From a distance, the thatched roofs of the medieval village seem peaceful enough. There is smoke from cooking fires rising up from a few of the humble huts. The sky is blue. A castle looms nearby. There aren’t many people. So, from a distance, you have to strain to hear the arguing.
There is a crowd in the village square. Broadly arrayed in two groups, they are shouting and shoving. Men have left their fields, women have left their washing, children have gathered. Even the Lord and Lady are at hand. Screaming at one another. The commotion is immense.
And then, in a moment, it ends. A shadow is cast over the village as a massive dragon rises high overhead.
And then it dives.
The crowd scatters.
All the crowd but one boy. Looking up at the terrible beauty of the approaching monster, he smiles.
The dragon doesn’t hesitate. It swoops down, sweeps up the boy, and flies away.
The crowd is silenced.
Little Malus wanted to play. After all, all the other boys in the village were playing sticks and shields.
In the crisp morning air, amid the smell of pine trees and freshly turned dirt, the clang, bang, and ‘I’ve got you, you’re dead!’s could be heard from one edge of the hamlet to the other. Mothers made their food, smiling as their boys playfully beat each other to a pulp. Fathers were working their stretches of field, backs bent over their human-driven plows, proud of the pummeling they were sure their sons were giving.
And then there was Malus. The other boys had sticks and they used their arms as shields. No real harm would come of their fighting. Malus had spent his morning sharpening his stick. He thought it a promising innovation. And so, sharpened stick in hand, he strode onto the field of battle.
And the battle stopped.
“What do you think you’re doing?” asked Gurkhis, an 8 year-old with a solid attitude.
“I’m gonna play,” said Malus, with an evil smile. He was 11, and huge for his age.
“No,” said Gurkhis, “You are not. You could really hurt somebody with that.”
“So?” asked Malus. And then he strode into the center of the battle, He brandished his spear and announced, “Gurkhis, I challenge you to a duel.”
“No,” said Gurkhis, “You can’t have a pointed stick.”
“You can’t run, I’ll catch you,” said Malus, “So you must fight.” He began to step towards the younger boy.
And Gurkhis, wisely, screamed. “MOMMY!!!!”
In a flash, his mother Brenda was out of their hut. Malus continued to advance. Brenda was not a small woman. For a medieval villager she was quite well-rounded. She threw herself at Malus, flattening the boy before he could threaten her son.
It was Malus’ turn to scream, “FATHER!”
His father Sarus appeared just in time to see Brenda pummeling his boy in the face.
Sarus pulled her off by the hair, screaming.
“What’s wrong with you, bitch?” he asked.
“Your son attacked my son!” Brenda growled back at him.
“So what,” he said, “It’s the game.”
“With a pointed stick?” asked Gurkhis in disbelief.
“Coward,” said Sarus, spitting. “Malus, keep going.”
Malus, certainly worse for wear, picked up his pointed stick and advanced on Gurkhis once again.
Brenda screamed, “MARK!!!!”
Her husband came running. Immediately, he apprised the situation.
“Stop!” he shouted at Malus.
Malus didn’t stop.
Mark advanced on him, grabbed the stick and broke it in to pieces.
“You’ll pay for that!” said Sarus. “Morgan!” he shouted.
An old man – well, middle-aged actually, but toothless and worn-down by work and poverty, stumbled on to the scene. “Yes?” he asked.
“That man Mark has destroyed my son’s handiwork. I want it to be made whole.”
“I’ll make you another stick,” said Mark, disdainfully.
“Not enough,” said Sarus, “You must allow my son to join yours in play – with his stick.”
“This isn’t the first problem we’ve had,” said Mark, “So, no.”
Sarus grined. Morgan the village elder, a man who has been living off of Sarus’ table scraps for 3 years, grinned as well. They would seize Mark’s property.
But then Mark shouted a name and another toothless middle-aged man shuffled into the arena.
“Oh you,” he said, upon seeing Morgan, “No surprise. You thieving, conniving, rascal. Whatever it is, you’re wrong.”
Morgan smiled, “You are a waste of air, Gunt.”
“And you are a rotten, fetid, disgusting, lying bastard.”
“Oh yeah?” asked Morgan.
A crowd was gathering to watch the approaching storm. Everybody knew Gunt was honest and Morgan was not. But that was irrelevant. They would probably be an even match in the ring. They wanted to see the old men beat each other senseless.
Their wishes were about to be granted. Morgan grabbed a stick. So did Gunt. They faced off.
“M’LORD!” shouted Mark, seeing this is not going to resolve anything.
The brewing fight is halted. Mark had called upon the Lord of the Manor. He would appear, but it was a serious event. He did not like to be bothered.
Sarus responded, surprisingly, with “M’LADY!”
She too will appear. Of course Sarus had her in his pocket. He’d been arranging workouts for her overactive body.
An hour passed. And then the Lord and Lady appeared. The villagers made their cases. And then the Lady jumped ahead of the Lord and pronounced her verdict. She liked her body being overactive.
“Malus is right!”
“You’re CRAZY!” said the Lord.
“WHAT?” demanded the Lady.
And then, before the assembled town, they got into it.
The Lady could not win. She was weaker and powerless in almost all ways.
So she invoked an old friend.
She’d been helping the beast avoid the castle’s defenses for years. It owed her.
And so the dragon came. It had heard everything. Malus and Gurkhis awoke it.
It knew its decision. It flew high over the village. It spotted Malus.
The boy smiled, knowing the dragon would favor him – the boy who had started it all with the pointed stick.
In a way, the dragon did.
It took him away and ate him.
Sarus, Morgan and the Lady were silenced.
From a distance, and up close, the thatched roofs of the medieval village are peaceful. There is smoke from cooking fires rising up from a few of the humble huts. The sky is blue, a castle looms nearby. All around, people are working, children are playing and happiness fills the air.
Be careful when you decide to go upstairs.