The Coward

English: A cleft chin
English: A cleft chin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He had a great black helmet, covered with swirling lines of ocean current.  At the top was a great bush of the creamiest, whitest horsehair.  Below the horsehair were the best curling golden locks that any maid would die for.  He had a sharp nose, thick lips, and a cleft chin.  Below the chin was an enormous barrel chest and arms as thick as your thighs.  His thighs were as thick as your waist.  He had golden armor that gleamed and a great sword that he could swing about and make the air sing.

Stephen looked the very picture of a warrior.  It was such a shame that he was a coward.  Since he was a little lad, Stephen had never been in a fight.  He always gave up or ran.

The trouble was, Stephen was in a military academy.  Every time he sparred, he ran.  But at everything else he was pretty good.  So he was passing.

All the way up through the ranks, Stephen flunked sparring class.  But he got high enough marks in everything else, so he kept getting passed.  All the instructors knew the stories about sparring class, but Stephen was so impressive they had trouble believing them.  His classmates knew Stephen was a coward, but they also knew his father was a major general and kept their snickering to a low murmur.

So it got to be graduation day, and all the instructors knew that Stephen had never been in a fight.  He’d never even sparred.  But he could do sword work, he could throw a spear.  All the coursework was based on Stephen’s ability with a weapon, not on his ability to use that weapon in combat.  So even though the sparring teacher flunked him again.  Stephen graduated.  The academy had never had such a proficient coward before.

After graduation, Stephen looked around for a job.  He had some inkling of his shortcomings as a soldier, so he took a job as a bodyguard.  He was a very good bodyguard, because bodyguards are supposed to look ferocious and not really do anything unless their charges are attacked.  Stephen looked so terrible his charges were never attacked.

Ten years passed, and the war came.  All the bodyguards were called up first, because they were experienced fighters.  But Stephen’s charge was very high up in government, so he got a pass.  And for the second call, and the third, and the fourth.  By the time they got to the seventh call, Stephen was by far the most experienced soldier they had.  So they put him in charge of a rabble of young apprentices.  He was leading a band of untrained boys into almost certain destruction as the invading army moved over the land.

Stephen was pretty good at marching and teaching other people how to fight.  He was kind and a good listener, and he inspired his troops.  It was even fair to say he taught them about three good ways to kill someone, which was all they could remember anyway.

But Stephen was a coward.  So rather than wait until dawn and charge against his enemy, Stephen had his troops march through the night and attack his enemy at the ungodly hour of three a.m. The seasoned enemy troops were so used to the way things should be they took a long time realizing that things had changed.  By that point their general was captured, their horses were gone, and Stephen’s apprentices had beaten them most soundly with their own weapons.

Stephen hadn’t been in the battle.  He’d been up on a hill, about as far away from the battle as possible.  But when it was done, he was made a general.

Now no one wants Stephen to fight.  They want Stephen to talk to people and to avoid another costly war if at all possible.  And Stephen is very good at his job.  He really doesn’t want to fight, ever.

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