If A Song of Ice and Fire is a high fantasy series that’s just an alternate medieval history, then today’s story is set in an alternate English Civil War.
Well Played, Sir Wraith, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 828
Barkley kept an eye out for wounded soldiers as he ducked through the thicket. The cannon fire was still going, sending tremors through the ground as he ran. He uttered a quick prayer to Holy Qurandros and took refuge behind an ancient oak.
Not a moment too soon, Barkley heard a hoarse voice calling out. He turned and saw a bloodied hand reaching up from behind a bush. When he parted the leaves, he saw a musketeer wearing the King’s colors. His slouch hat was crumpled under his head like a pillow. The front of his uniform was wet with blood.
“H-help…” the soldier groaned. His arm dropped as he started wheezing for air. Barkley knelt by his head and took a bottle of aqua laeta from his field kit. Despite the soldier’s reluctance, he managed to force the liquor into the man’s mouth. Almost immediately, he saw the man’s cheeks flush with new vigor.
“Keep still,” Barkley advised. He got an arm under the man’s shoulders and struggled to help him to his feet. “The surgery’s not far away. You’ll be fine.”
“R-ray.” The musketeer coughed and spat blood out the corner of his mouth. “Ray…”
“Quiet, now. We need to hurry—”
“Saw ’im, I did…” The soldier shuddered in his grip as they trudged forward. “Saw the Wraith, guv. Sir Wraith in the flesh…”
It took a saint’s feat of will for Barkley to clench his teeth and keep moving. These rebels were brutal, but none so fierce as the disgraced Sir Theophilus de Joie—Sir Wraith to his enemies. A pitiless swordsman and sharpshooter, and one of the first nobles to rise up against King Bedrick. Barkley had tended to many soldiers in the war, but never had he found a man who’d crossed Sir Wraith’s path.
The brigand never left any alive.
Inside the surgery tent, the benches were full of coughing, groaning, weeping soldiers. Young men with scars, scrapes, open wounds, and mutilated limbs. All had to suffer the triage as Barkley and his apprentices tried desperately to patch them up. And through it all, the rebel cannons continued to lay siege to their camp, creating more dead and wounded every minute.
“By God’s wrath,” Barkley swore. He tore off the bloody apron and pulled one of the few remaining clean ones from the rack. “They’ve done enough, haven’t they? Vanesh, how’s the new one doing?”
Tow-headed Vanesh looked up from the arm he was binding. “The blow was superficial, sire. Guess the Wraith didn’t have time to finish him.”
Barkley frowned. He wondered why the rebel swordsman would bother, especially if he was still lurking in the woods. But he didn’t have time to think it over. He had more pressing matters, like the howling flag-bearer on the operating table.
But by the time he got over to him, the flag-bearer had fallen silent. Barkley watched him sigh out his last breath with eyes bulging. He looked up at his junior surgeon with alarm.
“I don’t know what happened, sire,” said the surgeon. He put his tools down and waved for two attendants to remove the corpse.
“We’re cursed, Salva,” Barkley muttered. He closed his eyes and prayed for one hour—one blessed minute—of peace. Just to get through their wounded and see his home and wife again.
As if in cruel mockery, he was met with a chorus of groans, gasps, and screams from the back of the surgery. Barkley and Salva turned with fright as they saw smoke and flames rising up from behind the makeshift pile of the dead. As the injured soldiers tried to hobble or crawl away, Barkley ran toward the fire, grabbing whatever cloth and cups of water he could find to stop it.
A string of old and familiar curses rose up in his throat as he tried to put the conflagration out. But there was no point. The smoke was too thick and the tent was collapsing all around him. He looked back and saw a pathetic train of soldiers trying to flee, but they fell on one another, choking on ash and bile.
“Good riddance to kings and fools,” whispered a voice in Barkley’s ear. He felt something cold and sharp against his throat. Then, a flash of pain. He choked and fell, his lifeblood oozing out from his throat.
Heavy boots crunched the dirt as Barkley’s assassin strode past. The fiend turned and looked down at him with a quiet smile.
It was the bloodied musketeer, now in good health. He tipped his hat to the dying physician and said, in a soft and genteel voice, “My thanks to you, sire. I regret the deception, but all’s fair in war. Perhaps you’ll witness the birth of our republic from atop the Holy Skies… but I doubt it.”
The last thing Barkley saw was Sir Wraith shouldering his way past the dying soldiers, lifting his sword and musket in triumph.
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