“I want to be a guardsman, sir!”
“Good. Oh, and don’t think I’ve forgotten about your punishment! We have a festival coming up tonight: something to take the townsfolk’s minds off all the, hmm, unpleasantries lately. Many of the other guardsmen will get leave, so, you, you will have to fill in for them — for the entire day, mind you.”
After hearing those words, you just feel like you want to die. Not only are you already exhausted, but you’ll have to stand guard for an entire day on top of that! “Where is my post, sir?” you ask wearily.
“It’s in the guard tower, near the baron’s estate. Go! Report for duty with the guardsmen present there and alleviate him of his shift.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll get going now.”
With those words, you depart from the chamber. The only thoughts on your mind are how much you hate your life at that moment. You regret not taking the path up the mountains. The old saying ended up being right after all: ‘The shortcut is the worst option.’
As you leave the guard’s barracks, you gaze up the hill towards the baron’s estate. Well, you think. Time to warm up the legs! So, you begin marching up the road with whatever energy you can muster. When you finally reach the gatehouse in front of the estate, you yell out, “Open the gate!”
“Open the damned gate!” you cry. Then, a head peaks out from behind the battlements.
“You’re the new guar, right?”
“Ha! They gave you the worst post from the start! Oh, don’t start. I’ll open the gate now.” The guard ducks back behind the battlement and after a few moments, the gate begins to open. You walk into the courtyard and proceed up to the guard tower. Its many flights of stairs are the bane of you, but gods forbid you fail to show up to your post now! When you finally reach the top, you are gasping for air. A guard eyes you from a few steps away, and after catching your breath, you tell him, “I’m here to take over your shift.”
“You’re the new guard, right? Well, good luck, this is the most boring post in the entire town. Nothing ever happens! If something does happen though, there’s a horn hanging from the nail on the beam over there. Blow on that, and the entire estate will be on its feet. Just keep in mind, if they find out you’re doing that for a laugh, they’ll throw you off the tower! Understood?”
With a sarcastic grin, he tells you, “Have fun!” and then descends down the way you came.
As the hours pass, you begin to come to truly understand why this is the worst post in town. The only entertainment you have is watching the townsfolk preparing the square for a festival in the distance. The cool wind blowing by is the only thing airing your head out and keeping you awake.
By this point, you’ve been up for nearly two days straight, and exhaustion or even outright lunacy is starting to take ahold of you. The torches burning in the distance are beginning to dance, and a burst of laughter takes ahold of you that you cannot suppress.
You take a look down from the watchtower and you can even see a hooded figure trying to climb onto the battlements. A classic hallucination, you think. So, you glance back out into the city while slapping your cheeks. Nothing remarkable is happening. The only thing of note is that the shifting lights are beginning to make you nauseous, so you decide to glance back at the battlements. And, oh, what a sight! The figure has just climbed over and is making his way across the battlements. You bear witness to the sight and can’not’t stop giggling at it.
“It would just figure that my first night on watch, someone tries to break in, and in such an obvious way!” you chortle to yourself.
Yet after a few seconds of watching the figure, you begin to notice something.
“Hmm, strange. The figure looks pretty real after all,” says a voice very near your ear, and after a few more seconds, you realize the person talking is you.
You shake yourself awake with a will then, and your hand goes for the horn on the beam. You take the horn and bring it closer to your mouth. As you inhale a deep breath, a rational thought comes to your mind, however. “Wait a minute. If I blow this, and it turns out that the figure over there isn’t real, then I’ll be kissing the ground before sunrise.”
So, you release the air you’ve inhaled into a heavy sigh, throw the horn over your neck, and begin descending the tower to go inspect the situation personally. The descent down the stairs is tricky at best. Your body feels like a sack of potatoes just ready to take a tumble down the stairs — maybe at least then you’d get some good sleep! Still, you have to soldier on… Once you reach the floor of the tower, you open the door and walk out onto the battlement. The same figure can be seen off in the distance, trying to creep his way forward with an unwarranted caution. Who knows what he could want in a place like this? Regardless, it’s your job to find out, so, you keep making your way there.
When you get within speaking distance, he is still cautiously creeping his way across the battlement and doesn’t even notice you. This gives you the chance to sneak up on him. Once you’re almost on top of him, you can now hear his footsteps, his random small grunts and croaks, and his heavy breathing. By that point, you’re certain that he’s real and that he shouldn’t be there. So, you finally unsling the horn, take a deep breath and blow as hard as you can into it.
The trespasser is so startled by this that he jumps as he swings around. You can read fright in his eyes.
At the same moment, some guards burst out of the mansion. The guard stationed at the granary also looks up towards you. The jig is up for the infiltrator, so, in his desperation, he pulls a blade on you and charges!
In response, you try to pull your shortsword from its scabbard, but it gets stuck! “Oh damn!” you think to yourself. By now, the adrenaline in you has fully awoken you.
With no way to defend yourself, you turn around and make a dash for it. As you’re running for your life, the hooded figure is chasing, after you brandishing his blade all over the place, just out of reach. In the meanwhile, the other guards have begun climbing the stairs that lead to your level. Yet, no matter how fast they rush to meet you, they are unlikely to get there before the figure gets to you.
So, in desperation, you glance down into the courtyard. You notice a hay bale next to the stables, so, you take your chance and jump for it, just as the figure makes a jab at you. By the grace of the gods, you manage to land in the hay bale; if you were just a couple of feet to the side, that would have been a very painful fall for you.
Back on the ramparts, the figure is cussing you out but quickly snaps out of it and panics. To each side, he has guards approaching. Over the wall is a steep cliff, so that isn’t an option for him. Seeing no other way, he jumps after you in the hay bale!
You react just in time and narrowly manage to get out of the way as he is about to come down on top of you. Now that he’s in the hay bale, too, he hasn’t got his blade raised, and you see the opportunity to strike! You tackle him, and both of you begin wrestling, biting, kicking, and scratching at the other. Each of you knows that if one lets up, it means a certain demise for the other.
As you’re tumbling about in the hay, the other guards make their way over to you and manage to break you apart. One of the guards throws the intruder to the ground and cuffs him, while another helps you to your feet. “Good job,” he says. “You did good, rookie.”
A smile breaks on your face at that moment. Finally, a compliment! After all the hazing you’ve received in the last two days, a single compliment is a welcomed change.
In the corner of your eye, you spot a figure who has their head poking out of a window, watching the whole event. It’s dark, so you can’t make out who it is, but you do feel a certain darkness radiating from them, enough to send chills down your spine.
Before you can think much of it, the guardsman tapsyour shoulder. “Hey, rookie!” he says. “I’ll take over your post. Go to the barracks and get some sleep; I daresay you’ve earned it.”
They are the sweetest words you’ve ever heard.