One-Minute Epics are new micro tales from John Klobucher’s Lore of the Underlings, a lyrical fantasy-fiction world. Here’s the latest installment…
The Stone Knight
“Please, Sir Narkalus, tell us a story, won’t you? One of your great adventures?” The clerk walking next to the Stone Knight’s steed looked starstruck, lucky to taste his dust. “Thou art a persistent man,” growled the legend. He raised his visor. “Well, just this once.”
The rider, Sir Narkalus Grayvane, had been dispatched by order of Merth’s High Priests to bring their law to troubled Nord and quell the turmoil that engulfed it. The mightiest knight in a thousand years, Grayvane the Cold was renowned for his steelstone armor, a suit he forged himself, and a sword hand none had ever fought and survived. The Stone Knight knew no mercy. Even now with age his fiercest foe, he was more than a match for any horde of men, and he still lusted to face them.
Today the knight led a dozen attendants winding their way down Crossing Road toward the Underland in the heart of Nord. The thirteenth, the clerk, the High Priests had added to serve as the eyes and ears of Thoom. The bureaucrat’s name was Rippen Plesh, a man with a ruddy complexion and greasy black hair, and not much else of note.
“Here’s some lore for thou, scribe,” the knight reminisced, spitting in the clerk’s direction. “‘Twas long ago during the Battle of G’urn when I met at Lord’s Pass a legion of Narr men — foul, fanged creatures that smelled to heaven — and slayed them alone with none but this.” He touched the hilt of his sword, the Merth Keeper. “Only then did the enemy show its hand, a sorcery grim and long forgotten. The Narr dead had been enchanted to rise again; seventeen times I killed them until the blood moon broke their spell and I felled them like saplings for once and for all. ‘Tis said that turned the tide of war, crushing the Narrish threat forever.”
“Bravo!” gushed the swooning clerk. Then the company came to a sudden halt.
“The bridge is out, my liege,” called a young valet. “The detour’s a fortnight north.” The knight, wanting none of it, reached to unsheathe his blade.
The clerk chirped, “I know a shortcut…”
Plesh led them down to the old Low Road and warned that, though quicker, it was “a shadowed way.” The brave knight scoffed at his caution. “Descend, men, into the gorge,” he ordered as mist clouds parted to welcome them.
Before long the entourage reached a vast swampland, Hell’s Hollow, and took to its narrow causeway, crossing the fogbound bog in single file for what seemed like forever. Sun and moon were obscured above them, day and night both but a ghastly glow. And strange sounds swirled around like restless ghosts. The Stone Knight paused to listen.
“Doest thou not hear that damsel in distress?” he shouted, dismounting his steed. He was in the water before his men could stop him. “I’ll save you, m’lady! Hold on…” Then the Stone Knight waded into the endless deep. The black muck swallowed him up.
While the rest of the company stood in stunned silence, clerk Plesh let out a long, low whistle and grinned when a widowlark answered him with a cry as it took flight from the murk. “Tragic the good knight didn’t know his birdsong. On to Nord, my friends!”