I made a mistake. And I grimace in joy at the consequences.
In the heat of the moment, with the banner of our newly birthing nation wrapped around my mind, I pulled the trigger. My flintlock sent sparks to gunpowder and spit out the iron ball, and the prince, only five years old, fell bleeding at the throat. Thus, I got a name. Flintlock, Spark ‘O War.
They say it only takes a single spark. My test brings these results:
Goodbye my people. I must leave and go into hiding never to be seen again. My actions bring the kingdom’s hounds at my heels. Yes, I fired too late, but in doing so took step forward. I never intended to kill the boy, but seems I have sparked an even greater fire. If even the king’s very own Hound comes upon me, have I not succeed? What’s the fun in creating fires only to have them die by lack of fuel.
Let the king who sent his Hound of Hell to kill my brother pay for an eternity, by the death of his only son.
I tell you, people, this kingdom must fall. And I’ll do my very best to bring it down. The king says he’ll cleanse his land of sin. He thinks he’s God, but to be that he’ll have to take down George H. Callister, the very Flintlock, Spark ‘O War.
(Of the Third Age and its Beginning)
George H. Callister
The Hound, they called him. Lord Ranger was his duty. Most knew him by the shiver down their spines, at his mention. And some heard the sound of the low growl emitting from his dark hood as he bore down on them, trapped them in a corner, and slowly moved forward, reminding them why he hunted them down. They did not live to tell the tale.
The Hound, with his flintlock pistol and steel rapier, and the cloak that shifted from brown to green to grey to black, whatever was needed to keep him hidden, out of sight until he wanted to be seen. And on this particular day he did want to be seen by a very particular man, this the rangers all knew.
At a crossroads, two days ride from the castle, two men were waiting. They wore their dark green cloaks and sat out of sight beside the road. Their cloaks were such that if one stepped from the thick brush, and onto the damp beaten path, the fabric would shift to light brown, matching the dirt of the highway. King’s Rangers they were called. And they were on duty. Duty to hunt, and return to the king with a special prisoner when The Great Procession came to its end.
Every Ranger has been dispatched through the countryside to find the one who proclaimed he would be there in their midst, mocking the king, in rebellion. And all of the rangers knew their comrades would be looking for the same Spark ‘O War they were. Each man looked at the one next to him and considered how to make sure he alone was responsible for bringing in rebel, and in complete secrecy. But each ranger knew that it wasn’t just his partner he’d have to outsmart. They each looked over their shoulders and knew they’d have to have to beat The Hound, Lord Ranger, to the kill.
At one particular crossroads two rangers stood in tense anticipation. They waited beside the most traveled roadway, and together they look down the road, waiting for the caravan of musicians. Word got round that in that caravans were a safe option for an uninvited guest on his way to the Grand Procession. But neither ranger brings it up. They speak in idle tones:
“How much longer we gotta sit here?”
“Until we know everything’s safe. The king wants a safe procession, and we’re the first line of defense.”
“What’s the worry if the rebel never shows himself. We know he’d not have the guts for that, especially with the rangers all on his tail.”
“I heard someone at the last tavern say the Spark would make an attempt on the life of the king himself,” said the other man, Keelin.
The first shrugged. “That’s tavern stories,” he said. “You do what you want, I’ll watch the road.”
The men fell silent again, until one decided to go relieve himself.
“The forest on the other side calls my name, Gav. Keep an eye open for both of us, that’s why God gave you two.”
The other grunted. His relief to be the first to see any wagons coming was subtle, but apparent. And though his voice was none too pleased, the sparkle in his eyes betrayed the mask. As his companion crossed the road and into the green on the other side Gav shook his head. “Oh, Keelin you fool.”
From across the road, Keelin took care of his business and sat down in the shadows. More than anything he’d gone to relieve himself of the company of Gavin Dar, so he could think. Take the better view. See that I care. You won’t find Flintlock on this road, nor any. Never. A threat to the king is nothing to sneeze at, and I won’t have you bogging me down. But first I have to figure out how an assassin would make it close enough to the king, especially with the Hound–Keelin paused. He looked up, and his eyes gauged the distance of the sun before setting. That was it. All he had to do was track the Hound, and he would figure out where the Spark was. A deadly plan the rebel must have, and the Hound may need an extra knowing ranger’s eyes.
Keelin dropped down low, slipping through the brush. He was a ranger, and he didn’t want to be seen. Not even by another ranger. So he wasn’t. As his hurried crouch carried him along the road he slipped out a pistol. One of three. He’s ready to carry out his plan, and everything is falling into place. Now to get in position, and be there waiting.
Several hundred yards from Gavin Dar, Keelin crossed back over the road, heading toward the horses. The forest thinned slightly and he broke into a run. Long strides, landing in balance on the leaf covered ground.
He entered a clearing and heard a nicker regarding his presence. Keelin didn’t slow. He ran straight to his horse and leaped onto the saddle. At click of his tongue and a tap of the heel the creature to let loose a neigh, and jumped into a gallop.
Let’s see how you handle the caravan on your own, friend Gav. It’s not like anything will happen, and even if it did you could handle it.
