Tucked away in the dense forests, where the air whistled around the trees in a virgin harmony and the water flowed through the streams like that of blood through veins, was a small village named Greenstead. The residents of this particular village, all three-hundred and six of them, have lived here for all of their lives, solemnly venturing outwards anywhere beyond where the clearing of the forest met the horizon of lumber. The day was, well, average… as average as a day living in the deep forests of Erendil can lend itself to be. There was a small, but welcoming breeze that blew through the opening of the clearing, cooling the heads of those working in the open fields. The sun shone down through the trees, glistening and sparkling in the morning dew, almost like a storm of diamonds had been laid down to rest.
The village of Greenstead, much like most other villages and kingdoms of Erendil, was governed by one person (usually of royal blood decent). The lord of this particular village, Sir. Quail, was a cowardly man; Cowardly in the sense that he was often remembered sending others to solve his own problems, like when just three winters ago he had sent a small squadron of royal guards to slay a feral troll infesting the Lillian Caves. They succeeded, but only half came back alive (at least in the flesh, for half of that were diagnosed insane). But for the past seven months, a truly great, unknown threat, rivaling that of any other previous nuisances had been patrolling the outer borders Greenstead, making the forest a point of no return and effectively cutting off most of settlement’s food source (since the residents of Greenstead would mostly rely on hunting the animals of the great green). Even for the royal guards, the beast that patrolled the perimeter of the clearing was too great of a threat to slay.
Quail, thinking of the second best option, decided to send a force of some twenty men to behead the beast. The village was in for a surprise when, from all directions of the clearing, they saw the mangled bodies and innards of the warriors spewed upon the great limbs of the trees, blowing in the evening wind. The townsfolk, scared and uneasy, demanded that the lord have the beast slain once and for all.
“We can’t even go to sleep without thinking that we or our loved ones may be next,” said one.
“You have it easy, sitting on your high chair, looking down upon all of us like ants. I say our lord go and slay the beast while we live taste the fruits of luxury,” said another.
The king, in a wild panic, hatched a brilliant idea. “Settle down, settle down,” he said,” I know that you, me, everyone in this village is afraid for what may come if this creature does not meet its end in short and swift time.”
“Now ya understood, nows how bout you go and kill it yourself like how ya did the troll,” screamed an angry drunk.
“Well, as a lord, it is my duty to make sure that you are in the very best of safety, now how about you tell me how I can do that when i’m not here,” snapped back Quail to the drunken man now retreating into a scared and more sober look.
“Now, on to the plan, as high lord of this land, I purpose that we are to have a drawing.”
The townspeople gasped, clutching hold of their loved ones and begging that Quail not lay this burden upon the less fortunate. Others, much like the men and young males of the town, started to protest and throw their food and farming tools at Quail.
“By the name of all that is right, I command you to stop” screamed quail, shaken and uneasy after the sudden outburst of anger and fear. “By the early light of tomorrow, I shall draw, from this very hat”, Pointing to a ragged old flat cap thrown onto the platform by, what Quail assumed, to be his own nephew who often wore it,“ fifty names of those who shall be remembered for years to come as the true heros of Greenstead. But as of right now, I order you all to go back home and sleep your fears away. For the next two weeks there will be a curfew that will be in action from 7 pm until 7:30 am every day, starting now.” And with that, Quail was off, presumably to do his “lordly duties”.
The next day, after the golden rays shone down upon the morning dew, glittering and sparkling like the tears of an angel, the townsfolk gathered in the town center, and they prayed and begged that their name not be called, nor do the names of those they love. Quail, dressed like a true lord, made his entrance, and along with him, the hat. The crowd went silent, the tension in the air was so thick that one could declare the coming of a giant and none would budge. With the quick murmur of, what seemed like a prayer or omen under Quail’s breath, it began.
“People, friends, family, loved ones, we gather here today to mark the end of the great beast’s life. But sacrifices must be made to do so, to ensure the safety and longevity of this beautiful town. Therefore,” throwing the hat onto the table in one swift motion,” we must draw.”
“These soldiers… these heros, they will be well supplied with only the very best weapons, equipment, and armor that our Greenstead blacksmiths can offer to ensure the maximum potential for survival. And as an added bonus, I shall give our heros my very own blessing. Now, onto the real reason why we’re here. To ensure that I, and no one else is rigging these drawings, I shall appoint a random resident to call these names. Ah,” Pointing to a young kid, around nine or ten years old,”Young boy, you shall be the voice of the village.”
After a quick switch of positions, the young boy, in a sad and shaken voice, started announcing the names.
“No not my son, you can’t do this to me, you can’t just damn a young man like this,” yelled an older mother.
“John Aldridge. Dylan O’nelly, Matthew Calloway, Michael Hiatt”, and the list went on.
