Short Story
                         All the Lord's Men
                                                 By Michael Lindsay


 Zachary Bowman holds up the ring, marveling how it glitters like a spider's
web wrapped in frost.  Perfection!  Acquiring this treasure on his limited
budget was an achievement.  His bank account is full of the wrong kind of
zeroes - and he had to pawn his first edition Dune, signed by Frank Herbert –
but he doesn’t care.  Darlene is worth a little financial adversity.

 “My dearest love,” he says to the empty apartment, “I know you've expected
this since we first met that day on the bus.  Let this ring be a token of a love
that will never die, or go away.  You're an angel; I give all that I am, as a man,
to you.  Whaddaya say?”

 Sounds pretty smooth!  The angel part is a nice touch.  He can be so
poetic.         

 He checks the clock; it's almost four.  Darlene usually gets home from work
at four, but not on Thursdays.  On Thursdays she has coffee with friends and
that means his proposal will have a gushing audience.  When he drops to
bended knee, it's going to be the stuff of legend.  He can already hear the
applause.

 Darlene might even cry.

 All he needs to do first is put the finishing touches on his latest commission.

 He tears his eyes from the ring and considers the castle, which sits on the
old ping-pong table he works from, covered in adhesive tape and stinking of
plaster.  As jobs go, this one's peculiar; Zachary's clients usually ask for
model railroads or airplanes - the elaborate kind, like C-130s or Air Force
One.  Sometimes they even want Civil War battlefields replete with generals,
cannons, and little blue and grey figures storming each other's positions.  
Medieval castles are a rarity, especially one that looks like this.
 
 It's not traditionally square but pentagonal with walls that slope inwards so
defenders have full fields of fire.  The battlements are dotted by arrow-slits
like shadowy cat's eyes.  At each corner is a tower topped by a conical spire
and a ruby red banner.

 Inside the castle (not a castle, a Citadel) is a courtyard.  The garrison
stands in a precise formation, knights clutching broadswords, archers
wearing stocked quivers.  Zachary spent days on them alone.  He's a stickler
for details, every toymaker should be.   

 The centerpiece is Lord Crewe.  That name is a mystery - Zachary's not in
the habit of naming commissions – but it does sound proper, even regal.  
Lord Crewe stands upon the battlements, appraising his kingdom.  He's taller
than his subjects because they're action figures and he's a refurbished
Nutcracker doll; his beard is bushy and long, his cheeks plump and rosy, his
teeth wide and white, his eyes merciless and black. He has no crown.

 Overall, the Citadel stands as Zachary's finest accomplishment.  Building
models - toys for grown-ups - is a dreadful way to earn a living.  Ends only
occasionally meet and girls don't fantasize of guys who've memorized the
exact dimensions of the Bat-mobile, but there exists a certain pride in creating
something from nothing.  Still, Zachary will be glad to accept payment and
see this one go.  Lord Crewe creeps him out.

 “I don't like you,” he tells the Citadel.  “None of you.  Especially you.” Lord
Crewe remains impassive, though perhaps his cheeks become a little redder.  
“I made you, and I can unmake you.  That's the power I  have.”

 He secures Darlene's ring in its box, admiring the velvety texture, and sets it
on the ping-pong table.  He won't work on the Citadel, not today.  He's not in
the mood.  Instead, he'll relax and read until it's time to go find Darlene.  He
can't afford anything new, but he's got lots of old favorites stored in boxes.  
He picks The Two Towers, the best of Tolkien's masterful trilogy, and fitting
since Zachary now has his very own One Ring.

 Smirking, he returns to the couch determined to read a full chapter before
picking up the ring again.  He doesn't make it.  Not even close.  As Aragorn
commiserates with the dying Boromir, Zachary's excitement masters him and
he tosses the book aside.  Cautiously eyeing Lord Crewe, he leans over to
the ping-pong table and grabs the box.  When he opens it, a croaking gasp
escapes his throat.

 The ring is gone!

 He rockets off the couch, shrieking.  He digs his finger into the box – empty!
- then flings it across the apartment.  He rifles through his pockets, finding
nothing but tufts of lint.

 Cursing, he tears away the couch-cushions.

 Not there.

  Whimpering, he shoves the couch aside.

 Not there!

 Crying, he flips the coffee table.

 Not there!

 He rubs off the tears dripping down his cheeks.  What would Darlene think?

 Calm down, Zach.  You're a logical, extremely intelligent creature.  You're in
control, you always are.  That's why people like you.  You put the ring in the
box, put the box on the table then went looking for a book- That's it!  You
THOUGHT you  put the ring in the box, but it was still in your hand!  You
dope!  All that worry for nothing.  One Ring, indeed.

