Aphelion Issue 244, Volume 23
October 2019
 
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Ethelbert

by Thomas G. Vincent


"It's just not right, Baldrick." King Felder slapped his leather gauntlet against his palm in frustration.

"Magic is a well respected profession, Sire." The Chamberlain's tone was calm and measured.

"Yes, but not for a Crown Prince. It's... Unseemly."

The King's white haired advisor held his tongue. At times like these he knew it was best to let the King have his say.

"The people need a leader they can look up to," declared Felder. "A warrior, a knight in shining armor, who can lead them into battle. No one's going to follow a... a wizard." The King made a face like he'd just eaten a bad pistachio nut. "I mean really, plush robes and pointy hats and those wimpy little sticks they wave around all the time." The King's voice was rising. "The boy should be out in the fresh air with the other lads learning how to wield sword and lance; not cooped up in a dark sorcerer's den scrying over some cauldron of bubbling goo."

"Your Uncle was a great wizard in his day." pointed out the Chamberlain reasonably.

"Yes, but he was never going to be King. My father, now there was a real man. You'd never catch him skulking in shadows, mumbling incantations." Felder raised his hand to pre-empt Baldric's comment. "Oh I know what you're going to say, different times and all of that. It's no use. My mind's made up. Starting tomorrow, Prince Ethelbert will be fitted for a suit of armor and begin proper training in the knightly arts."

Baldric the Chamberlain sighed. He had tried his best. Now there was nothing to do but go and give his Prince the bad news.

####

Sigmund the Armorer stood back and scowled. It was going to take all his skill to come up with a suit of armor that would fit the skinny, pimple faced adolescent standing in front of him. Oh, it wasn't the measurements that were the problem, he thought. Metal could be beaten and shaped to fit any contour.

No, the challenge was to come up with a suit of armor strong enough to deflect a sword blow yet light enough for the Prince to wear it without falling over. Sigmund felt for the lad. He was obviously bright, with intelligent eyes. But he was scrawny, with a pale, pasty complexion and stick-like arms that displayed all the muscle tone of a bowl of pudding -- hardly hero material.

"You're wondering if you can construct a suit of armor I can use," said the Prince.

Damn, had he been that obvious?

A smile played about the boy's lips. "Just make it light and flexible," he said.

"Begging the Prince's pardon but light, and strong are like opposite ends of the branch if you catch my meaning."

"Don't worry. I have no intention of damaging these royal limbs. Just make the armor comfortable and leave the strength issue to me."

"As you wish my liege," replied Sigmund, making a mental note to check with the local oracle to see if a quick getaway was in his future.

####

Lonius Maximus, the king's personal trainer stared at the thin pale figure in front of him. "So you're to become a fighter, Ďeh?"

"Apparently."

"Not to worry lad. I've trained generations of knights in the martial arts. You may have a tougher hill to climb than some but in the end you'll learn."

"If you say so," yawned the prince.

"Normally I start straight off with swords but you being a highborn with little experience I think staffs would be more appropriate." He tossed a long wooden pole to Ethelbert. It landed at his feet with a thud. "Well don't just stand there, lad. Pick it up."

The prince bent over and with a grunt picked up the heavy staff.

Hmmm, thought the trainer, This might be harder than I imagined.

"Okay then, let's see what you're made of." With that, Maximus grabbed his own staff and swung it at the Prince.

With surprising ease, the boy raised his pike and directed the blow harmlessly over his head.

"Not bad," said Maximus. "Try this one." This time he feinted to the boy's head then swung a vicious blow to his knee. Again Prince Ethelbert directed the blow away. Maybe this won't be so hard after all.

The brawny trainer threw several lightning-quick combinations of feints and thrusts at the boy. As before, Prince Ethelbert's staff moved easily to fend off each attack.

Maximus pressed forward, using all his skill and strength to try and land a blow. At last he thought he sensed a chink in the boy's defenses. He moved in, only to feel his opponent's staff lift his leg, knocking him off balance to fall heavily on his back.

Maximus sprang to his feet, incredulous. "Sorcery!" he thundered, his face reddening. "You used magic on me!"

"Of course I used magic, you dunderhead," replied the Prince. "You didn't expect me to stand here and let you bash my head in, did you?"

"But... but, that's cheating!" sputtered the soldier.

"Nonsense," said Ethelbert. "All's fair in love and horseshoes."

"But I'm to train you in the fighting arts."

"And so you shall," said the Prince easily. "You shall teach me the art of making it look like I'm really fighting."

Lonius Maximus shook his head and wondered if the neighboring kingdom of Hollyrood was in need of a martial arts trainer.

####

King Felder beamed with pride as he watched the sword contest. "I must say, Baldric. My decision to train the prince has worked out better than I could have hoped. Huzzah!" he cried, as Prince Ethelbert blocked a sword blow with his shield and expertly thrust a riposte past his opponent's defenses for the winning score. "Look at that sword work Baldric! Truly I would have rewarded Maximus if he hadn't already retired and left for Hollyrood. What was the reason he gave again?"

"He said after working with the Prince, training would never be the same."

"And that armor! The few blows Ethelbert has received have barely made a mark. Strange that the armorer should have retired as well."

"He said after finishing it, he would never be able to make one better."

A roar arose from the crowd as the Prince's arm was raised in triumph.

"Listen to those cheers, man! Didn't I tell you the people love a leader who can fight?"

"As you say, Your Majesty."

"Good thing I acted promptly to nip that sorcery nonsense in the bud, eh?"

"Excellent judgment, as always sire." Baldric smiled. The Chamberlain hoped he would live long enough to see the Crown Prince assume the throne. The reign of Ethelbert promised to be a very interesting one indeed.

THE END


© 2009 Thomas G. Vincent

Bio: Thomas Vincent is yet one more retired baby boomer with an overactive imagination and way too much time on his hands. Some retirees play golf. Others take up bridge. Tom writes... and writes... and dreams that one day, if he wishes on a star hard enough, he will at last become a real boy. When not engaged in idle dreaming, Tom lives in Seattle Washington with his wife and a black cat named Lucifer; a furry devil who, if you let him, will steal your heart, your soul, and your tuna fish sandwich. Those who are politically bent can read more of Tomís rantings at his personal blog: Single Doubt

E-mail: Thomas G. Vincent

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