Supernumerary (Short Story)

Supernumerary (with nods to Terry Pratchett and Mel Brooks)

by Erik Christensen and John Newsom

The moon shone with indifferent pallor on the empty square. From the high encircling palace walls, two guards, a rather rotund fellow named Dingus and his lankier companion Tim, looked with equal indifference upon the open space, bordered on two sides by small shop fronts, and one side by the creek that flowed uneasily through the middle of the town.

“The plaza looks empty tonight,” said Dingus, leaning lazily against the parapet.

“You got that right, mate,” said Tim. Standing more or less at attention, he appeared marginally more alert than his comrade.  He looked around at the dark outline of the horizon and the darker masses of forest.  An owl hooted lazily in the distance. “Last night’s feasting was too much for most folk, I reckon.  Too bad we had to pull guard duty again.”

“Wull we wouldn’t ‘uv if you hadn’t pulled that stunt with the commander’s favorite drinking gourd!” Dingus said sourly.

And that was the moment when they heard a sudden loud knocking sound outside the enclosure and saw a flaming ball the size of a sheep sailing over the parapet.  It crashed into the far wall with a tremendous cracking sound and burst into more flames and sparks.

“Ah, hello,” Tim said, standing up a bit straighter.  “What’s all this?”

Dingus looked appraisingly at the small conflagration below.  “Hmmm,” he said.  “That’s a bit of trouble.  Someone’s bound to sound the alarm any minute now.”

“No doubt about that,” confirmed Tim.  “Any idea where it came from? Sure brightens up the place, don’t it!”

Dingus looked behind him at the surrounding fields.  He could see movement.  “I suspect it might be those fellows down there carrying torches.  They have a big, you know, launching thing.  And now they’re coming towards us.”

Tim squinted at the approaching masses and could hear occasional clinking of metal and armor, and the squeaking of wooden wheels, perhaps the very same ones that had transported the big launching thing that had just sent the rather rude message into the palace.  “Ah yes,” he muttered.  “Indeed.  Looks like we have visitors.”

“Catapult.”

“Ay what?”

“It’s called a catapult,” said Dingus.  “The big launching thingy.”

“Ah. Right.  Don’t know why it’d be called that.  Wouldn’t do much to launch cats.  Except harm the cat.  Although cats, you realize, have a remarkable ability to land on their feet if they get twisty and then fall.”

“Right,” Dingus concurred.  “You’d have to stick to big heavy things.  Or the flaming kind what we just saw back then.”

Tim nodded approvingly.

At this point, a loud booming commenced, and the stones under their feet trembled. Their agressive visitors were now clearly ramming something big and heavy against the main wooden gates.  The booming was each time preceded by the sound of men heaving, snarling, and even yelling.  

“Guess they wants to be let in,” surmised Tim. “But the feast was last night.”

A sharp splintering sound was followed by a swarm of soldiers charging into the plaza, yelling and attacking palace guards and soldiers recently awoken from a variety of stupors, and many of whom were still half dressed, though they had managed to arm themselves with heavy swords and maces.  The battle quickly became fierce and crowded, and both Dingus and Tim leaned forward — though not too far — to look down at the proceedings.

“Well, that’s something you don’t see every day,” said Dingus.

“Indeed,” Tim replied.  “Very messy.  And a rude awakening, if you ask me.”

“Well, it sure was for our folk,” Dingus agreed. “Why d’you think they came in so abruptly?”  Another screeching sound came from below. In the flickering light of the assault contraption, it looked like someone being knifed in the back.

“Not sure, really,” said Tim, stroking his chin.  “But you’ve got to hand it to them, they did approach quietly.”

“Yeah, until they launched the flaming thing.”

“Right, a bit of a giveaway,” Tim agreed.  

Dingus pointed at the far end of the square.  “Ooh, look at that one!  Nice move he did there.  Swung the blade in a big arc and undercut him by surprise.  Too bad he got it in the back after that.”

“Ah, yes, too bad.  The perils of living in a palace and not knowing who could be suddenly creeping up on you at night.”

“And tossing over dangerous things.  And then barging in like this.”

“That’s right.”

The intensity downstairs surged and then gradually subsided as more and more soldiers either fainted, fled, or expired.  The enemy seemed as evenly spent or depleted as the denizens of the palace, and before long, all that could be heard was soft moaning, a few plaintive cries of women in the distance, and the ever-present flow of the little brook.

Dingus puffed up his cheeks.  “Well,” he said, “looks like it’s pretty much over.  Not a pleasant way to spend Friday night, I’d say.”

“Indeed.  I’d rather be up here, look at the view, the moon, listen to the owls.”

Silence gradually settled once more over the plaza, now littered with the still forms of bodies in a variety of states of unrest. The moon, unruffled by the pandemonium, painted shadows of legs, arms, heads, torsos, onto the paving stones, now patinated here and there with dark splotches. Armor and weapons shone with a grey sepulchral sheen.

“Well,” said Dingus, apparently unmoved by the carnage below. “That, I might say, was quite a dust up.”

“Right oh,” replied his mate. “Back to normal now, more or less.”

CUT! A loud voice boomed over the castle and environs. CUT! CUT! CUT!  A moment of stillness, then previously comatose entities stretched, groaned, and uncurled into standing positions. A general dusting off occurred.  Then all present shuffled off in the same direction.

“Right,” said Dingus. “Lunch break.” He leaned his spear against the wall, rubbed his stomach, and headed for the freight elevator behind the set.