“Krath The Barbarian”

By Sam Rae

Krath the Barbarian had always been a champion and defeating the Undead King, L’arth, would be his crowning glory. The army of undead soldiers lay behind him in tatters.Only the palace guard stood in his way now.

The imposing fortress towered above Krath. Granite and onyx pillars stretched to the heavens, their prying fingers clawing at the dark clouds above. The bridge to the front gate was long and narrow, to prevent invasion but it was no challenge for the lone warrior.

Thoughts of the fair-haired, plump and willing village girls filled Krath’s thoughts. The glory that he would return with would be unparalleled in his time. Even his father’s accomplishments would pale in comparison.

The palace guard offered little resistance. Many of the cowards simply laid down their arms at Krath’s feet and begged for mercy. But no quarter was given to these dogs. Krath slew them like fatted cattle and left their body to putrefy on the battlements.

“Please, Great Barbarian. I beg thee,” the plaintive cry fell on deaf ears as Krath swung his mighty axe, severing the man’s head from his shoulders. The head rolled across the granite floor, his helmet coming loose in the process. The dead eyes stared back up Krath. Then, as if waking from a day-dream they focused on the hulking Barbarian and appeared to roll in their sockets in as if the corpse somehow disapproved of its current predicament.

“UNDEAD FIEND!”, Krath roared as his brought this bare foot down on the condescending, de-coupled crown of the corporal.

The iron doors of the keep creaked and sighed as they were pushed aside. The throne room was long and high. Unlit chandeliers hung from the rafters and the only light came from the rows and rows of candles that sat, melted to the floor, like a waxy congregation. They cast eery, dancing shadows on the walls, as if some ghostly bacchanal were occurring out of sight of mortal eyes.

Krath approached The Great Slayer, The Sinner of Saarlat, The Leveller Of The Great Cities That Used To Be Here But Aren’t Now, The Child Eater. L’arth had many names but Krath only saw a sick, cowardly monarch who would soon be gurgling in agony through pints of his own blood.

“Oh, it’s you.” The King spoke in the thin, aged tone of a dying man.

“It is me, your holiness, the Proud Barbarian Krath. The One Who-”, Krath was interrupted from his prepared speech by the King coughing loudly.

“I’m sorry, really, I am. Do go on? The one who…?” Apologised L’arth, The Widowmaker.

“The One Who will end your reign of Terror and make this great land great - make this land great once more for the proud people of -” Krath was once more stopped in his tracks, this time by an indignant snort.

Proud? I beg your pardon, young man. The people of this were busily setting each other on fire before I took the throne”

“The - That’s not the point - We will be GREAT ONCE MORE! I have defeated your undead army - “ The interruptions were becoming quite off-putting for Krath. While he was one of the brightest amongst the highland Barbarians, that was not setting the bar particularly high.

“My undead what, dear boy?”

“Your ungodly army of skeleton soldiers that once protected this pit of sin like a moat made of skeleton soldiers.”, Krath waved him axe in a wide arc to indicate the moat and then pointed it accusingly at The King.

“Why would I have an undead army? What kind of army would that be? Hundreds of uncontrollable, mindless creatures hell-bent on wanton destruction? No, thank you, my boy. All my soldiers are well-paid young men from around the Kingdom. And a few mercenaries.”

“But they were protecting your castle walls, feasting on the rotted corpses of beasts, thrown to them from by your will.” The mighty Barbarian would not be swayed.

“They were at the walls, indeed, attempting to breach the gates. It was all we could do to batten-the-hatches, so to speak, and try to find a way to defeat them. Or cure them, that was the other plan. I don’t suppose you spared my Mages and Warlocks did you?”

“I despatched your pallid, loathsome witches like they were…evil corn ready for… harvest,” Krath was getting tired. The battle potion he had imbibed was wearing off. All this conversation and no head-smashing was taking its toll on this simple treetrunk of a man.

