A Knight's Tale
By The Man
During the war
There it goes again: the battle call. I'm out there with Cyrus and the rest before I know what I'm doing. I should be swinging my broadsword around like a maniac, but I'm not. Not with a bad-ass knight like Cyrus covering me, his sword lancing our enemies like a whirlwind of steel and blood.
I look to my right, at Glenn, then to my left, at James, then behind me at Rick, Greg, and Joshua. All with our swords slicing and dicing up any whom come near us. We are one bad-to-the-bone squad. Trained and hardened to kill anything non-human without hesitation or remorse.
I look back and see Rick about to get ambushed by a Grimalkin. I'm there before anyone can blink and a few seconds later I have its blood on my sword and his carcass lying at my feet.
Then, they come. Jugglers, twenty of them, who are immune to nearly every one of our attacks. They hover in front of us like specters from Hell. There is a thin layer of silence around us. It's one of those horrible frozen moments. Nobody makes a sound. There's that smell in the air that seeps out of a creature's skin when it knows it's about to die.
Then black-clad Cyrus breaks the ice with a slash like rolling thunder from his flaming red sword. A juggler falls from Cyrus' blow and the shit hits the fan. Blasts of fire and water and lightning burn the air around us and I smell blood. The blood of my comrades, their chests being ripped open by white fire and icy blasts of water. Swords flash, sparks fly, making ear-piercing sounds, accompanied by screams of pain and rage and fear. The ground turns a murky red color, my comrades blood mixed with those of our foes.
Cyrus gets a free moment and calls to me. "Go around back and flank them!"
I don't need to be told twice. I run strait through the trees, moving like a serpent rushing its victim. The branches snap at my face like gnarled hands aiming to tear off my nose, but I pay them no mind. My breath billows out of me in rapid succession and I feel sweat drip down my face. I look over to my left, out of the woods and see a juggler flanked by two outlaws only about five yards away. I'm just about to leap out at them when I see a flash of steel and I feel pain on my chest. As I fall, I can already see the Free Lancer standing over me, his blade red with my blood. I lie there grimacing as I feel my blood pouring out of my armor. My head is swimming with thoughts I had long forgotten, my heart is pounding like a drum. It rings in my ears so loud everything else is drowned out by it. I look up and see my assailant drawing back his sword for the killing blow.
Once again I see the beautiful, elegant flash of steel, only it isn't my attacker. A knight's broadsword has jutted out of its chest. It points out of him, now a shade of dark blue, not allowing it to fall. It stands there, pinned like a butterfly in a collection, oozing blood all over the ground. Finally, the sword is quickly pulled out of him and he falls, smashing his head on an upturned root of a tree. I catch a brief glimpse of Glenn standing tall over the dead Free Lancer, his sword dripping with its blood before I black out
Matthew Ghayns sat up gasping for air. He was wet from head to foot with sweat, matting his blonde hair back on his head. He looked around in wild shock, finally coming to the conclusion that he had fallen asleep on his couch. It was already sunset, he saw looking out at the orange and red sky. A dream again. Always that dream.
"Get a grip, Matt, ol' buddy." He said through gasps. "It was just a dream. That all happened a long time ago in the War."
He looked down at the book that sat beside him. He picked it up and felt the smooth leather cover with the tips of his fingers. It was titled Evermore. It was about a mountain climber, and he remembered he had just gotten to the part where the climber meets a yeti
Matt looked up just as his son Jack walked in the door. Jack resembled his father in nearly every way, save that he was only seventeen and not nearly as muscular as Matt. Other than that, he had the same blonde hair that hung over his eyes, he had the same charming face, and the same sky blue eyes. He did, however, have on a Royal Guardia suit of armor, which cased his whole body, save for his head.
"Hey, Jack." Matthew said, forcing a smile, knowing full well what was coming next. "What's new?"
"Well," Jack said putting on his charming grin. "I'm going to be turning eighteen next month, so if you'll just sign the papers, I can enlist in the Guardia army."
Matthew leaned forward and sighed, a deep, depressing sigh. "I told you we would talk about this, Jack. I don't think you have any idea what being a knight is really all about."
"You did it!" Jack exploded. "Were you any better or smarter than me?"
"I was pretty stupid back then and didn't realize it until way later." Matthew countered.
"Dad, I've got the armor. I've got the sword. And I got the courage to endure it." Jack raged. "Why won't you let me do it?!"
"Because Jack, you " Matthew dropped his head with a sigh. Then he looked right into his son's eyes.
"Because you are only about eighteen, Jack. And reasons why this country even let's kid your age carry swords is beyond me. I was lucky enough to escape the War of the Mystics. I don't want to see my only son die in battle."
