Aphelion Issue 242, Volume 23
August 2019
 
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Desired Lives

by H.Y. Hill




The light reflected off the cleaver's edge. "I will cut you." Those were its silent words. But actions spoke louder. The cleaver came down, smiling devilishly at Sir Robert. It smashed the ground, sending dirt flying everywhere.

Sir Robert had barely managed to evade the blow. Instinctively, he had rolled sideways and in one smooth motion, returned to his feet. The Undead, the wielder of the cleaver, glared at the knight. Drool hung about his chin. The cleaver was in his hand. There was another in his other hand. There were also knives sticking out of his back, an armoury of sorts. Sir Robert had no weapon on him. He had dropped his warhammer behind his opponent.

The Undead roared. Sir Robert ran towards him. The Undead swung both cleavers. The knight dived, feet first, between the Undead's legs. The cleavers barely missed his head. Sir Robert grabbed a knife that was sticking out of the abomination's lower back.

Quickly and in one smooth motion, Sir Robert leapt to his feet, twisted his body and threw the knife. It struck the Undead in the back of his neck. It wasn't a fatal blow. Killing an Undead was impossible. He wasn't alive. But a knife in the back of anyone's head would cause him some discomfort. Sir Robert had gained some time to retrieve his warhammer.

He grabbed it. He felt complete, a reunion with a long lost limb, a limb so powerful that Sir Robert could feel the warhammer's strength passing through his veins. He faced the Undead, who was running towards him. As he got closer, Sir Robert swung the warhammer, its metal head crashing against the Undead's head, sending the abomination to the ground. Sir Robert followed up by smashing his warhammer against the Undead's back. He screamed in agony.

"I will send thee back to hell, demon beast," Sir Robert declared. "Whenever that traitor summons you or your cursed friends," the knight continued smashing his warhammer against the Undead's body, "remember this: that I, Sir Robert Thordin, the Premier Knight, the Rage-of-the-Storm, shall show no mercy and will send thee and thy damned friends back to that pit you call home… in pieces!"

And with that, he crushed the Undead's head into oblivion.


*


Jake was awake but he didn't want to get out of bed. He shook his legs and felt the blood rushing up to his thighs. It was still dark outside and the warmth beneath the duvet was much more preferable to the winter coldness. But it was morning and he had to get to work. Cars and trucks don't repair themselves.

But he wanted to continue sleeping. He was having the best dream. Jake was a knight and he was fighting against a zombie that wielded cleavers. But Jake's warhammer was a stronger weapon and he had crushed that zombie's head like crushing a cake. He wished that his life was like that: a valiant knight in the Middle Ages, going on adventures, defeating all evil, conjuring magic and all that, plus the fame and the glory. It sounded like a much more exciting life.

Jake was a mechanic. Six days a week, he fixed cars or trucks or whatever transport that people bring to the workshop. His life had become routine. Every day, on his way to work, he would drop off the kids at school. Then at work, he would fix cars and listen to Old Al telling stories about what he called 'the good old days,' whenever those days are. At the same time, Charlie would make fun of Old Al's ramblings. Then, at lunch, they would go to Mabel's Diner and eat either burgers and fries, fried chicken and fries or spaghetti and meatballs (and Mabel would give them fries anyway). At three, he would leave work temporarily, pick up the kids and bring them home before returning to work. At six, Jake, Charlie and Old Al would clock out and grab some beer at Mo's Bar before leaving for home at seven. It was barely an exciting life.

Jake got out of bed and went into the bathroom to take his morning shower, just like he did the day before and the day before that and the years before that. Then, he put on his jeans and a Metallica t-shirt and went down the stairs to the kitchen. The scent of bacon and eggs floated in the air unnoticeably. Lena cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast five times a week. On the other two mornings when Lena works the night shift at the hospital the night before, they would eat cold cereal with milk. Once, they ran out of milk and had to use chocolate milk instead. Jake actually enjoyed that small crack in the monotony.

And as usual, the kids were making lots of noise while eating. The rest of Jake's day went exactly as it was supposed to, not a single thing out of place. There were no zombies with knives sticking out of their back to battle or warhammers to swing and evildoers to crush. There were only cars to fix, Old Al's 'good-old-days' stories, Charlie's Old Al jokes, lunch at Mabel's, beer at Mo's, kids and wife. Jake lay on his bed at the end of the day, on the same side, at the same time and as always, dissatisfied.


*


"What is that world like?" enquired Sir Malcolm of Ulley.

"I've told you countless times, friend Malcolm," Sir Robert replied.

"Aye, but you could never describe it well. You speak of chariots built of iron that need not be pulled by horses and that they move on roads made entirely of black stones. Then, there are boxes that could show you images without water or spells. Pardon me for asking, good Robert, but your dream world… 'tis most interesting."

