Authors: Robert Kroese
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2012 Robert Kroese
Originally published as a Kindle Serial, November 2012
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
For Speed Pony
Table of Contents
By most accounts, Boric the Implacable was, while he was alive, an incomparable badass. By all accounts, he was an even bigger badass after he died.
For most people,
death marks the end of one’s career, whether that career is baking bread, blowing glass, or — as in Boric’s case — hacking other people to pieces with a sword. But for Boric, death was just another bullet point on his already impressive ass-kicking résumé.
Whether death improved Boric overall is a matter of some debate, but there’s little question that it enhanced him professionally. In addition to his already impressive catalog of badassery, death granted him invulnerability, the importance of which can’t be overstated in Boric’s chosen profession. There were some negatives, of course, but even these could often be turned to his advantage: those who were not convinced to surrender by rumors of his combat prowess and invulnerability could be compelled to yield when they caught a whiff of his rotting-cabbage-mixed-with-rancid-bacon odor. Still, he couldn’t deny his relief when the flesh still doggedly clinging to his bones began to desiccate, leaving him smelling more like the attic of an old farmhouse and less like a can of beef stew that has quietly gone bad in a forgotten corner of the farmhouse’s pantry.
Boric’s birth was unremarkable, being only the first of many experiences involving a vagina, lots of friction and grunting, and the copious secretion of bodily fluids. His death, on the other hand, was quite interesting. It happened like this:
Boric the Implacable needed a new coat. As the King of Ytrisk, a middling kingdom composed of six nearly forgotten provinces cobbled together at the periphery of the Old Realm, Boric generally got what he wanted, and in this case what he wanted was a coat that would keep him from freezing to death while walking from his bedroom to his throne room. Like most medieval castles, Kra’al Brobdingdon was designed to keep out every enemy except the unsleeping chill that had, in fact, killed more of the citizens of Ytrisk than all of its foreign enemies combined. Boric therefore commissioned the weaving of the Warmest Coat in All Ytrisk. Some three months after he had issued the command, just when the icicles hanging from Brobdingdon Tower had begun the maddening
drip, drip, drip
that signaled the end of winter, just when Boric had all but forgotten about the Warmest Coat in All Ytrisk, four of the royal weavers appeared in his throne room, bearing something that Boric at first mistook for an emaciated bear.
In fact it was the Warmest Coat in All Ytrisk, and it lived up to its name. Within minutes of putting it on — or, more accurately — crawling inside of it, Boric was sweating something fierce. Despite the fact that he could see his own breath, the throne room seemed to have become suddenly, oppressively warm. Every beat of his heart sent out waves of heat that were then corralled mercilessly by the coat and sent hurling back at him. It was like being baked alive in a loaf of bread. Boric nodded in approval. This was indeed the Warmest Coat in All Ytrisk. In fact, it was probably the Warmest Coat in All the Old Realm and quite possibly in the Uncivilized Wastes of the North as well.
Then the itching started.
The outside of the coat was made of wild mink and the liner inside was fine silk stitched over cotton. The bulk of the coat, however, was the finest Ytriskian wool. Ytriskian wool was renowned in all Dis for its warmth, its durability, and, most of all, its excruciating itchiness. It didn’t matter that Boric had a layer of clothing and a two-layered lining between his skin and the Ytriskian wool; trying to ward off the itchiness of Ytriskian wool with a few layers of fabric was like trying to frighten a wolf with a daffodil. The insidious, wiry tendrils of Ytriskian wool clawed through the fabric until they reached Boric’s warm, soft flesh and began to itch it.
The itching started in his chest and rapidly spread to his armpits and then down his sides and over his shoulders. Once it had engulfed his entire back, it shot down his arms. Even his hands, which were uncovered, and his lower legs, which were encased in leather boots, began to itch in sympathy with the rest of his body. It was unbearable.
“Get it off!” he howled in a regrettably unmonarchical manner. “It itches! Get it off!”
The royal weavers struggled to extricate him from the mass of fabric, finally collapsing in a sweaty heap in the throne room, with the Warmest Coat in All Ytrisk threatening to smother them en masse.
Boric tore off his clothing and spent several minutes scratching every inch of his skin. At last he spoke. “What is the meaning of this?”
The head of the royal weavers got to his feet. “Sire, it is the finest in Ytriskian wool. Unmatched in warmth, durability, and, unfortunately, itchiness.” He walked to a window. “Behold, your highness. The Ytriskian sheep.”
Boric glanced out the window. Kra’al Brobdingdon was located at the edge of the city, overlooking the treacherous but verdant hills to the north. Following the head weaver’s gesture, he located a grassy knoll strewn with rocks. Some fifty sheep occupied the knoll. Half of them were eating while the other half appeared to be rolling about on the rocks in a very unsheeply manner.
“By Varnoth,” muttered Boric in dismay. “What are those sheep doing?”
“They are itching,” the head weaver replied. “Centuries ago, the Ytriskian shepherds were instructed to breed the sheep with the Warmest Wool in All Ytrisk. As you see, they succeeded. However, no other considerations were taken into account, and today the Ytriskian wool is so itchy that even the sheep can hardly stand to wear it.”
As Boric watched, one of the sheep stood at the edge of a crevice, its dim sheep eyes surveying the gap, its small sheep brain weighing its options. After a few seconds, the sheep gave a short bleat and then leapt into the chasm below. Boric could have sworn that he saw a look of relief on the sheep’s face.
“This shall not stand,” growled Boric. “What of the Peraltic wool?”
“The Peraltians have stopped trading with us,” said the head weaver. “They are allied with the Skaal, who as you know are still upset over our trade agreement with the Blinskians.”
“Is that so?” asked Boric, rubbing his beard with his fingers.
Three days later, the Kingdom of Ytrisk was at war with the Kingdom of Skaal. As any historian will tell you, wars tend to be the result of any number of complex socioeconomic and political factors, but to the extent that this war could be said to be about anything, it was about the Itchiest Coat in All Ytrisk.
The nominal goal of the war was to take control of Kra’al Weibdrung, a poorly insulated observation tower in the Dagspaal Mountains just over the River Ytrisk, which marked the uneasy border between the Kingdom of Ytrisk and the Kingdom of Skaal. From Kra’al Weibdrung, the Skaal could see what the Ytriskians in northern Ytrisk were up to, which at any moment was mostly trying to keep their sheep from committing suicide.
Still, the Ytriskians resented this lookout tower, considering it an incursion on their territory. Boric the Implacable was determined to oust the Skaal from Kra’al Weibdrung because it would demonstrate to all the Old Realm that the Ytriskians weren’t going to take their shit anymore. And once Ytrisk had demonstrated its non-shit-taking-ness, the Peraltians might rethink their alliance with the Skaal, or at least occasionally overlook it and send a few nonsuicidal sheep their way. Anyway, that was the plan.
Unfortunately, Kra’al Weibdrung was an eighty-foot tower with sheer rock walls. It had one entrance, which was only accessible by scaling a two-hundred-foot cliff in full view of the famed Archers of Kra’al Weibdrung, who were known for being able to skewer a sheep from three hundred yards.
Kra’al Weibdrung was, for all practical purposes, impenetrable. The only way to take Kra’al Weibdrung was to cut off the Skaal supply route and wait for the archers to die of starvation. And that’s exactly what Boric the Implacable and his retinue of soldiers did.