"Was Coltzan a Good King?"
"My lord, my lord!"
A young Shoyru ran frantically into the throne room.
Coltzan looked up from his consultation.
"My lord," repeated the breathless Shoyru. "It's a Monocerous. Near the west gate. I came as fast as I could."
Coltzan didn't hesitate. He grabbed his massive broadsword. Then he ran towards the large throne room doors.
He looked over his shoulder. The Kyrii he had been consulting with was still standing beside the paper-strewn table. "My apologies, Wessle," he said to his advisor. "We can resume this train of thought when I get back."
"Lead the way, young Armak." This last comment was addressed to the young Shoyru.
The Shoyru caught his breath momentarily. He was stunned that the king had remembered his name. He was only a junior member of the guard. Then he took to the air in an effort to keep pace with the king's enormous stride.
As they left the palace grounds, Coltzan called for half a dozen of the guards to follow them. With Armak in the lead, the group pounded through the city. Right down this street. Left up the next. Through tight alleyways. Armak was good at navigating the haphazard web of streets that made up Sakhmet.
When the group arrived at the west gate, all was silent. The inhabitants of that part of the city had all fled. Even the gate was abandoned. The two guards on duty could be seen a short distance off. Both were fighting desperately to keep a savage Monocerous at bay. Against the vast expanse of the desert, their fierce battle looked so small that it seemed completely insignificant.
It only took Coltzan a moment to take all this in. He ran light footed over the sand to join in the fray. His guard followed close after. The late afternoon sun cast long shadows behind them.
On reaching the battle, Coltzan, sword in hand, burst into action. The guards sub-consciously moved sideways to give him room. His sword seemed to be everywhere at once. His face fixed into a scowl. Slowly, pace by pace, he began advancing towards the Monocerous. Slowly, pace by pace, it backed away.
Confronted by this menacing display of strength, and flanked on each side by a new contingent of guards, the Monocerous saw defeat. It gave one whinnying scream of mingled anger and despair. Then it promptly turned tail and fled into the desert.
The guards stood ranged in a semicircle, gazing at the receding silhouette of the Monocerous. Teeth were clenched, shoulders square and eyes hard. Each one there knew the fight had been well fought. But each one felt a lack of closure. The beast would come back. That was their way. Really, all they had achieved that day was postponing the menace until a later day.
Slowly but surely, shoulders began to droop. Eyes began to drop, defeated to the sand. A resigned sigh or two were heard around the group.
"We'll have to go after it," came Coltzan's voice.
Eyes snapped to their king, everyone froze.
"Four attacks in five days!" Coltzan exclaimed. "I can't allow it."
The threat to his people was too great. Already, people were beginning to talk about the dangers of the desert. Already people were beginning to wonder if their king really could protect them. It wouldn't do.
Around the circle of guards, the mood had changed. Each member of the group stood proudly, shoulders back. Each face showed newfound determination. Each one felt the danger and the seriousness of this undertaking. But each one felt in some way satisfied. This, at last, was a chance to show that they would not take these attacks lying down. This was a chance to take the battle to their foes. To dictate the battle themselves. This was the chance they had been waiting for.
Coltzan's blue eyes, as clear and piercing as the sky above, cut around the circle. He read the emotions in each face and knew there was nothing more to say. He looked towards the large red disk of the sun. It was just starting to slip below the horizon.
"We leave at dawn," he told the small assembly. There wouldn't be enough daylight left that day.
Then, turning dramatically on his heel, he strode back towards the city and the castle.
The next day dawned bright clear. By the time the sun had risen fully above the horizon, it gazed on a small group, traversing the endless desert. By the time the sun had been awake for an hour, the silence began to hum. It hummed with that implacable buzzing which seems to be a part of heat itself. The day had not yet reached the scorching heat which they all knew it would, but the sound foreboded it.
Garbed for battle, our group felt the heat more intensely. So it was earlier than usual in the day when the king called a halt. They would rest through the hottest part of the day and continue on their journey after the sun had passed its zenith.
Later that day, the still blazing sun gazed upon that same small clump of people. Their previous stillness was now exchanged for a writhing mass of activity. They were making preparations to be on their way again. Coltzan had directed everyone to muffle their weapons and armour with rags. He wanted to be able to stalk in silence from here on in. Water was passed around, packs were hoisted, and the group set off once again.