 Panting with relief, he searches through each box, then the floor, then his
pockets again.

 No!  Ring!

 White-hot terror consumes him.  He rips open boxes, launching books
across the apartment, signed first editions and all.  He does not bother with
the tears.
  
 When his floor is a carpet of literature, he still has no ring.  At a loss for
what  to do next, he scours areas of his apartment he hadn't been in,
avoiding the Citadel because he doesn't like getting too close to it.  
Predictably, no ring.  He gnaws his lip hard enough to draw the coppery taste
of blood into his mouth.  His armpits drip sweat and there's a waviness in the
pit of his stomach.  He must hunt down Darlene in half an hour, the ring is
gone, and his apartment looks like the DEA ransacked-

 Yes!  He'll tell Darlene that he bought her a ring - the finest ring a man ever
presented a woman - except he was robbed!  No!  Burglarized, at
GUNPOINT!  That sounds cooler.  Except, what if she asks why he didn't fight
for the ring?  That's no good.  She's got to know how courageous he is.

 He drops onto the couch and re-traces his steps.  He'd sat there admiring
the ring, then returned it to the box (he's certain of that now) and set the box
on the ping-pong table.  Only the box had been empty.  He hangs his head,
mourning how perfect life seemed just minutes earlier-  

 Click!

 The Citadel.  Zachary has the absurd idea that something moved inside it.  
Ridiculous, of course.  Toys are just things, they don't move unless-

 Lord Crewe is gone!

 Scratching at his neck, Zachary approaches the ping-pong table.  Lord
Crewe stands in the courtyard, a phalanx of knights around him.  His slitted
eyes are bright with wicked amusement.  In his hand is Darlene's ring,
gleaming like Mars on a starless night.

 Zachary laughs; the sound is anemic.  He's losing it, going cuck-KOO!  
Admittedly, some late nights (and early mornings) were required to build the
Citadel, but to completely misplace his most precious possession?  
Inexcusable!  After Darlene graciously accepts his proposal, he's sleeping in
every day for a month.

 He reaches for the ring.  A flash of movement, an explosion of pain in his
hand.  He yanks it back and gawps at the crimson slash across his fingertips.  
As he watches, blood spills out.  Shoving his fingers in his mouth, he turns his
back on the Citadel.

 He must have cut himself on a sword, never-minding that they're plastic.  
Accidents can happen.  On the count of three, it will all go free.  Isn't that
what mother always said?

 One.  Two.  Three.  He faces the Citadel.

  Two Knights have crossed swords before Lord Crewe.  One is steeped with
blood.  Lord Crewe's wooden eyes glare at Zachary.

 Mine.

 He leans closer; the knights swipe their swords in warning.  One even
growls.  Zachary rubs his eyes, smearing blood across his face like warpaint,
then looks again.  Lord Crewe (the wooden Nutcracker toy) holds out the
ring.  A knight steps from formation, raises his sword high like a Headsman
and brings it down where the diamond is mounted to the ring.

 Tink!

 “No!  Stop that!”

 Zachary again reaches for the ring and it's like sticking his hand into a
garbage disposal.  He backpedals, trips over his picture-book of Darlene, and
tumbles to the floor.  His hand is a bloody wreck.  He'd scream if he wasn't
afraid that Darlene could make a surprise visit.  What would she think, finding
him cowering on the floor and howling like a banshee?

 He flees into the kitchen, his mangled hand sprinkling a trail of blood.  He
holds it under the faucet, trying to decide what to do.  A-ha!  He rummages
one-handed through every drawer before he finds what he's looking for:
tongs.  He can't destroy the Citadel - he really needs the money - but that
won't stop him from fighting back.  Darlene's honor demands nothing less.

 He peeks around the corner; the Citadel is silent and still, a grown man's toy
once more.  
 
 But soon as he steps into the room it springs to life.  Knights climb the
battlements and form a skirmish line, their swords arrayed like alligator teeth.  
No matter.  The reach of Zachary's tongs is greater than the reach of their
puny, hand-made (by him!) weaponry.  He creeps close and snatches up a
knight who writhes and pointlessly whips his sword around.  Zachary smiles
and hammers him against the ping-pong table until he ceases to struggle.  
His sword falls from his busted arm.  Zachary picks it up; it's metal and razor-
sharp, which is impossible because it came from a shoebox of spare parts in
his closet.

 The knight shakes his good arm and unleashes a string of pompous insults.  
His voice is baritone and autocratic.  Zachary doesn't like it.  Sounds
oppressive, like mother.