“Thank you young boy, now go back to your parents,” whispered Quail. “Those whose names apply to the list, step fourth.” Slowly, and with much hesitation, the chosen warriors stepped from the crying crowd. “These… These are our saviors. These are our heros. Let’s give them some appreciation!”
One by one, the towns people began clapping until it evolved from a quiet wave to a thunderous roar that echoed in the deep forests.
The next morning, after a hearty meal and a bit of training, the fifty men stood upon the very border that separated the trees and forest from the quaint town of Greenstead. The village residents gathered in this area and watched as the final blessings and prayers were said for their heroes.
“Today is the day that these fifty shall kill, “I hope” Muttered the lord,”The great and terrible beast that haunts us within our own home! And as one final act of honor, I shall bless those who serve us today.” “You better not fail me,” whispered the lord into the warrior’s ears. And with that, they ventured forth, disappearing into the dense, wooded land that lay beyond.
Three days had passed. The entire village quiet, dead almost, as if they are trying to not to be heard. Watchmen kept their eyes peeled on every inch of the border, making sure to alert the lord if there were to be a surprise attack. But nothing. Nothing but the evening breeze.
Another day passed. Nothing. Then another. Still, nothing. Soon enough it started to seem like an eternity since the warriors had started their hunt.
Then, it happened. A week from the day that the great expedition had been put into action, it happened. One of the watchmen alerted the lord, stating that many birds were scared into flying away, as if some presence of life had done so. Faster than sound, the people of Greenstead, including Sir. Quail, lined up in a defensive formation, most holding weapons, some only fists.
They hoped and prayed for the unknown disturbance to be their heroes, and not the other option. They heard the sound of twigs and sticks breaking and the rustle of leaves getting ever closer. They prepared for a charge when… outcame Thomas Loeb, one of the selected warriors. He dragged behind him the head of a Cocktrace. The people cheered, but not for long.
After being asked about the others, Thomas’s only response was,”I’m sorry.”
Some cried and mourned for the deaths of their friends and loved ones, others celebrated for the defeat of the beast. Either way, all rejoiced in the end, and rejoice they did. A two week long celebration took place, including wine, games, contests, beer, song and music, and dance. But the best part of the celebration wasn’t when poor Ruddy accidently fell into the refreshments (even though it was pretty funny), it was when the townsfolk, sick and tired of all of Quail’s petty excuses and decisions, kicked him out of Greenstead and forbid him of ever coming back. Even Quail’s nephew was pleased with this change.
But without any more royal blood to rule the village, who would pick up the title of lord. Confusion was hot and heavy, and it seemed that everybody shared it.
“Maybe we ‘ought to give the position to the nephew,” said one.
“No that’s a terrible idea, he’s only fourteen, what does he know about leadership,” said another.
“Or what about Thomas, I mean, he was the only one to come back alive, he surely deserves it,” all stopped, and thought.
“Yeah, Thomas, he’s old enough to know how to rule and brave enough to defend his own people”
“THOMAS THOMAS THOMAS,” belched all, in an enchanting roar that shook the soul and rattled the heart.
Quail’s scepter, which had been stripped from his hands before he was thrown out into the great beyond, was gifted to Thomas. Standing there in the orange sunset glow, Thomas looked at his reflection in the great, gleaming red gem on the end of the lordly staff. In it, he saw himself, standing with others he’s never seen. All was quiet, almost as if the great forest had stopped breathing, along with all of its inhabitants. Finally, looking back up at the crowd, standing still and silent like that of stone, finally said,” Where do I start”?
All cheered and cheered, some so much as jumping on Thomas and hugging him as if he were family. From then on, nothing but good seemed to radiate from the village outwards. Or, pardon me, I meant kingdom. It turned out that Thomas was so successful in being the lord of Greenstead, that he had conquered just about all of the land in a 400 mile radius. Statues were built of Thomas, and alongside him the fifty men who were with him during the great hunt. And as for Sir. Quail, well, he’s only referenced by a small grave near where he was exiled, since he had nowhere to run, he would hide on the outskirts of Greenstead to steal fresh food and water.
He was actually doing a decent job at it, sneaking and praying upon the innocent and stealing there rations when the time was right, well, at least until he was caught and soon after lynched by an angry mob of villagers. However, as for Thomas, his legacy lived on further and much better than Quail’s could ever have. You see, the men and women standing beside Thomas were none other than his future children and grandchildren. How he saw them in the spectre’s eye, however, still remains a mystery, some believe it, some don’t, and some say that it was god’s will. Whichever it was, Thomas Loeb would forever be remembered in the hearts and minds of those who he, and his son’s and daughter’s ruled, until kingdom return to dust.
Jeffersonville High School, 2019