DOUR CUTLER • by J.C. Towler

The fellow before me was unusual. When I get to this point in the encounter, most are begging for mercy. Many plead to their deaf God for deliverance from my blade. There have been a few that hold my gaze, unflinching, until the final thrust when wide-eyed surprise erases brave arrogance. Did they think stoic virtue might stay my sword? Perhaps they mistook me for that green-clad idiot from Sherwood who tweaked the nose of his betters, all for a merry laugh. That one is dead and gone a score of years or better, but unfortunately he lives on in the minds of fools. I only regret that I hadn’t the honor to plant him in the ground. He gave real highwaymen a bad name.

“You’re Dour Jon Cutler,” the boy said. Perhaps his impertinence came from his youth. He could not have been more than twelve, though his voice had a timbre that made him sound older. The two of us stood in the middle of the rutted path, he with hands on hips, head barely higher than my shoulder; me with my sword tip pressed against the hollow of his throat. His tone stayed my hand for the moment. He spoke to me in the manner of knight addressing a common foot soldier whilst his parents lay ten feet from where we stood, their blood leaking into the dirt path. Some minor nobility judging by their dress; clothes that would have been worth much more had I not been so exuberant during the slaughter.

The recent skirmish had silenced the forest sounds, but now the trill of the wood thrush began anew. Before long, foxes and wolves would slink from their hiding places and begin their grim work on the dead. I wondered if the lad was trying to delay me. Had I missed a servant or bodyguard who was even now circling the dense undergrowth to gain an advantage?

“I am Dour Jon. What of it?” I asked.

“I was hoping to find you,” he said. “My name is Roger Shamrock and you are part of my destiny.” I laughed. This boy’s tongue might yet earn him a few more minutes of breath.

“You don’t say? Sorry, never heard of you.”

He thrust his chin forward as if to parry my blade. He was a sturdy boy; his right forearm noticeably muscled, probably from long work with the quintain and wooden sword. Tan skin was scored with thin scars, likely from where some maestro drew blood during practice with steel. I judged the boy would have put up more of a fight than his recently departed father.

“Of course not, for my destiny lies before me,” he said.

“Roger, you begin to bore me. What is this destiny you speak of and be quick about it. Amuse me, and I may yet spare you.”

“A blind soothsayer told me my future, and it is to be a champion of the people,” he said. “These are dark times. Lawless roads are unsafe to travel and the countryside quails in fear of bandits such as yourself. Justice is sold to the highest bidder. Good Christian men forget their duty to God and King and damn their immortal souls to Hell through impious living. I am going to change all that. You are going to help me.”

This time I didn’t laugh. His voice mesmerized! There was something about the way he spoke, the conviction of his words, that made my limbs tremble. I had an instantaneous urge to repent, to drop to my knees right there in the mud and beg his forgiveness for my wicked deeds.

Fortunately, I came to my senses and ran him through. The last thing this world needed was another bloody hero.


J.C. Towler spins tales of mystery, suspense, science fiction and is particularly fond the deep, penetrating horror tale. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is home which is odd considering he’s afraid of the ocean and doesn’t eat fish. His latest sci-fi/horror story “Experimental Blues” will appear in the upcoming Dreamspell Nightmares II from L&L Dreamspell. Two of his flash stories, “Legends Collide” and “Purse Things”, were selected for EDF’s The Best of Every Day Fiction Two.


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