Lone Knight

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
The stranger paused. “How long have you been here?”
It was a good question. He’d lost track. He knew it’d been over a year, but less than three. If it’d been three he’d have seen Mt. Tinaki erupted three times. It’d only erupted twice. So yes, two years. About.
“Two years.”
Concern fell on the stranger’s face. “Why did they send you here alone?”
“They didn’t.” Tzu rubbed his face. “I was with others. Forlorn. They left. Only me, now.” The stranger came closer.
“What happened to them?” He asked.
“They left. Or died. When the mined dried up. The village left first, then some deserters, but the rest died with plague.”
“And you were left alone?” He had found a seat.
“Why didn’t you leave?”
“I wanted to, I thought about it, but this place, this pass... it’s secret. Strategically vulnerable. No one knows about it. I sent support. My last man, Clamanth, with a message. He never returned.”
“Now you know why.”
Tzu sighed. He adjusted his cloak, straightening and tightening his red sash. His warrior’s mantle. A sign of honor.
“Will you leave?” The stranger asked.
“No.” Tzu responded.
“What good is a man’s word if he does not keep it?” Tzu said.
“What do you mean?” The stranger asked.
“When I was assigned to protect this pass, I swore an oath to protect my kingdom. I cannot break what I have spoken. If the Empire of Asher finds this pass, they’ll have a clear route to the capital of the kingdom.”
The stranger looked confused. “But the kingdom is already fallen. So what does it matter?”
“What matters is if this pass is attacked, I must be here to protect it.”
“And who would be attacking it?”
“The enemy, Asher.” Tzu said.
“Who has already won!” The stranger laughed. “This is foolish! If you were wise, you would leave.”
“I am wise so I am staying.”
“For what point? You could just as easily protect your ‘kingdom’ you love so much without wasting away here. Why not serve elsewhere? Leave and find a better place?”
“If what you have said is true, then there is nowhere else to go!”
The stranger lifted his arms. “I speak only the truth.”
“A liar cannot speak truth.”
“How can a liar know to lie if he doesn’t know the truth?”
Tzu frowned.
“Or even a bit of truth?” The stranger added. He laughed. “But still, I don’t lie. Tzu, your honor is bound to your nation, but your nation is fallen. Hence, you have no honor to prove. The credibility behind your duty is gone if there is no duty for you to fulfill.” He smiled. “In a way, you’re selfish for staying.”
“How dare you!” Tzu roared, drawing his sword. “I am an officer in his majesty’s royal army, a man of rank and respect, you will not-”
“You refuse to leave because you’re scared of admitting defeat!” The stranger yelled back. “You’re only afraid!” He leaned in, whispering, “Tzu. Your kingdom is gone. Your nation has fallen. This is true. Your honor can still be intact. Leave, and make with it what you can.”
Tzu’s anger slowed. “The Kingdom is destroyed?”
“Then... maybe it’s time to move on.”
Tzu lowered his sword.
“Yes. It’s time.”
“But if we’re invaded from the pass...”
“There’d be nothing to invade. We’ve already lost.” He put his hand on his shoulder. “It’s time to give up. There’s no need to stay here any longer.”
Tzu turned away.
“Where are you going?” The man asked.
“Away.” He said.
Up the pass, through the door, down the hallway. He entered slowly. He removed his cloak and sheath, carefully lowering them into a chest at the foot of his bed. His sash went, too. He had left his bow on the ground.
He swung his satchel off his shoulder, opening it and stuffing whatever provisions he could grab inside. He rushed through the room, throwing open drawers, cupboards. With what little he had he still could only take too much, then, setting his face towards the east, he left.
Far behind him, the stranger eyed him, carefully. He held Tzu’s bow in his hands, testing the strength. “Fool,” he muttered to himself. “I tried to give myself a challenge, and you made it too easy.” An arrow left his bow, gliding through the air before landing itself in Tzu’s back. He fell without a sound. The stranger walked to his body and checked to see if he was willing. He was dead. “I don’t know why you were abandoned either,” The stranger chuckled. “All I can say is, I lied. But if it wasn’t true when I told you, it will be, soon.”