Arrow to the Knee
Originally written for the Paddon Award 2016, with the theme ‘Celebration’
Warnings: violence, gore, sexual references
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
Lips peeled back over yellowing, jagged teeth. He pulled at the ropes binding his hands, rocking the chair to which he was tied.
“Least you can do is show me your face. See who they sent to do their dirty work this time-”
He was cut off by an arrow soaring from the darkness and puncturing his knee; he screamed in pain. The arrowhead had cut cleanly through his limb and was protruding from the other side of the chair leg. Whimpers fell from his cracked lips, and his struggles became more frantic.
A tall figure emerged from the shadows, a quiver and bow hooked over his shoulders and a sword at his hip. He whipped his head up to gaze upon the man standing before him.
“Oh,” he gasped, “so it is you. I must say, it’ll be a great honour to die by the hand of the great Aodhán.”
He took a deep breath and leaned forward.
“Just know this: it don’t even matter. You kill me, there’s plenty more where I came from, ready to burn this empire to the ground.”
A beat passed in silence.
“I believe you.”
In a single twirl, with his long white hair flowing out around his head, Aodhán unsheathed his sword and brought it round in a graceful arc.
* * *
The great double doors banged open.
The council members looked up to see the elf striding towards them, a bag in hand. He stopped at the table and tipped it upside down.
A head fell from it.
The three councillors stood, staring down at the offering. The middle one tangled his fingers into the deceased’s hair and lifted the head from the table; a few drops of blood dripped onto the wood.
“It’s him, Wymond. Had the insignia and everything.”
Aodhán pulled a patch adorned with a golden phoenix emblem from his pocket and slammed it onto the table. He twisted his palm upwards.
Wymond nodded gruffly, placing the head down next to the insignia and dropping a bag of coin into Aodhán’s hand.
“Your work has benefitted us greatly, Aodhán. We will surely gather this evening to mark the passing of this rebel group.” Wymond straightened himself up, and looked Aodhán in the eye. “You are, of course, welcome to attend.”
Aodhán’s lip curled. “Will there be wine?”
“I’ll be there. But I warn you: you may be celebrating too soon.”
Wymond scoffed. “Nonsense. These troublemakers do not have the organisation to carry on without a leader.”
* * *
In a matter of hours, Aodhán was standing on the rooftop of the palace with a goblet of wine in his hand. A large campfire was blazing in the grounds below, sending sparks into the night sky. It was surrounded by people dancing and singing; Wymond and the other council members were standing off to the side, nursing their own drinks, at just a safe enough distance to maintain their respectable reputations.
In the very centre of the merrymaking stood a proud flagpole, its material bearing the emblem of a dancing gnome.
He fought the urge to unsheathe his sword and press it into his assailant’s neck when a hand touched his elbow. Instead, he turned to see a human boy – shorter than he, shirtless and covered in tattoos that criss-crossed his entire torso, with dark hair and even darker eyes – smirking up at him.
“Now why would someone as beautiful as you be standing up here on your own?”
Aodhán returned the smirk, placing his goblet on the wall before him. Whipping around, he grabbed the boy’s shoulders and pushed him into the shadows.
The boy chuckled. “What, not even a sip-”
He was cut off by Aodhán’s lips crashing into his.
Sometime later, Aodhán readjusted his clothing and sent the boy off with nothing but a smile on his face.
With his goblet back in his hand, he returned to his watch on the grounds below. The light flickered with the people moving around the fire, and shadows stretched out into the distance beyond the light’s reach.
When the cross bow bolt embedded itself in Wymond’s neck, even Aodhán wasn’t sure where it had been shot from.
The merriment turned into horror; screams filled the air as figures emerged from the shadows. One by one, imperialists were cut down: throats were slit, hearts were stabbed, limbs were removed. One man was cut clean in two, his blood soaking the firewood and plunging the entire arena into darkness.
The screams continued as the gnome was torn down and replaced with a phoenix.
Huffing, Aodhán turned away.
He had warned them.