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Champion of the Batonians

by Gary Clifton

“Grandfather, we’ve come nearly fifty miles.” The youth steadily marched through the thick, hot dust ahead of the old man mounted on a magnificent black stallion. A thin, gold crown atop his flowing white hair signified the rider was a man of great importance. A huge, golden broadsword hung at his side.

“Ranic,” the old man smiled down, “you are still only a boy. When I was your age...”

Ranic laughed over his shoulder, keeping the reins taut. “Yes, Majesty, you would lead the King’s horse a hundred miles. It’s not my legs in question, sire, but the men and horses need rest. And I wager from yonder clump of trees there’s a water hole ahead.”

The King, with Ranic and two hundred troops, lounged around the bubbling spring. All were armed with broadswords and long pikes; each with a brass helmet and breastplate. They ate and drank hastily.

Ranic brought food and a brass cup of wine to his grandfather. “We can defeat these Argylians, Majesty. We are few in numbers, but massive in heart.”

The king, wizened but powerfully built, nibbled at his food, then took a long draw on his wine. “Ranic, as you know, Argylians are not human. They are reptilian lizard-like creatures, who mutated from beneath the ground. Hairless beasts whose veins are filled with cold, green blood. They thrive on eating human flesh.”

“Grandfather, I’ve never seen an Argylian.”

“Ranic, my grandfather told me his grandfather had said these lizards evolved from the vast swamp to our south, around the great lake once known as Ponk-train, where the remains of the great bridge still stand. Someway, when much of the world was destroyed by the great war two hundred years ago, the nuclear infusion somehow energized them, giving them strength to live above ground and become the meat-eating scourge they now are. We have no real contact with outsiders to confirm the story.”

“Sire, do you really believe they’ll honor their offer of challenge and peace? That if our champion fights and defeats their giant, they’ll consume only animal flesh. Sire, if we fail, it’s the end of humanity.”

“Humanity, grandson, extends across the area known as Lousana, well beyond the world you know here in our Kingdom of Baton Rouggae. Many humans exist beyond our borders. If we fail this day, I pray and trust those masses will eventually crush these lizard people.”

“Or the lizards will eat until they get too fat to kill more humans, Grandfather. I know nothing of those other humans.”

“In that case, we must destroy the giant they call Quintar. Fetch my horse, Ranic, the enemy can’t be far ahead.”

Ranic sniffed the air. “Perhaps a mile, Grandfather. I smell them.”

Shortly, the Batonians drew up in battle order, facing about four hundred Argylians on a flat, sandy plain. Ranic led his grandfather’s horse to the east, so the afternoon sun was in the Argylians’ eyes.

The king spoke. “Ranic, lead me there, where Quintar the giant stands between the lines.”

“Grandfather, there are two men there. You must not...”

“Not men, Ranic, Argylians.”

Ranic dutifully led the king closer. The huge opponent stood, waving the biggest broadsword Ranic had ever seen. The second Argylian stood in front, holding a shield with bow and arrows strapped to it, a sword in a sheath at his hip.

“So the Batonians send an old man and a scrawny youth to die for their lost cause!” The giant’s roar could be heard for miles. “Human cowards are only cattle for Argylians to share at the dinner table. Bring him closer, small one.”

The old king answered. “As king of the Batonians, I only ask that your challenge be truthful. If we prevail, you will retreat.”

Ranic helped the king down. His blue eyes intense, he said through the trail grime that caked his face, “Sire, they have no intention of keeping any bargains.”

“Then we must prevail, Ranic.” He drew his sword.

“Now is the time to die, old man,” the giant shouted. With his shield-bearer trailing, he ran forward.

Ranic stepped in front and drew his broadsword as the giant brushed by, intent on the king. Ranic slashed his right calf to the bone, behind the brass shin-plate that protected only the front.

The giant went down like a felled oak, screaming in the dust, green sticky blood coursing from the leg wound.

In the blink of an eye, the shield-bearer arrived, slashing at Ranic with his long blade. Ranic ran him through, just to the side of his breastplate. He fell heavily, a circle of bright green spreading on the sand. The man’s helmet tumbled off, revealing features nearly identical to the frogs, a scarce, but much coveted delicacy, that played around the lily pond back at the king’s castle.

Ranic’s gaze lingered on the creature’s features before he turned back to the fallen giant, still screaming in the dust.

The giant screamed, “I’ve been denied equal battle. I’d slay this old man and have him for dinner, but I’m fouled by a child.”

The slender youth, brushing his long hair away from his eyes, circled as the giant continued to thrust at him while flat on his back. “Lizard man, you challenged the Batonian Champion. That would be me. Frog legs are a fine delicacy in our land. As I see your massive legs, the vision of Argylian flesh and frog meat blur.”

He feinted twice, then lopped off the giant’s huge head, watching it roll away from the grotesque body. He retrieved it, held it aloft facing the Argylian army and shouted, “Perhaps now I see a use for you unworldly monsters.”

At their champion’s words, the Batonian troops charged with a frenzied roar, swords and pikes soon drenched with Argylian green. The Argylians, by the giant’s death and fury of the Batonians, shrank to a small circle of survivors. A white flag was shown and the old king called off the slaughter.

A badly wounded warrior advanced. “Your fury and skill are too much for us. We only need to eat. We are not killers at heart. Quintar was a swamp bully who was our only chance. Now we are lost.”

Ranic, his sword still green with blood, moved toward the warrior, intent on taking another lizard head. His grandfather touched his arm and shook his head. “There must be a better way than wholesale slaughter, grandson.”

Ranic smiled. “Argylian, we Batonians crave frog meat, which is limited in our kingdom. Give us a few of your warriors as a token for our dinner and the rest can returned to your mud hole.”

“Frogs?” The warrior replied. “Our low, wet land is overrun with frogs. We cannot eat them. They are too close to our own body chemistry. We must have red meat, like the creatures you call cattle. We only sought out humans because the cattle are too hard to capture.”

Ranic glanced at his grandfather, then to the Argylian and said, “Well, perhaps a truce could be arranged. We trade you cattle for frogs.”

The old king nodded and smiled at his grandson.

In the following years, what became known as the Batonian-Argylian food exchange expanded into a free trade agreement which became famous beyond the borders of the isolated land known in its entirety as Lousana.

For hundreds of years, chefs from lands far outside Lousana traveled to the area to learn the fine cooking techniques of Batonian and Argylian culinary artists working side by side.

Ranic became king and lived for many years, enjoying skillfully prepared frog legs for dinner nearly every evening.

Copyright © 2015 by Gary Clifton

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