“Well that is a terrible shame,” The King looked morosely at the inexpertly boarded windows, “Most of them were in research so I can’t imagine they were particularly proficient on the battlefield”

“What about the villages you razed?” Krath was determined to get a confession out of the monstrous, if somewhat emaciated, man if it killed them both, “What about the cities you levelled and the men and women you killed? What about the babes, plucked from their mother’s swollen, curvaceous, milky bosom only to be thrown to the dogs?”

“What on earth? Has someone been doing that? By the Lord Bah’lay, what monster could- “ This time is was Krath’s turn to interrupt.

“Bah’lay? You worship the God Of Light and Forgiveness? The One Who Will Deliver Us From Suffering And Show Us The Way Of Peace?”

“I wouldn’t exactly say ‘Worship’,” The King’s voice was positively chipper, “but I certainly admire the teachings of Prophet Yed. Peace through education and tolerance, what a world that would be.” The King rarely got a chance to talk about his beliefs, his advisors - now presumably all flayed and dismembered in and around the castle - were only concerned with the running of the Kingdom and more recently the threat of the undead.

“Listen, Barbarian, I know I haven’t been much of a leader for most of my reign but I really think… I really feel that I could make a difference if I had the chance. I’m a kind man, really, I think, anyway,” The King was beginning to feel the crushing weight of the Kingdom on his shoulders; The responsibility for these people’s lives that he had been unable to or unwilling to improve.

It was almost silent in the great hall. The roof above the men creaked in the wind and occasional clash of steel could be heard from outside: Some of the undead must have followed Krath in through the shattered gates.

“If you are a kind man, as you say, why would you live in such a place?” Krath said, finally breaking the silence, “The castle is decorated with the remains of your enemies, the black towers cast a shadow of fear across the land, the grotesques stare out at the people with hate in their eyes and you sit here insisting you are a kind man?”

“My Great-Grandfather, King Wraahn IV, built this place to house his army of bloodthirsty killers and his equally large army of concubines. I think he wanted to look like those dreadful places written of in the old texts. Also, I doubt those skeletons on the walls are real. You have a point though, Warrior, the King’s keep should represent the King, his people and the Kingdom, not some ancient ideal of terror inducing architecture. But do you know how much it would cost to rebuild this place? I can’t put that cost on the people, can I? Plus, I think my, now deceased, advisors prefer - preferred - it this way.”

There was the possibility, The King thought, that this bumbling moron had just done him a huge favour. The King had suspected that atrocities were being committed by men under his command but could find no-one who would confirm it or was willing to investigate and risk enraging the county lords. But, with his management team having something of a staffing issue at the moment, he could rehire from good men and actually make some changes. He would probably need some muscle, though, to affect change.

“How would you like a job, my boy?”

“I would not work for The Undead King if you paid in me in the supple, naked bodies of the exotic dark-skinned beauties of the- “

“Yes, yes, alright, calm down. You are pre-occupied aren’t you? To address your accusation, I am in no way, undead: I am very much - Well, actually, I do find myself somewhat frail of late. I think one of those ghastly men you butchered was poisoning me but I could really do with some help sorting out some of the problems this country has gotten itself into.”

“Help?” The Barbarian was reeling. This man whom he had spent his entire life despising had turned out to be nothing like his imaginings. He did not seem capable of the horrors that had been meted out on his people and the people of the Three Valleys. It must be a trick, he thought, but what if it was an opportunity to help the entire kingdom?

“What would I have to do?”

After a few years of tireless work by the King, his new staff of advisors and his new head of the Palace Guard, Lord Krath, they were starting to make some real headway into improving their homeland. The Barbarian tribes had united to form a great army to defeat the undead hordes. A brilliant Mage by the name of Phlegmen devised a potion which while it would not cure the undead, would prevent the taker from turning, should they perish. Trade had begun with overseas lands which brought great prosperity to the Three Valleys. TRue peace and freedom from suffering was still some way off but they were making progress.