Both father and son fell silent for a few minutes.
Finally, Matthew stood and walked over to Jack.
"Look. Why don't you write to my war buddy Glenn." Matt said calmly. "He can tell you better than anyone I know."
Jack looked up into his father's eyes.
"Will you take the word of a real warrior?" Matt asked.
Jack sigh. "Okay. But I doubt anything he says will change my mind."
Matthew put a hand on Jack's shoulder. "Give it a chance, Jack."
Matt turned to leave for his room.
"Hey, dad." Jack called behind his back, causing Matt to turn and face him.
"What should I address it?" Jack asked.
Matt blinked. "Just send it to "The Frog in the Cursed Woods."
The Cursed Woods
The Cursed Woods look as crummy as ever, the boy thought as he entered the dense forest. He glanced around at the wet leaves on the trees, the grimy grass, and the pus-colored bushes. The putrid smell of rot entered his nostrils and he almost gagged onto the ground. Gathering his nerves, he walked forward, readjusting the sack on his back. He kept scanning the trees, expecting something to run out and eat him.
He was only about twenty, no more, and had the spirit of youthful happiness welling inside him, however well hidden it was now. He had gotten the job as a mail carrier months ago, mostly as a grand scheme to see the land beyond his home, San Dorino. Now he wished he could go home for good.
Suddenly, a small, reddish frog leapt out from a scraggly, gnarled bush and slammed into his leg, sending him sprawling on the sticky ground. He looked up just as the frog bloated itself with its acids. And just before it released it all, a broadsword slammed strait into its head, instantly killing it. The boy looked up and his savior and met eyes with a four foot frog, dressed in a skintight garment and a blackish, flowing cape.
"Thou should know better than to enter these woods, lad." The frog croaked. He spotted the boy's bag. "What hast thou have there? Letters?"
The boy quickly stood, but was shaky on his feet, constantly wobbling. "M-mail c-carrier sir. I-I have a letter f-f-for you." He finally stuttered out. The sight of a walking, talking, blade-wielding frog wasn't ver common. He reached into his sack and after a minute or so of rummaging around, protruded a letter still crisp wrapped in a fine, black lace.
Frog took the letter slowly with a look of mild surprise on his face. "A letter for me? Hmm how unusual. Well, you'd best be off, lad. These woods are dangerous, not the type for a boy your age to be wand'ring in."
With that, the boy ran off as fast as his legs would carry him with the heavy sack of letters on his back. Once he was out of sight, Frog pulled the Masamune out of the dead creature and wiped its remains on the ground. Then, he turned on his heels and walked back to his home, already unraveling the letter. The letter went like this:
Dear Glenn, Knight of Guardia,
"A pitifully bad title, I'm afraid." He sighed. He read on.
You don't know me, but I'm the son of Matthew Ghayns, who served with you in the war against the Mystics. Matt asked me to write to you because I want to join the elite Knights of Guardia.
Dad just doesn't know what its like to eighteen nowadays. He doesn't know what its like in school and on the streets. Nobody goes to school to learn anymore. They're all just passing through the system like something indigestible in your gut. Honor and duty have recently become jokes. Nobody believes in them. Everybody just seems concerned with only themselves and no one else. So what's wrong with wanting to be a knight?
It seems like after the war ended, we are left with nothing but taverns and grimy hands. I walk through the streets each day and see former soldiers making fools of themselves by getting drunk, womanizing, and brawling. I see these men, who are supposedly the role models of everyone and the paragons of virtue being led off to jail for the most heinous crimes and not one of them exhilarating the slightest bit of remorse!
Glenn was inside his house now and sat down at his table. He was unaware of these factors, being so secluded.
If I remember my history right, your buddy, Cyrus tried to save you and the entire kingdom by facing the immensely powerful wizard Magus with his bare hands. What is wrong with aspiring for that sense of honor? What's wrong with wanting higher glory than personal wealth? What's wrong with seeking adventure in the defense of democratic ideals?
Frog put the letter down and thought for a minute. He had been a soldier since he was no more than eighteen as well. But look how he turned out
Frog got up and scrounged around for some paper, eventually finding some and a quill and ink. He brought it all back to the table and began to write.
There is no honor or glory in the primary occupation of the knight. There are only "long stretches of interminable boredom punctuated by flurries of pure terror. There is no winning.
Ask anyone who has sat benumbed in the aftermath of battle surrounded by stinking, ragged wet bodies of comrades hastily blasted with white fire assailed by the unearthly screams of the maimed.
You talk about glory, and I suppose you mean heroism, and all the accolades that adorn it. I've known some real heroes in my time, but pitifully few of them were the kind that could lead a knot of soldiers into a band of Jugglers.