They had no real idea of where the Monocerous had gone to ground. But they did know the general direction in which it had headed. And everyone had heard the nomads' stories. They told of a part of the desert where few dared to venture. Where at night, horrible sounds were heard. Many assumed that this was the lair of the Monocerous. Although, of course, the superstitious had many and various explanations. And it was to this area that the group resolutely headed now.
As they continued, a strange mood fell over the group. The sound of the heat no longer seemed warm and oppressive, but ominous and foreboding. None of the royal guard were particularly inclined to superstition, but here...
Coltzan looked around the group. He could see the look in his guards' eyes. He could sense that heart beats were racing. He guessed that the fur on the back of each neck was prickling. Actually, come to think of it, he felt that sensation himself. He was glad that the sands muffled any sound their feet might have made. Although on second thoughts, that could work against them. Their foe's approach would have no sound either. The vision of a huge Monocerous silently bearing down on them from behind leapt unbidden into his head. He checked briskly over his shoulder. And saw a huge Monocerous silently bearing down on them from behind. For a long moment, he just stared at the enormous beast drawing closer. Where had it come from? What was it doing? Why was it there? Then he realised that none of that mattered. What mattered was action.
"RUN," screamed the king.
Then, following his own advice, he ran. The guards took a moment longer to register the situation. They looked and saw the massive beast, fast approaching. Then all turned to stumble frantically out of the path of its approach.
As he ran, Coltzan tried to untie the rags he had used to muffle his sword. Unfortunately, this required using one hand to hold the sword steady, while the other hand fumbled with complicated knots. He had limited success. Meanwhile the Monocerous had seen the group scatter. It let out a grunt of frustration. Then it turned in the direction of its first target – the king.
Coltzan sensed that the beast had come after him. He turned to face it, still trying desperately to release his sword from its wrappings. But he had no time. The beast was upon him. He held his sword in a defensive position, but the muffled edge of the blade held no fear for the Monocerous. It charged in contempt of the weapon. Coltzan felt the sword wrenched from his grip as the Monocerous' horns sent it flying. Then, the red eyes fixed menacingly on him. Alone and defenceless.
The Monocerous charged.
Coltzan, heart racing, did the only thing he could thing of. He dove under the beast's hooves and lay still as it passed over him. Once clear, the king sprang up and started towards the place where his sword lay in the sand, still swathed in rags. The Monocerous, however, gave him no respite. It was upon him again.
Its enormous tusks tried to slash and gore the king. Each move that it made, Coltzan avoided, leaping and twirling to stay out of its range. He thought longingly of his sword, but the tide of the battle was carrying him further away from it.
Coltzan knew that he couldn't keep dodging indefinitely. And he knew the Monocerous would not put up with him for much longer. The time had come for drastic measures. In one flying leap, he vaulted over the beast's horned head and landed sprawled on its back. He quickly grabbed fistfuls of long, matted Monocerous hair to keep himself from slipping off.
Coltzan was sitting astride the wild animal as though it were a mount. But it wasn't. It was a wild animal. Completely enraged by Coltzan's presence on its back, the Monocerous whinnied and screamed. It leapt and danced in circles, trying to throw the king off its back.
From his position astride the Monocerous, Coltzan found it hard to see clearly. There was Monocerous beneath him, Monocerous above him, Monocerous in front and Monocerous behind. He saw so much matted brown hair, so many horns, so many red eyes, he sure felt there was enough to this Monocerous to make two. Then, the Monocerous' wheeling, careering dance was interrupted by an earth shaking collision. Coltzan slid helpless to the ground. In the moment of stillness that ensued, he saw two Monocerous. Staring each other down. Then they charged at each other.
Coltzan had just experienced an enraged Monocerous first hand. Now, he cowered away as he watched that same wrath from the sidelines. He had no idea which Monocerous had collided with which in the first place, but both evidently felt wronged. With considerable relief, Coltzan saw the beasts chase one another off into the desert.
The weary king tried to raise himself from the sand. And immediately became aware of just how many injuries he had sustained in the course of being bounced around on the Monocerous' back. The guards had all scattered far and wide after the king's exhortation to run. Now, they regathered around their injured king. Everyone wanted to hear the story of the battle. Coltzan, of course, was not averse to telling the tale of his cunning and courageous ploy with which he single-handedly defeated two Monocerous unarmed and unaided in the middle of the desert.
So today, there is barely a child in the city of Sakhmet who cannot tell you the epic saga: "How king Coltzan defeated a savage Monocerous with his bare paws." And every citizen of that great city will vouch for the fact that Coltzan was undoubtedly "a good king".