The ranger and his horse hurried away, not bothering how much sound they made. The trees whispered aside, and the ground pounded beneath them. The man smiled. He knew where he’d find the Flintlock, even if he didn’t know exactly who it was. The man would be at the Grand Procession all right. But not as a musician. No. He’d be there in a much more potent form. And the Ranger of Nor Forest will show his true grit and worth.
With those thoughts, Keelin, King’s Ranger, came upon the first township. Preparations were being made for the procession, the time of sorrow, the time to remember their prince, lost to the rebel fifteen years ago. And this particular day was the day the boy would have become a man, and accepted his crown and princedom. Thus an extra certainty the Spark would make an appearance. A deadly appearance to finish the job.
The the duty given each ranger to find and destroy Flintlock was a secret. But as Keelin slowed, passing through town, he caught people glancing his way. At the pistol he held ready in one hand. They whispered to among one another and pretended he couldn’t see the way their eyes hungered after something he was supposed to have.
It appears the rumors have spread. Keelin smirked. Let them see my pride. Let it be the enemy’s downfall. Let them know I have found the Spark ‘O War. Let rumor reach him that he’s been found. It will either spark fear in him, or boldness. Never once though did the ranger look down nor to the side. His eyes remained forward. Ever toward the prize. But as soon as he reached the edge of town, Keelin clapped his heels into the sides of his horse and raced off in the direction of Devner Castle.
The place the procession would end.
Night fell and torches sputtered and sparked. Men and women surround the great balcony and stood on tip toes to look between the high, armored shoulders of the guards, and their large shields.
The people awaited their king. For him to step through the doors onto the low stone balcony and speak to them. They long to hear his words. To see his kindness gaze down the procession of his subjects. They came all this way to honor him by honoring his son, the life of the kingdom. The light extinguished.
And sprinkled through the crowds are rangers who also await the king. Their hands locked on burglars and thieves, people whose clothes spoke of the street and smelled worse. The rangers tensed, standing straighter when the great doors opened and the man they all served stepped out.
The people glimpsed his solemn eyes, heavy with kindness. His steps were smooth, carrying with them the weight of nobility and grace of the lords of old. He wore a great cloak of brown, rimmed with gold. His jerkin was leather, inlaid with the finest golden thready, laid and belted over a white linen tunic. He was their king, dressed a lord and a ranger himself. His people’s protector.
The king glided to the edge of the balcony as the guards parted around him, and his hands rested on the short stone wall. He closed his eyes, and inhaled.
“It is indeed a lovely spring night, is it not?” The king spoke in a low, quiet voice. But all the people heard him. They saw his grey eyes, and each one felt as though the man’s words were to him or her only. And they bowed because of it. In silence they waited while the king closed his eyes once more, and then opened them. “Arise my people.”
“This year you held a procession in honor of my son.” His head inclined toward them. “You have my thanks.”
The people bowed.
“But this year we have a special guest, who has proclaimed his presence to us all. He has come to haunt us, to watch my pain and sorrow, your sorrow. To mock. But among you men and women are my rangers. They have been sent to find this creature and bring him before me, this very night. The night he mocks me will be his demise.” The king raised his hands. “SO I CALL UPON MY RANGERS TO BRING FORTH FLINTLOCK, SPARK ‘O WAR!”
Ripples run through the crowd as the rangers moved forward. They slipped through the people, hoods down to show who they were to their king. They climbed the steps of the balcony and each carried with him a man tied and gagged. Each threw his quarry forward, claiming he’d found the criminal, throwing his “Flintlock” at the feet of the king. All of them did this, but two. Two came empty handed, arms folded inside their cloaks, hoods still up.
The king spoke again. “Oh you rangers.” His voice started low. “How you sicken me. I did not ask for musicians! I did not tell you to bring me tinkers. I DID NOT ASK FOR A COMMON THEIF!” His eyes burn into the faces of the silent rangers. None moved, each held onto his claim.
A silence draped the people.
The king’s gaze slid over the rangers, their silent stubbornness a crescent around him. After one continuous sweep he looked back to the middle, eyes staring into space.
“Let those of you who come empty handed step forward.” His voice is quiet again, but heard by all. “And address me with your name.”
Two rangers step forward out of the group. The first takes an extra step. He raises a hand, and a golden medallion with it. The other ranger almost gasped from beneath his hood as the first said, “King, you know me as Lord Ranger, The Hound.” A gasp rose from the crowd, but the king silenced them with his hands.
“Most trusted servant. Why even return to me empty handed?”
“But I did not. And you killed my brother” The Hound, flicked his hood back and raised his pistol. And fired.
The second ranger spun as the king crumpled to the ground. He drew his own flintlocks, two of them. The first he fired into the dark hood of his opponent, and the second he held ready. The Lord Ranger dropped to the ground, face broken and bloody.
The second ranger drew back his hood and turned to the king, who was supported by two guards. A third tended to the wound on the king’s arm.
“My king,” says the ranger. “I am Keelin, King’s Ranger of Nor-Forrest, and I bring you The Hound, Flintlock, Spark ‘O War. I apologize I didn’t draw faster. Never did I think it would be the Hound himself.”