Take Richard Demsnone. He was in Cyrus' team with your father and I, among others. One day he got a letter from his mom. She said his younger brother had just graduated from basic training and graduated at the top of his group in swordplay, giving him honors for the elite Knights of the Square Table. Rick's wartime was due up in a few months.
He was in one hell of a fix. His brother was now eligible to be put in the war. Rick wanted to go home more than anything in the world. Instead, he re-upped and extended his tour so that he could protect him, hopefully.
Two weeks later, we all walked into that stinking valley where Rick got wasted. He didn't look all that heroic when he died. He just looked surprised.
Joshua Habecker had a tight fix, too. He had less than two months before he could go home. His letter was also from his mother. Josh's dad was in the hospital and needed a healer. They didn't have the gold. The king was offering a cash re-up back then; you signed up for four years, and they gave you down payment on a new inventory. Or a few tonics and potions, in this case.
Josh was getting kind of burnt by then. He had the dreads before nearly every mission and puked it all out. But he did his job. We all knew he would never let the team down.
So Josh signed up and got his bonus and extended time. His dad died in the hospital.
His mom sort of went nuts after that. Now with her son being stuck in combat for another four years. We all knew that Josh could have got a "compassionate," but he felt like he made a deal, and he was going to stick with it. He had this sense of honor, you see. He was doing his job, running to outflank the enemy when that lightning bolt fried him.
Greg Jiovanide didn't join up for honor, glory, or adventure. He was just trying to get away from the mean streets of San Dorino, the same streets which had already claimed his two older brothers. He was determined that his mom would not worry about him and he went to elaborate means to deceive her. He had a cousin in the blacksmith's department in Chorus.
Greg had him take out a post office box there for him and all his mother's letters went there, where she thought her last son had a safe job in a small town. The cousin rerouted all the mail to Guardia Castle and back.
We used to sit around with him in our quarters and help him make up this whole fairy tale. He couldn't understand how some other guys could write to their own mothers and tell them what it was like over there. He couldn't understand how anybody could have joined up for the war thinking it would be a great adventure.
To him, a great adventure would have been to tool around in Chorus, tasting the local beers.
James Habbens wasn't out for glory, honor, or adventure either. He came from a long line of warriors. They saw a real cut-em'-up war as a sort of graduate school for their prize pupil.
The Knights' line of duty is the best school you can get for "dash and slash." You get real good at killing without remorse. You get real tough. You get real paranoid.
Out there on the bloody, stinking battlefield, not enough sleep, itching, aching, guts in constant upheaval, perpetually in a state of quasi-hallucination, you start thinking you are some sort of phantom, an invisible wraith slithering along the ground. That's what you do, if you survive long enough.
You get through it on sheer badness, and if you don't simply blow your own mind, you get real good at appearing normal to everyone else back in the world.
But inside you are still a big bad, Mystic killer, slithering along the battlefields of the rest of the world.
You are one tightly wound, super-crazy psycho killer who desperately needs the strict discipline of a warrior environment to cool you out and keep the devils in check.
And me. I'm still searching for my reasons. I came home after my run-in with Magus and everything I had was gone. People spat at me on the streets and called me a freak. I tried making a new start in the Guardia army. That was a disaster.
I went to lose myself in these woods, just brooding and thinking, mostly about myself, which is always a subject that leads to trouble. It tends to put the center of the universe in the wrong place. Crono, Marle and Lucca found me and took me back into the fight against Lavos, which I'm sure you know about.
Do you want to know what I look like? I'm a frog, a bloody, four foot walking talking frog! Magus murdered Cyrus and humiliated me by turning me into a human/frog thing! Because of honor and glory, I am doomed to live out the rest of my life as an inhuman beast.
I could never shut out the hateful screams of people as they mocked me in public. They would taunt me, belittle me, beat me, and usually I was the one chased off by the local law enforcers.
One time, I had just survived another severe beating. My right arm was broken in two places, my ribs were cracked fatally and I was leaking blood badly. I saw an officer pass right in front of me. I held out my good arm in a pitiful pleading gesture. He turned and looked at me. I almost thought he was going to help me. Instead, he spat in my eye and walked away without further ado.
You know, I never did get a welcome home party or celebration or anything when I came back from some horrible place, stinking of burned flesh, blood and sweat. Just as well. I tend to make people uncomfortable.
If you are going to be a Knight, don't expect to be appreciated. Don't expect a kingdom to be grateful. Expect to see the worst humanity has to offer; nastiness, vileness, total despicable cruelty and unspeakable inhumanity.