"'Tis the best place I've ever been. In that world, Arabella lives and is as beautiful as I could remember and she was a wife of great loving. But her name there was Lena. Mine own name was Jake. I know not why that is the case. We also have three children, two lads and a lass: Michael, JJ and Sarah."

"'Tis nice to remember your Arabella from time to time. She was a lovely lass. But thou must be careful in thy reminiscings. I recall how much you loved her and that love could blur the line between dream and real." Sir Malcolm placed his hands on Sir Robert's shoulder, shaking it the way people do to bring someone out of a trance.

"I am aware. But you know not what 'tis like. Your wife still lives and she bore you children. In that world, Arabella was still mine. It felt real. I see her… and hold her. And I felt her too. I could smell her scent. And I could do so every day. And our children… their noises, their hugs… our life was great. 'Twas peaceful… and happy."

Sir Robert looked around the camp. The fallen snow had turned to slush and the wind made the cold unforgiving. Soldiers huddled at small fires in a desperate attempt to warm their bodies. There wasn't a doubt that they were also starving. Sir Robert was starving too and as a knight, he ate better than the rest of the men.

"Unlike this accursed life. We're in the midst of a siege against the castle of a lord that our great king detests. A siege! 'Tis the most miserable form of warfare and we are sent to do it. And who's castle are we surrounding? Only Lord Lucian Donnington's, the kingdom's most dangerous magical practitioner! Dost thou know whom the great sorcerer sent to kill me?" Sir Robert did not wait for Sir Malcolm to answer. "Only a bloody Undead who cannot be killed!" The memory played in Sir Robert's mind. Despite his warhammer crushing the Undead's skull, the abomination still walked, headless and battered.

"I cannot say that this life is to my liking. I want Arabella. I want a life of serenity."


*


"Sounds like a pretty sweet dream, bro," Charlie said after he swallowed a large sip of the Budweiser he usually drinks. It was after work, which meant that they were in Mo's Bar. "Knights and zombies and old European castles. That's so King Arthur. You got that magic sword…um…"

"Excalibur? No. But I got a warhammer. I used it to smash a zombie's skull, but it didn't kill it. Instead, the zombie just walked around like a headless chicken."

"Hammers are useless," commented Old Al, who was seating next to Charlie, his usual spot. "Back when we fought Saddam, you can't get nothing done with a hammer."

Jake chuckled. "Still," he said, "it's not really about the weapon. I mean, as Sir Robert, I go on adventures and do amazing stuff, like defending the innocent and vanquishing evil. You know, more exciting than changing car batteries."


*


Lord Donington had conjured another Undead to kill him. Sir Robert was in the woods, leading a group of twenty men on a hunt. His intent was to break their boredom with some game. Being stationed in front of Donington Castle for months was enough to take away a man's sanity. Siege warfare was a tiresome tactic that was prone to demoralize soldiers and demoralized soldiers were never good assets. Hunting seemed like a good cure. Additionally, they could get some meat for dinner.

But Lord Donington was also on the hunt. He had conjured another Undead. This one wielded two swords, one had blade of flames and the other of wind. Four soldiers had been burnt to ashes. Several of the rest were wounded. Sir Robert still stood, together with his warhammer of ordinary metal.

The Undead swung the flame-sword. Sir Robert ducked. He felt the heat from the sword pass above his head. Immediately, he swung his warhammer into the Undead's ribs. With a blow of such strength, most men would shatter. But not the Undead. It only budged a little. Sir Robert swung it again.

The Undead brought down the wind-sword. It exerted such a strong gust that sent Sir Robert flying several feet away. But he managed to hold onto his warhammer. Damn demon beast! Are hell gates so fragile as to allow many of thine kind to escape?

Well, if hell won't hold you, thought Jake, then I'll just have to cripple you.


*


The smell of bacon and eggs floated through the morning air. His mind still hadn't cleared itself from the blurriness of waking up but the smell of a hot breakfast meal pulled his nose to the kitchen.

"G'morning, sleepyhead," said the woman in the kitchen. She was in the midst of transferring the bacon strips from the pan to the plates with the spatula. She was also the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, especially since he hadn't seen her for almost ten years. She looked aged but her silky blonde hair still shone like gold in the sunlight. She still looked at him with those sea blue eyes that had always made him feel like he was soaking in her prettiness. And his heart melted at the sight of her smile whose radiance was beyond words. She walked over to him and planted the sweetest of kisses on his lips. "You were amazing last night. So full of… hunger and so… eager." She kissed him again, passionately.

His mind was blank from shock. "Arabella?" Sir Robert finally uttered. "Is it truly you?"

"What? What are you talking about?" said Lena Round. "And what did you just called me?"

