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The Legend of Horace

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Once upon a time, there was a knight named Horace, and he walked with honor. Horace wore a gleaming suit of armor crafted from the finest steel, and he wielded a broadsword that dwarfed the might of gods. Horace stood guard outside of the peaceful village of Gyndoia, where he warded off the monsters of the forest and frightened the armies that dare oppose the will of Her Grace Matilda.

Matilda was the countess of Gyndoia, and Her beauty transcended mortal comprehension. Raven hair sloped unperturbed to meet a silky brow where sharp eyes gazed to adoring onlookers. A polished hourglass erected by slender legs present countless luxurious adornments on whispers of cloth. Every succulent sound that glided from Her velvet lips moved the villagers with an unseen force. Men wanted Her, and women wanted to be Her.

Many years ago, Matilda was attacked by a wolf, and Horace brutalized the animal by pressing its gnashing teeth into the earth and tearing its ears. The wolf fled weeping, leaving a panicked trail of pickled blood.

Matilda’s eyes shone with delight, and she offered Horace Her body as well as the glory of knighthood. Horace was celebrated by the village folk at a grand parade. The blacksmiths and farmers patted his shoulder with clipped strikes, conveying an obligatory congratulations that failed to disguise crippling envy. By the end of the parade, Matilda presented Horace with a gift of armor that shone brighter than the sun. The steel had been dyed a brilliant white to represent the holiness and purity of the man who wore it. Horace fell to his knees, seized Matilda’s hands and swore his undying love and boundless gratitude for such privilege.

Matilda squeezed Horace’s hands, opened Her lustful lips, and offered him an eternal continuation of glory and pleasure should he protect Gyndoia from the dangers of the world alongside the small standing militia. Horace donned the armor, which rattled from the cheers of the crowd.

So Horace stood outside the border, swinging his powerful sword and disemboweling all that threatened Gyndoia and Her Grace. For every large foe slain, he would return to a new parade to be filled with rum and merriment. He would then race eagerly to Her Grace, who awaited him in a bed of roses caressing a vial of warm honey. Horace was certain he had found paradise.

***

A young boy chases a rat out of his hut while swatting at it with a broom. The bristles grew more jagged with each whip against the matted grass and brittle twigs. The boy fantasized about the girl he saw in the market when his mother brought him to buy bread and fruit. He knew that the girl would love him if he was like Horace, a brave knight. The boy only knew of Horace from tales over dinner and from strangers. The boy heard nothing but good things, and he came to know that the grand knight always stood watch. He never once met Horace, and he was never quite tall enough to see his hero over the shoulders of cheering adults in the parades. The boy grew anxious for new chances to finally see him, but the parades were held less and less frequently for reasons he did not understand. He did not know when the next one would be.

The boy shouts after the scurrying rat, continuing his chase. The boy’s focus on the ground below him distracted him from the heavy obstacle in his path. He hits the mass and falls down. The boy regains his senses and sees Horace towering over him. The boy did not realize he had run out of the village.

Horace leers at the boy from the warped slits in his helmet. The metal was an odd faded grey, dirtied with blood and scrapes from the earth. His gauntlets were chipped, and the leather around his knuckles were torn. To the boy’s fright, Horace’s stood, sword drawn, with an unsettling stillness. Neither pride or weakness emanated from the grand knight of Gynodia. It was as if he was a statue, animated only by an passionless will. As Horace dominated the boy’s vision, the world stopped. The rat no longer squeaked, and the wind no longer rustled the surrounding leaves.

“Go home,” Horace sighs. His voice is solemn and melancholic. The boy trembles, but musters the courage to ask his hero why he did not shine with a brilliant light.

“Go home,” Horace sighs.

The boy grew angry. His hero stands over him, so he would not lose the opportunity to learn from the Grand Knight of Gynodia!

“It’s not fair!” the boy cries. “You are the honorable Horace! Please let me speak to you! I always wanted to meet you! I always wanted to BE you.”

Even though Horace’s face could not be seen through his battered steel visage, he tensed from hearing the boy’s dream.

“Boy. Why do you want to be me?” Horace mutters.

The boy smiles up at his idol and chirps “You are the honorable Horace! You fight the evils of the world, everyone is your friend, and if I’m like you, I can win the love of my life!”

Horace drops his sword and grips the boy’s shoulders. The boy felt himself being lifted, so he kicks in a futile attempt to find the ground. Horace brings the boy’s worried face close to his helmet. As the boy’s vision was overtaken, he sees curdled pus splattered over coarse patches of rust. The entire history of the helmet flashes before the boy’s mind in the nightmarish hideousness of its damage. The boy notices Horace’s eyes for the first time through the faceplate’s slits. They glowed faintly from Horace’s shadowed face, clouded with exhaustion. Horace emits only one word.

“Don’t.”

Horace holds the boy still. The world holds still with them.

“Don’t.”

Horace begins to tremble.

“Don’t be me.”

Horace begins to stammer.

“I live because a festering gash on my heart is bandaged by a growing leech.”

The boy’s eyes moisten. He feels as if he is absorbing an overwhelming despair that only he has ever witnessed. The tales never spoke of this. Horace is a Grand Knight. Horace is the protector of Gyndonia. Horace bedded Her Grace. Horace always kept his honor. Why? Why is this happening? This is not Horace. This can’t be Horace!

Horace drops the boy and falls to his hands and knees. The soil looked as if it tried to retreat from below him.

Tears fall from the helmet liberated, but alone, to the dirt by the sword.