The Three Disobedients
Small Simon was happy being a Ranger. He knew that there were Rangers who looked down on him and his friends in the Rim Patrol, but it was good work and it got him outdoors. It also provided the stability of military service without having to actually fight off invading armies. He had been very pleased when the Rim Patrol was left behind in the big Invasion of 620.
Being stationed in the south of Arden had helped out Simon as well, for he had been lucky enough to miss out on the big fights in the Giant-Rat War. Mostly life in the Rim Patrol consisted of putting a little scare in local herders who were starting to get too close to Arden. The only real action he ever saw was the day that the fake Steward had ordered him and his buddies Randall and Monty the Monkey to kill a pair of nice-seeming folk he was traveling with.
Of course, the fake Steward was supposedly the real Steward and there are different orders now. But still, Small Simon preferred not to think of that day and was pretty sure that the Steward understood his predicament at the time.
Simon had been saving up his vacation time and was headed to see his grandmother in the south of Garnath. After picking up his pay, Simon headed south through Arden. Being a Ranger, he had little to fear within the otherwise ominous wood.
Still, it did seem awful dark that day. After only a few hours, Simon started to think that maybe he was getting lost. The woods just kept getting darker, even though it should only be about three o'clock in the afternoon, and he was pretty sure he heard a wolf's howl from behind him.
Simon steeled himself and drew his bow, thanking the unicorn for all of the training he had been forced to sit through. After about a half hour of hiding in a tree, though, the wolf hadn't arrived and Simon cursed himself for being so weak. Simon dropped his bow and lowered himself to the ground gently, just missing the silent, crouching wolf.
Simon screamed like a little girl and started running. He ran until he couldn't run any more and finally just collapsed in a mulberry bush. Panting and looking around, he didn't see any wolves, so he got up, dusted himself off, threw away his underwear, and started to head south.
When he was about an hour away from the edge of Arden, he heard something behind him. He looked around and saw the wolf (or at least, he thought it was the same wolf). Simon drew his sword and backed slowly away from the wolf, but the wolf started toward him almost, but not quite, as slowly as Simon was backing away. Simon backed up into a tree and prepared himself to meet the wolf's charge, but when it finally leapt at him, he found himself running through the woods as fast as his legs could carry him.
The wolf was close now, so close that Simon could feel its hot breath on his back, although he dared not look to see exactly how close. He could only run. He ran faster and longer than he ever thought he could, until at last he came within sight of a trio of Rimsmen. Relieved, Simon drew in a breath to shout out to his saviors.
The Ranger known as Small Simon was found dead in the South March, 4 miles west of Silent Run. Preliminary reports indicate that he was ripped to pieces by some savage animal, although the bite marks are more consistent with human teeth. Advise Rim Patrol to be on guard for new incursions in the South March.
Randall was an older Ranger, and had served under Captain Trebault for close to 20 years now. He had always liked Simon and never imagined that he would be at Simon's funeral. He had often had thoughts of imparting all of his Ranger wisdom on Simon as he slowly eased out of the service, but that would never happen now.
Rangers were accustomed to the dangers of Arden, they were the Rangers after all, but it just seemed so wrong that Simon would get attacked like that. It seemed like you shouldn't be in danger once you'd gone off duty.
Randall had worn his dress uniform to the funeral, but it had been a long time since it had fit him properly and he was getting antsy standing in the hot, wet woods while staring at poor Simon's closed casket (Rangers never had open caskets-it came with the territory). Finally, the service ended and Simon was lowered into the grave. Another few minutes of Lieutenant Sterling offering words of consolation and the others wandering off one by one and Randall was alone with Simon's open grave.
A tear started to form on Randall's face. He realized that he had thought of Simon as a son. His wife had only been able to give him daughters, and he never realized until now how much he had needed a son. Not that he didn't love his daughters. Ashley could light up his whole world with a single smile and Rebecca… well, Rebecca was a teenager and that doesn't count. You just have to ride those years out and hope you like the adult they turn into.
He knelt down beside the gaping maw of Simon's grave.
Through tear-soaked eyes, he could almost believe that Simon was crawling out of his casket. He realized then that that was not a particularly comforting thought and wiped his eyes.
Simon's decaying, mutilated corpse was climbing up the side of the grave!
Randall got to his feet shakily and backed up, unbelieving, but it was true. Simon's face stared at him from over the lip of the grave and his mouth seemed about to fall off as he whispered something at Randall.