 “Shut up, you!  I'm the boss here!”

   He rushes to the bathroom and drops the insolent knight into the toilet.  
Glub!  Glub!  Men-at-arms, it seems, do not make good swimmers.

 Encouraged by this victory, Zachary decides to exact vengeance upon the
thieving Lord Crewe.  An umbrella hangs from a hook on the wall.  He grabs it
and barrels towards The Citadel, yipping and yaying.

 The knights brandish their weapons, all the good it does them.  An entire
rank is obliterated with one swing of the umbrella.  Their bodies break,
making awesome crunching sounds.  A survivor produces a horn and gets
half-way through a call-to-arms before Zachary punts him across the room.

 But while his back is turned, archers assemble into firing formation.  
Zachary  gapes stupidly as Lord Crewe bellows, FIIIIIIIRE!

 Arrows zip through the air, sinking into his face and neck.  The pain isn't
tremendous, more like insect bites, but the assault is relentless.  He rubs his
face and arrows tear at his flesh like fish-hooks.  Warmth oozes down his
cheeks.
  
 There is a burst of agony in his foot.  A sword juts from his ankle like
Excalibur.  As he pulls it out, The Citadel's portcullis rises and a squadron of
howling figures storm out.

 Aiaiaiaiaiaiaiii!

 Na Nozh!

 Bonzai!

 Zachary leaps onto the couch, dropping the umbrella but keeping the tongs,
which he throws at his enemies.  He knocks two down; the rest continue the
advance, their painted mouths twisted into snarls.  

 Lord Crewe has returned to the battlements; he's smiling, his cheeks rosier
than ever.  The ring rests atop his head, a silvery, sparkling crown.

  KILL THE HEATHEN!  FIRE!  FIRE!  FIIIIIIIRE!

 Another volley is unleashed; Zachary shields his face but his arms become
pin-cushions.  The knights have built a human ladder and are scaling the
couch.  The first breaches the precipice, a dagger clenched between his
teeth.  Zachary slaps him away but another quickly appears.

 He climbs over the back of the couch and scurries into his bedroom.  The
door doesn't lock so he blocks it with his R2-D2 trashcan.  After a moment's
consideration, he crams dirty clothes into the sliver of space underneath the
door.

 He lays flat against the floor gasping like a chain-smoker and sweating,
which stings the cuts on his face and hands.  Damn the money!  He'll bust
that stupid Citadel into a million pieces if necessary, so long as he re-
captures Darlene's ring.  He digs through the junk in his closet until he finds
the shoebox of spare parts.  Lots of action-figures in there!  And fighter-
planes, too!  His own private army!

 His exhilaration is checked when he dumps the shoebox to find it full of
useless pieces of plastic.  He does find two items of value: a miniature
hammer and a can of green spray-paint.  That'll do, pig.  He dons the thickest
sweater he owns, as well as his cap and mittens that he personally knitted
using Gryffindor colors.  He checks himself in the mirror and nods.  Dressed
for battle, he strikes an impressive figure.

 In a moment of inspiration, he flips the circuit breaker and the apartment
goes blank.  He moves R2-D2 and cracks the door; the Citadel is still and
silent, but he won't fall for that trick again.  He low-crawls across the
apartment, noiseless as a wily old snake, which he kind of is.  

 He gets close enough to the Citadel to hear the pitter-patter of little feet
racing along the battlements, then an alarm goes up.  They sound afraid.

 They should be afraid.  They're toys and he's a MAN.  His brain is better
than theirs.

 Zachary springs to his feet - “Gaaaaaaaaaarrrrgh!” - and flings the
miniature hammer into the Citadel.  An entire wall, which took days to
construct, crumbles like rotted wood.  His enemies flee, but there's no place
to run.  He douses them in spray-paint, laughing at the writhing green lumps.  
He scoops up a lost sword and returns it to the owner's chest.

 But then, inside the courtyard arises an orangish glow.

 Stupefied, he stands up.  Lord Crewe holds a lighter like a torch, the very
one Zachary uses to soften plaster.  The little flame dances in the darkness,
bewitching him like a glowing genie.  Archers dip their arrows into it and aim
them at Zachary.

 Knock!  Knock!

 He's far too slow.  He drops the spray-paint, but only after it's pierced many
times - by flaming arrows!

 A fiery brilliance engulfs the apartment.  The sweater protects his body, but
his cap and mittens offer no defense.  The smell of burnt hair is nauseating.  
He tosses about the room, flailing and screaming, trying to extinguish himself.
 
