April 24, 2012
by Roge Slater
The room was dark and musty, save for a shard of light that broke through the blackness surrounding the door jamb. The beam revealed something akin to a fog, or mist; the air circling a lone table and swirling strangely around the silent soul there seated. The only sounds inside the room were his slow, yet anxious, breathing, and the rhythmic tapping of his slender bony finger on the hardwood, beating out the pace of a death march. Tap… tap… tap…
Though the single ray barely broke the gloom, it was just possible to make out a longbow, lying forlorn and untouched, but within the tapping hand’s reach, and, at the far end, as though discarded in frustration, a small crown. Was it the dust of ages past that was being spun slowly in the mist? Would the hand ever notch an arrow and draw string again? Did the light herald the time when a new king would ride forth? Or was it the last remnant of a once brilliant reign?
The monotony was broken all of a sudden, by a proud white horse, tied outside. It neighed loudly and blew forcefully down its nose. The faint sound of hooves fast approaching filled the air. Riding up in a thunder of dust, a lone rider drew up next to the steed. When the dust cleared, the silence was restored. There had been no sound signalling a dismount and the fiery red beast now tethered alongside the stallion made no noise.
The grating of metal on metal from the rusty hinges, as they were rotated by the opening door, was a sharp crack that would set any sentry on alert, but the seated figure did not stir. Nor did he look up as his visitor approached the long table, footsteps silent. The only evidence of his advance was the draft that breached the misty atmosphere. Soundlessly, the visitor removed a longsword from the scabbard tied at his waist, and placed it alongside the bow. Then, seemingly drifting rather than striding, he moved ’round the table and took up a seat. His host remained still, except for the rhythmic tapping. Tap… tap…tap…
The silence became oppressive, as the two sat motionless in the gathering gloom. The two animals just outside could not be heard, the dank atmosphere of the room seemingly brooking no interference. Then, without warning, the tapping ceased and the purveyor stood, head cocked at an angle and two nearly fleshless hands pressed flat on the table in anticipation. A moment later, the sound of hooves drew nigh, this time two sets, apparently approaching from opposite directions. As they drew nearer, and louder, the individual clatter suddenly slowed and merged, becoming a slow, rhythmic beat.
The white and red horses kept their own council as the new mounts, one black and the other a pale ghostly hue, joined them. Their riders slipped silently through the doorway into the room, and together, approached the table. One laid on the table a small scale, that rocked gently back and forth on its fulcrum. He moved to one side and took up a chair next to the waiting pair.
The fourth soul remained standing, a scythe held firmly across his chest. He seemed to hold a part of each of the other three, yet was also subservient. There was no doubt, however, that he was the one to be most feared.
As silently as he had stood, the host resumed his seat behind the table. Slowly, he raised his head and considered each of these disparate souls in turn, the darkness of his eyes as black as the deepest, emptiest well. His head shook in disappointment, and in a deep gravelly voice, he spoke:
You have searched long and hard, yet you bring me no-one, not a one of you. We have proclaimed to all that our approaches will bear fruit ere the season ends, yet our plans wither on the vine.
The others remained impassive in the face of his admonishment; their faces still hidden in the shadows and gloom; their eyes expressionless; and their breathing staccato. It was left to their host to again fill the void:
From twelve, you three were chosen to aid me, but those you sought out reject us, desiring no part of this bright future – here his hand waved about the gloom of the silent chamber. There remains but the sole name of our first chosen, who, by his failings in the wake of our endorsement, has shown no capacity to lead our host. Yet, time is against us, and we must decide.
The fourth to arrive shifted gently. In one swift, fluid movement, he struck the point of his scythe deep into the grain of the wooden table. Then, with a laconic, but excitable lilt, he spoke:
My liege, if you agree that the Londoner isn’t the man for the job, after all the recent disappointing results, why don’t we just call up Pearce? He said he’d do the job over the summer, and I can help him out on the coaching side. Then, we can get a proper manager in for the start of the World Cup Qualifiers. At least that way, the new man won’t start with a blot on his copybook, and…
Cut off mid-sentence by the acrid taste of the atmosphere, the fourth shrugged his shoulders innocently, then struggled mightily to withdraw the blade of his weapon from the hardwood. The momentary quiet was broken by the rhythmic tapping of a slender finger. His voice dripping with condemnation, the first spoke again:
Brooking, you really are an idiot…
Four Horsemen Of An Impending Apocalypse by Roger Slater is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.