Medals

The king’s army cheered in the valley. Swords waved. War dogs growled. Some coughed up blood.  Many were sick. Others put their head in hands and wondered how they were still alive. Gobba scrambled from his hiding place and joined the celebrations. He smeared blood on his face and tore some clothing so he looked the part. Ned walked back to where he had last seen Lord Snookington. He sat in a pool of blood. Ned grabbed his arm and patted the nobleman’s back. A tear ran down Harry’s face as he was led back to his knights. They took Lord Snookington away to be cleaned up.

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One Versus Two

Despite his valour, Lord Snookington’s leg was slashed and the nobleman fell to his knees. An enormous Malaxian warrior stood over him, about to deliver a fatal blow. The warrior looked up and saw Ned. A hint of recognition caused a split second delay. It was Big Nose. His face was creased with age beneath a darkened helmet. Ned focussed on the uniform as everything seemed to slow down. He leapt forward and kicked Big Nose in the chest. Spinning around, Ned cut him down.

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Battle

The order came for the King’s infantry to advance. Rough barks of war dogs pierced the morning air. Soon the battle raged in the valley. Swords clashed and it rained arrows. Ned cut Malaxians down with his sword, ever looking for their elite unit. The savagery struck fear into Gobba so he held back. At the forefront of the fighting, it was ferocious and blood flowed, but neither side yielded so knights on horseback entered the fray. Lord Snookington led his knights thundering downhill and stormed toward the Malaxians. The sound of battle was everywhere. Shouts. Screams. Grunts. Sobs. Thuds. A smell of death burnt nostrils. The former farm and mine workers from the Snook had never before witnessed such butchery.

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Ready

Ned and his fellow soldiers settled down in the camp. A light wind swept over the soldiers as Ned built a small fire using his flint and steel. The flames warmed him and he ate well. Afterwards, he cleaned the short sword and arranged his kit so he would be ready at short notice in the morning. He had a broken sleep, thinking about Kroll. It was time for revenge.

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Journey

All too soon, it was time to join the rest of the King’s army. Led by Lord Snookington on horseback in a full suit of armour, his knights followed on their horses. Villagers waved flags and cheered. Trumpets reverberated the air and church bells rang. A ragtag rabble of semi-trained peasant soldiers brought up the rear in leather and chainmail. Toward the foot of the High Street, they turned right to march North. Once beyond the village, Lord Snookington called a halt so the knights could take off their heavy armour and load it all onto horse-drawn carts. Feeling lighter and more comfortable, the noblemen mounted their horses and continued. Orders were shouted at the soldiers laden with bags and weapons to speed up.

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Sword Fight

The man squared up to Ned. Judging by the scars around his forearms, the old soldier was proven in battle. He roared and leapt toward Ned, who ducked and walked to one side. Turning to face the soldier, Ned’s breathing was even and he remained alert and light on his feet. Other soldiers and recruits stopped what they were doing to watch.

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Training

The crowd cheered and hats bounced in the air. Gobba smiled and joined in with the dancing as military trumpets sounded. Now he would fight for the King and prove his mettle against the Malaxians. As the village celebrations grew rowdy, Lord Snookington scratched his chin and wondered how he would turn a bunch of hardened farm hands and miners into soldiers. Difficult days lay ahead. If anything it would be a trickier task to transform the gentlemen, softened by good living, into knights. Harry was trained in swordsmanship, but he had no experience of war. He brought in some career soldiers and the training commenced.

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Call to Arms

While good times continued for many on the manor, tragedy struck Lord Snookington. He grew ill and was bed-ridden. With a hacking cough, his lungs grew worse until he took his last breath. A grand funeral was held in the local church. The wealthy and titled crammed into the pews to hear the service. Lord Snookington had always been loyal to the King and a contingent from the royal family attended. Villagers swarmed around the church grounds. As day drew into night and the morning beyond, young Harry became Lord Snookington. Notwithstanding his lack of worldly experience, he was determined to serve the King with honour and govern his manor in an equitable way.

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Order

Ned grew into a quiet young man and kept a low profile in the village. Harry Snookington never spoke to him, but Ned was always met with kind eyes wherever he saw Harry or Lord Snookington. Every now and then, Ned saw Gobba Gronk and his hateful stares. He knew there could be trouble from that direction and decided to keep his distance. But Ned’s mild demeanour disguised the burning vengeance in his heart. He was not the sort of person to let it go when he was wronged. The Malaxians had subjected him to a death march, sold him as a slave, hunted him down and killed his family. Ned honed his swordsmanship alone in the forest, but his desire for vengeance against sworn enemies remained unfulfilled.

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Calm Rage

After the funeral, Ned was told to leave the lodge so he built a small wooden hut at the edge of the village. The orphan lived there with only his dog, Skar, as company. He was given a job as a labourer on a farm and worked hard in the fields during the warm months. During the cold, dark winters, Ned toiled down a chalk mine. It was not an easy life for one so young, but he had known worse. A lot worse. The boy was self-sufficient and had his own place to live. Of his few possessions, the most prized item was the wolf pelt, which was nailed to an inside wall of his hut. It was rickety place and not water-tight, but it was home. He earned his own food and fended for himself. The boy was treated as well as could be expected by the farmer and mine owner.

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