 Lord Crewe, standing in the portcullis, laughs in triumph.

 Knock!  Knock!  Knock!

 Zachary throws up his hands in surrender, and is rewarded with a bevy of
arrows pelting his scorched palms.  He hears knights in the darkness,
chanting battle-hymns, marching closer.

 “Stop!  I'm-your-maker!”

 “Hey, open up!  What's going on in there?  Open the door!”

 Reinforcements!  Zachary crawls towards salvation, glimpsing one last time
the Citadel which has devoured the hand that feeds.  He throws open the
door.  Two men in dark uniforms are there, startled and angry.

 “What the hell are you doing in there?”

 “The Citadel...it's alive.”

 A look of exasperation passes between them and they relax.  “What is a
'Citadel'?'”

 “A castle!  There's people after me with swords and bowstrings.  Lord
Crewe's making them do it.  He's evil!”

 “Sir, would you mind getting off the floor?”

 Zachary staggers to his feet; the men don't offer help, but he's so glad to
see them.

 “Sir, what are you wearing?”

 “Fire!  There's been fire!  I'm burned...look!”   Zachary removes his mittens
and shows them hands caked in plaster and spray-paint.  One of the men
twirls his baton; the other rolls his eyes.  

 “But my head!” He takes off his cap and combs his scalp, astounded so
much hair survived the explosion.  Both men inspect their shoes, toy with the
golden badges on their chests, obviously regretting whatever business
brought them to his door.  “They're trying to kill me...”

 “Who?”
 
 “Them!” Zachary points into the murky apartment.

 “Oh, right.  Lord Crump.”

 “Crewe.”

 “Uh-huh.  Move aside, sir.  I'll have a look.” The policemen takes two steps
inside, then pans the entire apartment with his flashlight, lingering on the
Citadel.  It is still and silent.  Lord Crewe stands upon the battlements, as he
had, except now he is all wood and paint.  His rosy cheeks and rabbit-teeth
mock Zachary.  Darlene's ring is gone.

 “They're playing dead!  You have to believe me!” He grabs the policeman's
arm, which is thick and comforting.  He jerks away, as if Zachary suffers from
something highly contagious, which is entirely possible.  He walks over and
picks up Lord Crewe.  

 “Be careful, that's him.”

 “You make this?”

 “I'm a toymaker.  I make toys.”

 The policeman grimaces. “And now this is trying to kill you?”

 “All of them are.”

 He shines the flashlight on the floor; bodies are everywhere, broken into
pieces.  “Wow.  Must've been some kinda fight.”

 “They stole my ring!”

 “Uh-oh, that sounds serious,” says the policeman, who's oddly upbeat about
it all.

 “You mean that ring?” says the other policeman.  On the floor, amid the
carnage, is Darlene's ring,  still glittering like Mars on a starless night.

 The policeman sets Lord Crewe down.  Is he grinning?

 “They don't pay me enough for this shit... Sir, this is a notification that a
restraining order  has been filed against you on behalf of one Darlene
Schutte.”

 “What-?”

 The other policeman shoves a manilla envelope at Zachary.  It's thin but
weighty.  “You are legally ordered to remain five-hundred feet away from Ms.
Schutte at all times.  Any violation of this restraining order  will result in your
arrest.  You'll be charged with harassment.  That means you'll go to jail.  
Understand?”

 “No...”

 The policeman huffs. “Just stay away from the girl.” He again pans Zachary's
home with the flashlight.  “And try to clean up in here.  Who lives like this?”

 On their way out, one mutters “loony” and the other snorts.  Zachary
watches them go, then looks at the envelope, which has a serious-looking red
stamp on it.

 Darlene's being grossly misrepresented, it's the only explanation.  Someone’
s filled her head with slanders, fabrications, things that aren't true!

 Who could it be?  He has many enemies.  Most great men do.

 He'll fix Darlene; oh yes, he'll fix her right up.  Once she sees his love, she'll
fall into place.  She won't even have a choice.

 But first, there's a matter of unfinished business.  He closes the door, dons
his cap and mittens.

 When he faces Lord Crewe, he's the one with the scary teeth and the angry
eyes.  This time will be different.
 
 This time, one of them is going to die.
To read other short stories,
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About Michael Lindsay

Michael Lindsay has
served seventeen years
in the U.S Army, mostly
with the Special Forces.
He lives in Chugiak,
Alaska, with his wife
Marisa and their four
children: Liam,
Evangeline, Danica and
Esmarin. He is nearly
finished with his first
novel, Clockwork, which
is about Man's
propensity towards
reckless violence.