his fists and tried not to scream at the men, but his patience was quickly drawing thin. How dare these men insult him in such a way when he was almost twice their senior! Damn humans. "Look you baffoons! You have not even seen me wield a blade yet, and you already judge me!" The captain cut short his laughter and his face darkened in response to Abel's words, "Look here boy, the guard will not stand for such attitude, sorry to say but you aren't cut out to be one of us." * * * "One of us, oh such an attitude," Abel growled under his breath as he picked up another barrel of imported lard from the mainland. "Damned guards, how am I to prove to them how good I am?" He sighed and walked out of the shadows of the warehouse. Outside, the glaring sun had been replaced by a smear of gray clouds. Abel looked up at the sky questioningly, "Least the sun is finally gone..." His voice trailed, finding it rather odd that the colds appeared out of nothing. As he rounded the corner of the warehouse, it suddenly struck him that the porters that were in front of him were no longer present. In fact, the entire wharf, which had once been filled by a drone of conversation, was suddenly replaced by the broken chorus of screaming and running. Abel stopped in his tracks as his gaze slowly traveled to the cause of the terror, a twenty-foot reptilian creature standing upon the remains of a few sailors and the wreckage of their ship. The porters behind him quickly discovered the beast and did not waste a second in their flight, leaving their cargo spilt across the ground behind the shocked elf. Horns sounded in the distance as the city guards were summoned to the docks. Within seconds only Abel, the wounded, and the lizard (who was busy making a meal of those under its feet) remained. The guard, soon after, arrived upon their handsome horses. With one quick glance at the beast, they were galloping away in fear; screaming aloud that the devils of hell had come to kill them all. "To the fort, to the fort!" someone cried. It was with that voice that Abel finally snapped out of his shock and turned to run; dropping his barrel of lard. The substance splattered over the area, drawing the attention of the beast. The crashing footsteps of the beast headed in the elf's direction sent Abel sprinting - into the slick of animal fat that his companions had discarded. Abel slid and wriggled desperate for footing. "Please Earthly Mother, I swear that if I survive this I'll -", his prayer was cut short as the beast let loose a shrill roar of glee as it breathed in a breath and released a stream of fire over the lard which caught aflame. Abel turned to look and scrambled frantically; finally getting to his feet as the flames licked dangerously close to him, "Ahhh! I swear I will pay homage every day!" The elf zoomed down the road towards the fort with the beast, snorting fire, close at his heels. The fort was not far from the docks, and Abel reached it quickly. At the beast's approach the people around the building quickly rushed in and closed the doors before Abel could enter. "What are you doing? Let me in!" Pound, pound, and finally the door opened a crack and Abel met face to face with the captain of the guard. The creature now was busy eating some unlucky person it had accidentally run into in its pursuit of Abel. Thus, the beast left the elf some time to bargain for sanctuary within the fort. "Oh it's you boy, sorry but there isn't any space." "Are you crazy let me in! What am I going to do out here!" The captain eyed Abel a moment and finally smiled opening the door wide enough for him to reach out and shake Abel's reluctant hand. "Son, may I congratulate you, you are now a guard!" Abel's mouth dropped. "Here you are boy," the captain speaking hurriedly took off his tabard, put it onto Abel, and shoved his sword into the elf's hands before shutting and bolting the door. "You bastard! Let me in!" Abel kicked at the door, but his motions were cut short as the beast let loose a loud cry a few yards behind Abel (apparently the beast was done with its snack). The elf turned around quickly and drew the sword, holding it in his trembling hands. For a brief moment it seemed that the beast was surprised that such a little creature would rise against it, but the moment was cut short by Abel's feeble battle cry as he charged the creature (hoping that it would run away like most other "animals"). Of course, the creature just watched in amusement as the sword bounced off its hide before rearing back its head and roaring quite menacingly. Abel turned and ran. "Ahhhhh!" Abel ran past the dark alley; soon followed by the loud stomps of the creature. A figure slowly poked his pale face out of the dark corners to watch the two run down the road. Suppressing a chuckle, the black-garbed necromancer finally stepped out onto the road. "This could prove interesting." The man chuckled and slipped in the shadows he commanded, moving after the two. Abel was backed up against a wall swinging the captain’s sword madly at the creature. The reptile, more bored than hungry saw fit to torment the little elf by attempting to squash him. "Help," Abel cried out to no one in particular, "someone help!" It was then that the necromancer appeared out of the shadows grinning to Abel, who jumped here and there, barely dodging the blows from the beast. "Be needing help there, good sir?" The necromancer spoke in a very low monotone, but Abel heard. "Get rid of this damned thing!" "Is there a please involved?" The mage was actually surprised that the elf conveyed some form of trust to him. "Please!" "Ahh, well you hang on there." The necromancer pulled out his black bound book and began to flip through it. Abel now was running out of places to move as the beast was slowly herding the tired elf towards a corner. "Hurry up!" "Patience is a virtue." "Are you crazy! I am about to get eaten, patience is not a virtue!" Abel swung the sword at the beast, nicking it the nose and drawing blood. The creature reared back in anger and reached down to crush the elf that attempted to jump back but found a wall blocking his path. Abel cowered, believing this to be the end of his existence. "Ahh here we are." The necromancer looked up and snapped his finger, "allizdoG!" There was a roar of pain from the beast as it compressed and transformed into a rabid bunny. Abel in panic quickly eviscerated the rabbit with his blade. The elf looked at the necromancer with wide eyes, "Sir I don't know how to thank you!" "Oh don't mention it, I have to do some good deeds here and there." The necromancer leaned against the wall of a building, hidden partially by the shadows. Before Abel could speak another word to the dark man, a loud cheer erupted from the road as the town-folk rushed down the street to Abel. "You've saved us all," the captain of the guard cried out and quickly reached out to shake the elf's hand. "You've saved us from that creature, I was wrong to have doubted you!" "Well, actually I -" Abel feeling a bit awkward at receiving the misplaced compliment tried to explain but was cut short. "That man! It's the necromancer!" The captain turned away from Abel as the guardsmen within the crowd quickly drew their swords to engage the dark mage. "Ah, the gratitude." The mage laughed softly to himself and finally turned to Abel. "Things are not always as they seem, boy." The mage nodded to the reptile that apparently was just a rabid bunny. "Don't fool yourself into something that you know was false to begin with." The guardsmen moved in to attack, but the mage was already gone. Abel stood there, thinking about the mage's words. Then he smiled, the guard, what courage? It was just a bunch of pompous men dressed in wonderful livery. The crowd slowly calmed down and turned to the captain and Abel. "So what will it be? Join us?" The captain grinned widely. Abel smiled in return, took off the tabard, and wrapped it around the captain's sword. He handed it back to the man and soberly spoke, "I came seeking courage, but you have shown me none."



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Thanks to Glenn Teoh for this contribution!

 


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