[WP] A certain King has a well-earned reputation of executing any messenger bearing him bad news. An honour-bound courier with news of their army's greatest defeat draws on every last ounce of wit and cunning to perform their duty while avoiding what otherwise will be their certain death.

The doors opened and the messenger walked into the great hall. A single knight stood holding the door. The messenger caught his eye. The knight smirked and reached one hand to his long sword. The messenger felt his hand shake and his lip quiver, but he walked past the knight towards the king. He felt a large hand press against his back causing him to stumble.

“Hurry up, boy, the king does not like to be kept waiting!” The knight said with a sick grin and a chuckle.

The messenger walked down the long red carpet and knelt before the king. The king paused and took stock of the messenger. Satisfied with his cursory examination he stole a glance at his trusted knight that manned the door. The king gave an almost imperceptible nod and the knight immediately closed the door. The door closed with a tremendous boom that echoed throughout the chamber and sent shivers down the messenger’s spine. Gone was his only exit from the King’s throne room. Once the echoes of the door had faded the king spoke.

“What news do you bring of the battle, my dear messenger?” The king asked. “Please speak quickly as time may be of the essence.” The king smiled an earnest smile, for he had no idea of the true news.

The news was dire, indeed. The battalion of Commander Arthright had fallen at the bridge of Dementhor, the mighty river that divided the kingdom from the encroaching eastern army. It was the last stronghold, and now the army of the East would pour into the borders of the kingdom. The war would be long a bloody it seemed. None of this mattered to the messenger though, whether the kingdom was invaded mattered little. His life hung on a stark precipice this very moment. The king, kind as he seemed, held a reputation for dispatching the bearer of bad news, and the messenger did not wish to die.

“My liege,” the messenger began, “may I stand?”

The king rested back in his chair and rubbed his hands together as if warming them. “Very well,” he said. 

The messenger got to his feet. Behind him he heard the clattering of steel as the knight at the door moved. He glanced up to see the King raise his hand and look towards the knight. “Speak, now messenger, for my patience has its limits.” The king said.

“My lord, what is it that you would have me speak of?” The messenger said. He licked his lips nervously and glanced around the great hall. It was barren, only the king, the knight, and tall narrow windows.

“The message, my boy. You were sent from the battlefield of Dementhor. Now I ask, how goes the day? Has the commander Arthright beaten back the encroaching Eastern Army? Or,” his voice turned much darker and grimmer,, “have you ill news to speak, for I do not wish to hear ill news, my dear messenger.”

“And I do not wish to speak the ill news sire. If you please.”

“Then there is ill news to speak!” The King said standing up. Immediately the messenger heard the knight approach. A cold shiver ran down his spine as he heard the knight unsheath his sword. He could feel the wicked hum of cold steel approaching.

“I do not know if the news is ill, my lord,” the messenger said quickly.

“What?” The king asked. “What do you mean you do not know?” He held up his hand and the sound of the knight coming nearer stopped. “How could you not know are you not the messenger? Is that not the seal of Arthright upon the scroll that you hold in your hand? Speak boy for my patience is at its end.”

“I am sorry your lordship.” The messenger said speaking into the ground. “I have mislead you. I am indeed the messenger from the fields of Dementhor and this is the seal of Arthright, but I cannot speak ill news or good news because I know not the news.”

“What?” The King said, “Speak truthfully boy, for I am not in a mood for games!”

“Your lordship, I cannot read the scroll, so I cannot relay the message.” The messenger said.

He listened as faint traces of his echo died against the stone walls of the great hall. He desperately wanted to look up to see if the King had fallen for his lie. The messenger could feel the breath of the knight only a few feet away, he wondered if the knight’s sword was already poised over his neck awaiting the final order from the king. The seconds stretched.

Then the king began to laugh. “Ha, ha, ha” he said with a boisterous good hearted laugh that filled the cold room, “Just like that Arthright to send a boy who cannot read to deliver a message. That man does have a sense of humor or a terrifically incompetent mind! Ha Ha!” The messenger ventured a brief glance up at the King. He was relaxing back in his chair wiping large tears away from his eyes as he fought back another wave of laughter. The knight noticed the messenger looking for a moment and delivered a swift punch to the messenger’s back, sending him sprawling onto the floor.

“Now, now, no need for that my good man. The boy does no harm.”

“But sir, I saw him glance at your lordship unbidden.”

“If you talk back to me one more time knight I shall have your head for tonight’s supper. Do not forget your place!” With that the gentle humor of the room was gone. The king straightened up and looked down at the two men. “Now since you are so eager, my good knight, you read the message.”

“But sir!”

“I decree now that this man is no longer a messenger but a guest. He has delivered a package from the battlefield, but given his simpleton nature he cannot fulfill the role of messenger, so instead, knight, you are now the messenger.”

The former messenger stood up quickly and handed the scroll to the knight. “My lord,” he said, “I thank you for your time and hospitality during this tense time, please may I take my leave?” He stared not at the king directly, but at a place just below the king’s shoes.

“Yes my boy, leave me here with my knight so I can hear proper the news of the battle, be it ill or good. I do so hate ill tidings.”

“As do I my lord.” The former messenger said, before turning around and making his quick exit from the great hall.
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