🎧 Bedtime Story Podcast #29
Chapter 5 – The Task
“We are calling it the Maramonster,” the King said to Henrik. They were sitting in the King’s dining room. There was food everywhere. Roasted meats, potatoes, vegetables and even bottles of tinctures and weeds and remedies that Henrik had requested from the kitchen all covered the large wooden table in the middle of the room. Boevill had already eaten a good meal – a mixture of everything inside a big bowl, including some of Henrik’s additions of local plants that would be good for Boevill’s strength.
“We heard about it from our spies,” the King continued. The Queen was sitting with them at the long table, to the left of the King. Henrik did not know where their son was. Guards stood on all four walls, and two stood either side of the entrance, where a servant waited in between, alert and motionless.
“Did you know it could infect other creatures?” Henrik said, taking a bite of chicken from his plate. He was doing his best to use a knife and fork, and carry some form of manners at the table. His chair looked far too small for him. In fact, the chair could barely be seen.
“No, we did not,” the King said. “You were right, Henrik, in that our Arganbirds have been our spies. They told us that the Marauders were creating things – living things in their caves. Our birds reported that the fumes within the caves were so strong that they could not go in to spy without being suffocated to death. They had not seen these monsters, but they had heard something said from outside the caves, that the Marauders would send out a test before they unleashed the whole lot. How they reached us without leaving the cave and being seen by the birds…I’m not sure.”
“Tunnels,” Henrik said. “They’ve either been tunnelling for all these years, planning their attack since the last time they were driven away, or these creatures are able to move through the roots of the trees.”
“How would that work?” the King asked. He had not eaten much, and the Queen was slowly eating, taking very small bites and staring at the wood of the table in front of her. Henrik had always known the Queen to be kind and wise, but she very rarely spoke. Whatever she did say seemed to be like golden pillows of comfort amongst some of the worries of her King.
“The trees are all connected,” Henrik said. “There are ways to use them for transport, but if you do not learn them from a young age, it is very difficult to do. The only way I could conceive of the Marauders, or a creature of theirs being able to do such a thing, is with the use of dark magic.”
At that moment, a maid entered the room.
“My Queen,” she said, bowing to the table. “So sorry to disturb. It’s the boy. He simply will not rest. He is demanding to meet Henrik. I can’t control him at all, your highness. Errel is trying to hold him still so that he will not start shouting down the corridors and knocking on this very door.”
The Queen looked at the maid. The Queen had eyes that reminded Henrik of diamonds, clear diamonds that carried no impurity. The Queen smiled slightly.
“Let him loose, Martha. Thank you for your efforts.”
“Yes, my Queen,” Martha said, bowing again, and she left the room.
Henrik felt his blood warming again. Whenever he felt fear he liked to turn it into rage. But that might be difficult to do now. He placed his hand for a moment on a small knife at his waist. His bow stood to the right of him against the table. The staff remained on his back. The machete was resting on his hip. He started to clench his fists.
“Anything the matter, Henrik?” the King said. As Henrik looked up, he could feel the Queen’s diamond eyes looking straight through him. She looked slightly concerned, and slightly fiery at the same time. She could sense something, she could picture something, something awful…but could not believe that Henrik The Defender would ever do such a thing. And yet, the image remained in her mind as she stared at him.
“No,” Henrik said. He wanted the Queen to stop looking at him. “No, No, I’m fine, just thinking about these Marauders, that’s all.”
“The birds have heard that they plan to launch an attack in one week,” the King said.
“What about if they send another monster before then? Even now?” Henrik said. “Arrows don’t stop them.”
“Fire does,” the King said. “The birds have told us that the monsters detest fire and heat. They are born amongst toxic substances, and fire burns away all of their poisonous intentions. We have flaming arrows and boulders ready to be launched if necessary. The guards did not fire on the monster you encountered, because they thought there was a chance it was actually you nearby, and your hound seemed to be doing a fine job by itself.”
Boevill suddenly stood up and began to bark, and at that moment, a young boy with thick dark curly hair ran into the room. He was smiling, hugely. His eyes were alight and eager, and he was holding a small wooden sword.
“Is that him, mother? Father, is that Henrik The Defender?”
Henrik stood to his feet and stepped directly in front of Boevill who was trying to launch himself at the boy.
“That’s a big dog,” the boy said, starting to step backwards.
Henrik could not keep blocking Boevill as Boevill kept trying to run around his tree-trunkish legs. Henrik knelt down and grabbed Boevill by the neck.
“Stop!” Henrik said. He lifted up Boevill’s big earflap and whispered directly into Boevill’s brain. “If you kill the boy now, we probably won’t make it out alive. There are thousands of soldiers in the city. I could well be killed.”
Boevill kept growling, and Henrik had to sit down on the floor and wrap his huge arms around Boevill to stop him from moving.
Boevill started to bark and snarl at the boy again, and the boy began to cower behind his mother.
“Why is the dog barking like that?” the boy said. It was as if his dreams had been crushed. He was about to meet Henrik The Defender, the hero who had saved his father, his mother and their entire kingdom years ago, but this dog was filling the young boy with so much fear that he almost wanted to cry.
“I’m sorry,” Henrik said, seeing the look on the boy’s face. “I will come to see you soon. I will not bring my dog.”
The teary-eyed boy nodded, and his mother stood and led him out of the room. Boevill kept barking for at least a minute, and eventually he calmed down. Occasionally he would just sniff.
“Some dogs are just not good with children,” the King sympathised. “But there is no doubt in my mind, Henrik, that the creature by your side is loyal and wise and ready to defend you at all costs. Perhaps he had a bad experience with a child when he was a pup, and now he sees them as a threat.”
“Yes,” Henrik said, feeling Boevill’s body gradually calm down. “Perhaps.”
Story written and read by Adam Oakley, Copyright © Adam Oakley