"I am merely surprised, my love. I thought I had lost you forever. I need to be sure that my eyes are not deceiving me. That 'tis truly you!" Sir Robert touched Lena Round's cheeks, stared deeply into her eyes and took in her scent. "Tell me that 'tis truly you, the you that I love most dearly."

"What's gotten into you, Jake? I'm right here." She showed him the wedding ring on her finger. "I've been here for eight years, remember?"

"Eight… eight years?"

"Jake? You okay?" Lena placed her hand on Jake's forehead.

"What? Oh, yeah." Jake squeezed his eyes and shook his head. "Yeah, I'm…um…I'm fine. Sorry, just…still groggy. Had…um…a really powerful dream last night. Guess it spilled into this world, huh?"


*


"She is alive, friend Malcolm," said Sir Robert. "With these eyes, I saw her person. With these hands, I touched her. Our lips pressed in passionate love. Arabella lives."

"Robert, 'twas merely a dream. We spoke of this before. Dreams offer thee desires, not truth. You were there when dear Arabella was buried, were you not?"

"'Twas not a dream. I know 'tis real. I saw her as I see you now." Sir Robert gripped Sir Malcolm's forearm. "I touched her as I am touching you. Arabella lives and she is trapped in a prison-of-sorts, in a delusional world. I require your help, friend, to save her."

Sir Malcolm looked away, trying to avoid his dear friend's pleading gaze. "There is not a prison of delusional worlds, Robert. Not a single sorcerer trapped her anywhere. She died of fever. She is in heaven with our Lord. 'Twas just a dream, Robert. Only a dream."

"'Twas not a dream. 'Twas not." 'Twas not, Sir Robert repeated the phrase in his mind, hoping to convince himself. 'Twas not a dream…


*


Was it a dream? Jake was at Mabel's, having lunch. It was fried chicken and fries day. I'm sure it was just a dream. He had been mulling that question all day. Come on. Fighting a zombie that had a wind-sword and a flame-sword? It's gotta be a dream.

Jake's eyes caught sight of his left forearm. This morning, somehow, he had went to the kitchen after he got out of bed instead of taking a shower first. Sure, he can argue that it was a small step to breaking his monotonous routine, but that wasn't the point. When he went into the shower, Jake noticed some scars that was never there before. His left forearm was burnt, just like the one Sir Robert got when he blocked the zombie's flame-sword with his vambrace. There was an old bruise at his ribs. Sir Robert had got that months ago when he jousted in a tourney. His opponent's lance had struck that area of his breastplate. Somehow, the Premier Knight managed to win not just that round, but the whole tourney. There were also other bruises from other adventures.

Adventures and tourneys. Swords and lances and warhammers. Villains and heroes. Those were just story book things but they would make a great life for Jake. A dream life. Every day would be something different. One day, he would be fighting in a tourney. Another, he would be on a quest to vanquish some villain or rescue someone really important. Then, on other days, he would be basking in the glory accumulated from those activities. Way, way, way better than fixing cars all day…

Jake looked at his fried chicken. This was probably the fourth time this week that he had eaten fried chicken and fries for lunch. He looked at Old Al and Charlie. Jake ate his lunch with them every day. He listened to their ramblings and jokes on a daily basis. Then, there was also the after-work drinking sessions at Mo's. Sure, his life was peaceful, but wouldn't too much peace get boring? Too much excitement would never get boring.

'Vambrace…' Why do I know that word?


*


Sir Robert pushed the flap aside and entered Lord Commander Legius' tent. An uncomfortable silence exploded as every eye in the tent glanced at Sir Robert before they averted their eyes from making contact with Sir Robert's. Twelve high-ranking military leaders, including Sir Malcolm of Ulley, stood around a square table with a map of their surroundings on its surface. There were miniature soldier and catapult pieces positioned strategically on the map, surrounding a miniature piece of Donington Castle.

"Why was I not summoned for this council?" Sir Robert demanded, glaring straight at Lord Commander Legius, who stood at the head of the table. "As the Premier Knight, His Majesty's own representative in this war council, I must be consulted on all matters relating to strategy."

"If you seek an apology, Sir Robert, you shan't obtain it from me." The lord commander's voice was soft and calm but it carried authority.

"I seek a reason, lord commander." Sir Robert walked to the end of the table opposite the lord commander. The Premier Knight had left his warhammer behind but he carried a knife sheathed at his belt. His fingers on his right hand gripped the knife's hilt, signalling that he wasn't afraid to draw it. "My consultation is mandatory."

"Thine sanity is required for the consultation to be proper."

"MY SANITY?" the Premier Knight drew his knife and stabbed the table top in one swift motion as he shouted. "You dare talk of my sanity? I am the Premier Knight, the Rage-of-the-Storm, victor of twenty-seven tourneys and fifteen melees, the most decorated knight in the kingdom's history. My sanity, at its weakest, is stronger than yours at its best!"

