The Numbers Game Michael Aaron
“Fell Sorcerer, your evil reign is at an end!” Sathrus said. He flicked his long blonde hair to one side and raised the Sword of Khandalon above his head, rippling muscles ready to strike the fatal blow. “As sole heir to the ancient line of Khandar, I shall take my rightful place as King, and bring justice to the land — ”
A side door of the High Chamber burst open. Sathrus and his group of adventurers, comprising of Ekrus, the mysterious old man who had found him and told him of his destiny; Jarina, the beautiful magician; and Tarkro, the brave young street-thief, turned as one.
“Ah, there he is!” said a tall, handsome man holding a big sword. Behind him came an old man in a robe, a pretty girl in a dress that was frankly too revealing for the weather and a teenage boy in a patchwork tunic. The tall man walked over to Sathrus with a nonchalant air.
“Thank you so much for holding him for me. Now, fell sorcerer, I am Artheros, heir to the Crystal Throne! Your evil reign is…”
“I just said that,” Sathrus said, “Now if you don’t mind standing aside, I was just about to slay the Dark Lord and proclaim myself King.” Sathrus held his chin out and flexed his giant pectorals. The newcomer did the same. “Look, do you mind standing back? This is the Sword of Khandalon, you know. Needs a bit of room to get that full beheading swing…”
Artheros scoffed. “That rusty old thing? This is the Sword of Khandalon. Look at that inscription. Now if you would stand aside…”
“Hang on a minute,” Sathrus said. “I got this from the Tomb of Gralnir, guarded by the dread Dragon of the North. Where did you find that gilded knitting needle?”
“From the deepest cave under the fortress of Night-Tooth Mountain, over the Chasm of Gloom. We slipped by an army of goblins, disguised as washerwomen, then escaped through a laundry chute.”
“Pff. Look at this.” Sathrus pointed to a birthmark on his right shoulder, shaped like an eagle flying over a wolf. “The birthmark in the shape of the Royal Seal, as mentioned in the prophecy. See? Now then, I have a Dark Lord to dispatch…”
“Mmm, the likeness isn’t bad,” Artheros said, pulling his shirt sleeve up to reveal a similar mark, “but you can hardly make out the knife in the wolf’s jaws, can you? And what’s the eagle holding in its talons, a stick? On mine, you can clearly see the sceptre.”
“Look, Arthy-boy,” said Sathrus, “this is my Dark Lord and my kingdom now, so why don’t you just stand in the corner. If you’re quiet, I’ll make you a duke or a baron or something.” Sathrus squared up to his rival. Artheros did not move.
“I think,” Ekrus said, holding up a wizened finger, “I understand what has happened.”
“What?” both men said at once.
“The prophecy mentions an orphan child from the desert people, born in the east when the Maiden’s Star is under the moon.” Ekrus said. “Their life is hard and orphans are common. The eastern border of Khandar is thousands of leagues long, and that particular astral conjunction lasts the entire summer. Many children would qualify for the prophecy on those grounds, and out of those, it is sadly possible for more than one to have a birthmark that resembles the seal.”
“That’s all very well,” Artheros said, “but what about the swords? They can’t both be the right one.”
“Unfortunately, they could,” Ekrus said. “One of the few things we know from the thousand-year-old records, is the last King of Khandar was a keen collector of arms and armour. It’s very likely there are hundreds of such swords dotted about the land.”
“Hmm,” Sathrus said.
“Mmm,” Artheros said.
Sathrus put his hands on his hips. “I tell you what. Khandar’s a big place. Why don’t we split it? I’ll take everything North of the Rift Valley, you take the rest.”
“And leave you with all the major cities and their taxes? I don’t think so!” Artheros said. “Let’s split it East-West. I’ll have the Western lands.”
“So you get all the beaches and vineyards while I get the desert? No way!”
The two teams of adventurers drew their weapons and faced each other. The tense silence was broken when a grappling hook smashed through the window behind the Dark Lord’s throne.
A moment later, a muscular young man pulled himself up. Naked but for a loincloth and a cruel, jagged sword hanging from his waist, he wiped sweat from his brow and surveyed the scene.
“Thank you good nobles, for detaining the Dark One for me. I have come from the distant dunes of the east to fulfil the ancient prophecy…”
“Don’t listen to that impostor!” shouted another young man with a sword, coming up through a hidden trapdoor. “I have fought the terrors of the deep to make it here…”
“Lies! I am the one true heir!” said another, swinging down from a ceiling window.
“Hold on a minute!” shouted Artheros, after the room filled up with more chosen ones. “The sword, or swords, are supposed to be magically attuned to the heir of the Last King. There can only be one of those, and it’s me!”
“I’m afraid that’s a misconception,” Ekrus said, to murmurs of approval from the other bearded advisors crowding the room. “After a thousand years, it’s a mathematical certainty that everyone is related to the King in some way.”
“So we’re all heirs to the throne?” Sathrus said. Ekrus nodded. “Well. I’m sure there’s one thing we can agree on — the Dark Lord must go. We can all do it. Ready?”
“Hang on a minute, where’s he gone?” Artheros asked.
“He’s right here,” Sathrus said, pointing to where the Evil One had cowered just a moment ago.
There was no-one there.
“Ah,” Sathrus said. “Bugger.”
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