Expect to see the best humanity has to offer; selfless bravery, compassion, honor, and dignity in the face of sure death.
After all this discouragement, do I have any regrets about being a warrior? Not a one. I had the privilege and honor of serving with men and women whom I could depend on utterly. I have had comrades lay down their lives for me, and I would have gladly laid down mine for them. How many other occupations engender such camaraderie?
But then, this "bearing of arms in the defense of the constitution of the Kingdom of Guardia" is not a profession, per se
It is a trust.
His last name. That had just come back to him. He looked around his small hole of a home and noticed he had no kind of reflective surface of any kind. Was he really as inhuman as he thought he was?
"Inhuman monsters are not as compassionate as you are, Glenn."
"That's what they all say." Replied Glenn before realizing he was talking to another.
It was a Nu, standing right in front of the latter that led to the surface.
"What dost thou wanst with me?" Glenn asked in a grave voice, his hand easing to the Masamune at his hip.
"You are needed, Glenn." The Nu said simply.
Glenn didn't know what to say. "I have to deliver a letter."
"I'll take care of that." Said the Nu. "Now off you go."
Suddenly, Glenn fell backward right into a blue gate. It shut behind him as quickly as it had appeared.
" Sincerely, Glenn Amadoran."
Jack stared at the letter he held in his hand with a relaxed sort of astonishment. He heard footsteps and looked up to see his father standing there, looking at him.
"You never told me what it was like dad. You never told me about the war." Jack said softly.
Matthew sighed. "There are some things, son, that we simply have to put behind us. Look, if you are still intent on signing up, even after reading that letter, I'll sign the papers."
Jack stood up and looked into his father's eyes. He looked at his boots. "I need to think about this a little more, dad."
Matthew put a hand on Jack's shoulder. "That is always the best course of action, Jack. You just think about it as long as you want."
Late that evening, Jack Ghayns was sitting on the southernmost ledge of the continent, the letter held in his hand. He had read and reread it more times than he could care to count since he had first received it. Glenn was a frog. The logic simply did not make sense in Jack's head, but why would this warrior lie?
Jack heard footsteps walking briskly towards him. In a lightning quick motion, he was on his feet with his sword drawn and staring at the stranger.
"Whoa! Slow down there, blade-boy. I'm not going to murder you."
It was a girl's voice. She was slender and pale-skinned. She wore a dark cloak over her sleeveless shirt and red trousers. But this girl also had her blood red hair in a ponytail that could not hide her elongated ears.
"Mystic." Jack twisted the name like it was a horrible disease.
"Very good, genius." She said, looking down.
"And on this continent." Jack growled "I should hack you up where you stand. Believe me I know how!"
"I'm not going to hurt you!" she screamed as she looked up again with tears in her eyes. Jack realized she had to be at least two years younger than he was.
"What's your problem, anyway?! You'd think I was Magus or something!" She said.
Jack looked down. "I'm sorry." He looked up again. "Uh, what do you want?"
"I just wanted to watch the sunset without being killed, that's all." She quipped.
Jack sheathed his sword and sat down, still looking at her. "You can sit down if you want."
She did and for a while, neither of them spoke. The sun finally went down and it began to get colder and darker.
"So, you got a name?" Jack asked casually.
"My name is Minka." She said quietly.
"Mine is Jack Ghayns." They shook hands without smiling.
"A letter from someone?" Minka asked.
Jack realized he was still holding his letter from Glenn. "Oh. Yeah, uh, well, you see " He took a deep breath. "I wanted to join the forces of Guardia, but my old man was against it. So I wrote to this guy telling him about this ambition of mine and this is his letter back."
"May I read it?" asked Minka.
He handed her the letter and she took about five minutes reading it. "Very well-written. I met this frog guy once, briefly."
"Is he really a frog?" Jack wondered aloud.
"He is." She replied. She handed him his letter.
"I'm not sure about this whole thing." Jack said. "Can it really be as bad as this frog guy describes?"
Minka placed a hand on his left shoulder. "I can tell you this, Jack. If you sign up, they will train you to kill Mystics like me without remorse. Question yourself if you want to kill someone as innocent as I am. What will you do if they ever force you to do something like that and you will be openly willing to do it?"
Minka looked out over the cold ocean. "I'm going home." She stood up. "See you around, blade-boy."
Then she left. Jack sat there for only a minute. Then he stood up. He unsheathed his sword and held it in front of his face. It did not shine the way it did the day he bought it.
Jack pulled back his arm and flung the ugly blade with all his might out into the icy waters. He was well on his way when the blade splashed into the water. He never looked back.
*Adopted from former comic book series, "G.I. Joe, issue #155."
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