So I just banged this out and I’ll discuss it maybe a bit in the comments — it diverged from the idea in my head in an interesting way — but I should warn you that this gets violent. Knives and genitals meet.
The Duty of the Strong
The Baron grabbed the serving girl and pulled her forcefully onto his lap, sliding his hand inside her dress. Her cries were drowned out by the laughter of his men. Her struggles only added to the merriment. “I like ’em feisty!” the baron shouted.
The man sitting next to me at the long common table tensed. He was big, but for his size he was lean and hard. He wore a simple chain shirt that had been repaired many times; in places the links bunched while other areas were only thinly protected. The shirt he wore beneath was tattered, more hole than cloth. His long dark hair was tucked behind his ear, revealing the tension in his square jaw and the crease of his brow pulled down over deep-set eyes. A scar, still slightly pink and puffy, bisected his eyebrow and continued down his cheek.
Another cry from the serving-girl, barely audible over the roar of the baron’s retainers. My stomach turned. But I am a smallish man, slightly built, talented in my own ways, perhaps, but helpless to prevent what was about to happen. The big man was breathing carefully.
“It is the duty of the strong to protect the weak,” I hazarded, softly.
“Perhaps,” said the big man, in a voice for me alone, the product of a throat that has known no shortage of shouting, “But I am more inclined to help the girl.” He looked at me directly. His eyes were blue, sapphires buried in the shadow of his brow. “But I am just one.”
“Sometimes simple brawls have unexpected collateral damage,” I said. “Where no one is looking.”
He smiled, revealing a void where his front teeth should have been. He put a hand on my shoulder, a big, hard hand that bent me under its weight. “It is the duty of the strong,” he said, “to protect the unarmed.”
He rose with a roar, tipping his chair and mine, his blade gleaming in the light of the fire, a living thing almost, flawless and beautiful. I rolled beneath the table adjacent, lost in the rush to flee the violence.
“Come here, you little bitch baron,” the big man shouted. “Come over here and learn what it means to be a man!”
The baron stood, dumping the girl on the floor, and for a moment I thought his pride was going to render my skills unnecessary. He drew his sword, stepped forward two paces, and said, “Nobody speaks to me that way.” To his men he said, “Kill him.”
Twenty green-cloaked men rose and I didn’t like the chances of my new friend, however strong he was. I was not going to tip that scale, however; he was on his own. All that was left for me was to make his death worthwhile. I chose a thicker blade, a cutting knife rather than a stabbing one. I thought perhaps the extra blood on the floor would end the violence more quickly.
From one table to the next I moved, though in the confusion and noise I need hardly have bothered. The big man was using that gleaming blade to keep the greencloaks from getting too close, but it looked like he’d only killed a couple of them so far. I continued toward my goal.
They say that poetry is lost in this world, that the bluster of commerce and war has hardened our souls to beauty, but it is lost only to those who don’t know where to look. There is the poetry of moments, a poetry of found things that a perceptive mind understands. Take for example, a moment when one emerges from beneath a table, holding a very sharp knife, to discover the genitals of a man about to violate a woman while she watches her would-be savior perish. The poetry is further enhanced if one is well-versed in the various ways to use a knife, and if the possessor of the genitals releases a particularly shrill scream when they are removed from him.
I almost didn’t kill the baron; living his life so altered would almost certainly be another poem, and enduring sonnet. But I knew he would hold a grudge, and he had seen my face. I cut his throat as he clung to his gushing crotch, interrupting his continued scream with a burble.
The baron’s scream had turned the attention of the greencloaks my direction. “Time to go!” I shouted to the big man, in the event he was still alive. I dove for the shadows and the window in the corner that was still open despite the chill. Always know where the exits are, my mother used to say. My mother was a wise woman.