His anger echoed silently throughout the tent. All eyes except for the lord commander's looked away Sir Robert. "You may be decorated, good knight," said Lord Commander Legius, "but your sanity has diminished considerably and as such, your counsel cannot be depended upon."

Sir Robert pulled the knife from the table top, ready to throw it at the arrogant lord commander. But before he could do so, Sir Malcolm spoke, "Friend Robert, surely thou wouldst understand. You have been entertaining strange notions lately, especially regarding Arabella and your… children. Sometimes, you speak with strange references and strange manners. You spoke of cars and internets and fried potatoes cut into rectangles. You even called me 'Charlie' from time to time."

"I spoke of no such things. I admit to mentioning that Arabella lives and that we had children but that was the result of a dream from yesternight. It has nought to do with my sanity."

"Yesternight?" Lord Commander Legius snorted. "Thou hast just evidenced that it has everything to do with thine sanity."

"Friend Robert." Sir Malcolm's eyes looked at him with genuine concern. "Thou hast been talking of it for a fortnight. You first mentioned her two weeks ago."

"And where are thine wounds?" asked the lord commander. "Twenty high-ranking men died, half of them burnt, when Donington's undead attacked in the woods and you came away with no wounds? 'Tis very suspicious, Premier Knight."


*


"Could you please stop talking like that?" complained Lena. "It's been two weeks! It was cute at first, but now it's just annoying!"

"Talk like what?" asked Jake, confused.

"Like… all medieval and stuff. All that 'thou,' ''tis' and… 'doeth.' I mean, do you think you're a knight of King Arthur's Round Table or something? And you've been getting into fights, calling people 'demon beast' and… and… 'succubus whoreson.'"

"What? I never did that! I never called anyone a 'succubus whoreson.'"

"Well, you've been calling me 'Arabella.' Who the hell is she?"


*


The world had gone mad. It was the world and not Sir Robert. He tried to fight his doubts but his conviction was too weak.

Sir Robert sat on a stump by the river deep inside the woods. Sir Malcolm's and Lord Commander Legius' words echoed in his mind. You first mentioned her two weeks ago… where are your wounds?... 'Tis very suspicious, Premier Knight… Thine sanity is required for the consultation to be proper…

He had hoped that leaving the camp would meant leaving their words behind but the echo was too loud. Even his shame could not be left back at the camp. How could he face the men anymore now that he, the Premier Knight, the Rage-of-the-storm, had been prohibited from participating in tomorrow's charge upon Donington Castle's walls? There were even whispers of him being a traitor, a pawn of Lord Donington. Where are your wounds?... 'Tis very suspicious…

What is happening? He took another large sip of whiskey. This was his second flask. Did I truly forget two weeks of my life? Is that even possible? Well, it has to be possible because it happened.

Cars and internets and fried potatoes cut into rectangles…

'Fried potatoes cut into rectangles?' They're called 'fries,' dummy. 'Fries!'

Fries… why do I know that word?

'Vambrace…'

What the hell? Wait… What's my name? I'm Jake Round. No, wait. Trees… lots of trees. I'm wearing armour. He touched the metal piece of armour on his right forearm. A vambrace. I don't wear vambraces. Sir Robert does. Am I Sir Robert Thordin?

Arabella… or Lena?

Who… no, which… which am I?

He took a large swallow of the whiskey. The flask emptied. He threw it away, angry and confused. His eyelids were starting to get heavy. Whenever they wanted to close, he forced them open, but every time it happened, his vision became blurrier.

There was a man kneeling in front of him. Sir Robert/Jake Round couldn't tell how the man got there or how long he had been there. The man smirked a conniving smirk, looking pitifully at Sir Robert/Jake Round with his sky blue eyes and hair as black as a raven's feather. Jake Round thought that the man looked like a younger version of Old Al, but Sir Robert Thordin recognized him as Lord Lucian Donington.

"Thank you," said younger Old Al/Lord Donington. "You have given me the means to victory. They can storm my castle for all I care but they won't stand victorious without their Premier Knight. For a decorated knight, you are too easy to comprehend. Your desires, especially. Tell me, which world do you believe is your reality? Both of them feel so real, don't they?"

Younger Old Al/Lord Donington produced a piece of shining green rock. It pulled Sir Robert/Jake Round's attention and suddenly, everything was the shining green rock. He could hear, very faintly, younger Old Al/Lord Donington's voice, "You're my minion now. You will win me the throne."


THE END


2013 H.Y. Hill

Bio: H.Y. Hill  is a budding storyteller currently trapped in the body of a budding lawyer. He is in his mid-twenties and is trying his hardest to fulfill his quest of overpowering the lawyer's body so that he can achieve his true destiny and spread stories to readers worldwide.

E-mail: H.Y. Hill

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