I didn’t take as long to write this one as previously. I decided I needed to shrink my scope and try and think of something I could actually finish in the hour I’ve got. The effect was that I finished early. I don’t think it’s quite where I wanted it but it isn’t bad for what it is.
Inspiration for this story came from several sources. Today I recieved the new album by Shropshire folk band Whalebone, Runes, which is awesome, and it was as I was listening to the third track, Entangled, that I got the mood of the piece. Also recently I have finally watched Game of Thrones (never did get into the books, despite several attempts) and found myself rather liking the complexity of the character Jaime Lannister, aka the Kingslayer, who killed the mad old king in the wars 17 years before the events of Game of Thrones, saving lives, but is disliked because he broke oaths to the king and literally stabbed the mad old bastard in the back. Finally, I wanted to ask a question and then answer it with this story.
So here’s the story that I’ve written today that comes from those inspirations:
It was meant to be just a quiet evening with a drink and some roast pig down the Weeping Crown, like so many others. He’d sit alone in the corner, order the same as he always did, pay and eat and drink and watch the life going on around him, and then go home.
“You’re him, aren’t you?”
But there were travellers from King’s Citadel. One of the three knights had spoken, but there were enough regular soldiers to fill the inn, and they were all looking at him.
“It’s Cobb the Backstabber!” the knight announced to the room. The regulars hunched over their pints or edged outside.
“Hey, now, I’ll have no trouble in my inn or you’ll be paying for it,” shouted Nae, the landlady, from behind the bar.
“No trouble, lady,” the knight called out, without looking away from the lone old man in the corner, before dropping his voice and returning his attention to Cobb. “It is you, isn’t it. You betrayed Marne of Golden Tears and Hursh the Strong. You led them to their deaths so you could take the credit for saving us all from the Smoke Beasts.”
“Hey, you.” Nae said. She’d come out from behind the bar and positioned herself almost between the knight and Cobb. “I think it’s time you left my inn.”
Nae wasn’t a woman to argue with. She wasn’t a large lady, but she was strong and there was steel in her voice that would have made her the best drill sergeant in the army had she joined. The knight backed down.
“I hope it was worth it,” he sneered as he led his compatriots and followers out.
Cobb hunched over his bowl of roast pork and didn’t look up. He knew Nae was looking at him, could feel her standing there until she finally moved away.
Was it worth it? In betraying his friends he’d found another way to win the war, using them as bait. Marne had always believed she could win with a frontal assault, never thought she could be beaten, and never let anyone dare question her. Maybe if he’s been more convincing with his plan, Cobb could have found a way to trick the Emperor which didn’t mean leading Marne and Hursh into a trap, but what was done was done. In the end, the Emperor had been defeated by Cobb’s cunning and not by Marne’s skill or Hursh’s strength or the army of peasants that followed them.
But what was left? Cobb was the hero everyone hated because of how he’d won. He’d betrayed his friends, got them and their little army killed. He’d broken oaths, given the Emperor information that led to more deaths.
And he was left unwelcome, an outcast, despised more than the Emperor he’d helped bring down. For two decades he’s struggled. He’d fought those out to kill him for justice or revenge. He’d lost everything he’s once had. Marne and Hursh were the least of it. His family had turned against him, fearing his dishonour would taint them. His wife Geri had taken their daughters and left, and he’d never found out where. They’d be grown adults now, young women starting out in life, and he’d never seen a day of it since Geri had left.
Bounty hunters had pursued him and even killed those who had helped or sheltered him. He’d had to leave not only his home but his country, but even the remotest villages of the five kingdoms had proven nor far enough. Yet there were still who hadn’t forgotten and wouldn’t forgive him. He’d killed the Emperor for them, banished the army of Smoke Beasts that ravaged the lands and kept the Emperor young, and they wanted him dead because the doomed had still died.
“Was it worth it?” he asked his rapidly cooling roast pork.
And yet… here was the world. Crops grew, children laughed, people ate pig and drank beer. There were no Shadow Beasts snatching people from their beds and their shops and right off the streets, drinking the blood of the innocent and guilty alike to prolong the life of an Emperor who demanded taxes few could pay if they were to afford to feed themselves and their families, who favoured a rich few and let the rest be vanished by beings formed of dark magic and death.
It was a better life, a better existence. Fear all but gone, and yes, there were the wars between the kings over territory and power and the most fertile lands and the best mines, but hardly anyone just vanished any more, never to be seen again, for no reason. The dangers that remained were solid and human and could be fought or appeased.
It was a better life, for those who had survived. And all Cobb had had to sacrifice was two hundred men armed with farming implements, his two best friends, and his own happiness.
Cobb looked up around the inn’s tap room. The familiar regulars had returned and were once more drinking and talking. Nae pulled a pint, joking with her customer.
Yes, it was worth it.