"What?" asked the bewildered Randall, who was fighting every urge in his body to flee, "What is it Simon?" He couldn't imagine what might be important enough for Simon to return from the dead just to tell him. Fighting with every inch of his will, he managed to hold his ground as Simon rose up out of the grave and lurched toward him.
"…you…" Simon reached out to him. "…traitor…" Randall looked at Simon in shock as Simon's finger bones tore open his left shoulder. Simon smiled at Randall as Randall backpedaled, falling to the ground in a spray of leaves.
"You're not Simon," Randall said, trying to free his sword. "You're not Simon," he gasped as Simon's decaying face pressed against his. "You're not Simon," he yelled, as the thing buried its claws in his gut. "You're not Simon," he muttered as the thing disarmed him and tied his hands behind his back with his own intestines.
"No, I'm not," replied the creature, as its features swirled, taking on another visage, just as familiar, and just as terrifying.
Randall tried to scream.
The Ranger known as Randall was found dead in the Easy March, within the confines of the Cemetery Ground. Preliminary reports indicated that he had been killed by disembowelment, but further tests indicate that the Ranger survived this procedure and was not killed until at least 15 minutes later. This places the time of death after the victim was hung by his own entrails from the limb of a tree and after the mutilation of his generative organs and no more than a minute or two before he was found. Advise Rangers to be on guard. This may be a matter for the Steward.
Monty the Monkey
His girlfriend had told him that it was wrong to miss Simon's funeral, but after hearing about what happened to Randall, Monty was plenty happy to have missed the festivities. He didn't know for sure why both Randall and Simon had been killed, but Monty wasn't the type to wait to find out. Especially if his suspicions were correct. You don't want to hang around after pissing off the Steward of Arden. Besides, Monty had always heard that Cataan was a nice place.
The ship was pleasant, although Monty wouldn't really feel safe until they were on dry land far away in Cataan. He had always wanted to see some place other than Amber, and after spending the last few years in Arden, he decided that he wanted to see some place other than Amber that was nice and not quite so deadly. He spent most of his time below decks playing craps with a few sailors and the few other desperates who had found themselves needing to get out of Amber and only being able to afford cargo rates. At night sometimes, Monty would let himself go above and take in the salt air, but he didn't like to take too many chances.
On the third day, Monty and his new friends were playing craps as usual when they noticed that no one had brought them lunch. Mildly annoyed, Big Robby (who was not fleeing Amber due to problems with the Guard) headed above decks to find out what the problem was.
He never returned.
Big Robby was six and a half feet tall and weighed three hundred if he weighed an ounce. And while Monty hadn't known him long, he was willing to put good money down that Robby could take any comers in a fight, fair or not. So Monty was getting a little worried after a half hour had gone by.
Unfortunately for them, the sailors weren't worried. They seemed to think that Big Robby had just found something to eat and hadn't returned to share it. As far as Monty was concerned, their lack of paranoia would get them killed. They headed up to check on Big Robby and prove Monty right.
And just like that, Monty the Monkey found himself stuck in the cargo hold of what, for all he knew, was a ghost ship. A ghost ship lost in the shadow lanes with no crew and just a few desperate souls throwing bones in the hold.
Over the next few days, Monty sad goodbye to Tom Barren, a man from Garnath who seemed obsessed with wasting his money trying to get a hard eight, and Gus, who refused to give any further details about himself, as each finally had enough of waiting to starve to death and went up above decks, never to be heard from again.
Monty had also been forced to kill his new friends Raoul and Javier, who were too nosy for their own good and found out that Monty had been hiding his own personal stash of food.
After what seemed like a month, Monty was forced to eat Raoul, who he thought was rather stringy, and Javier, who actually tasted quite good, particularly with a dash of salt. He was actually putting on some weight toward the end of Javier when he heard a loud crash and the ship jolted.
Monty dug himself out of the crates that had landed around him and realized that the ship must have run aground. Perhaps he was saved. Maybe whatever it was that had killed off the crew had finally left and he would be able to climb out of the wreckage and live on whatever land they had come to. Or maybe not.
Just to be safe, Monty waited until the last possible minute to leave the ship. He was thin and parched, but he was just strong enough to climb out of the ship's hold, where he was greeted by a bright glare for which his eyes, which had been in the hold for so long, were completely unprepared.
It was the last thing he ever saw.
* * *
The Ranger known as "Monty the Monkey" was reported missing. He was last seen boarding a ship bound for Cataan. He is to be apprehended on site to face charges of desertion.