|QUACKERS by Joseph Farley|
Duke Onoth stared at the hill. The line of defenders was small, less than thirty, spread out in a single line. Conquest of this village would be a simple task, a matter of minutes. The Duke’s army was a thousand strong with one third spearmen, one third archers, and one third cavalry.
The village was part of a small independent territory wedged between his dukedom and the neighbouring kingdom of Plonk. The Duke’s liege lord, King Dwagdel, had given his permission for the invasion, and assured him the Plonk would not object so long as they received a share of the land and spoils. The healthy bribes Duke Onoth had paid out had helped obtain the royal nods.
Despite the blessing of two kings, the Duke’s court astrologer and court magician had initially advised against attempting to annex the territory. The only reason they could give for this was a bad alignment of constellations and legends about ducks. Onoth had concluded that the astrologer and magician were either mad or in the pay of a rival. Both denied it, offered to read from old tomes, or let him read the books himself. Onoth was a man of action, and never had the time or interest to learn how to decipher squiggly lines on parchment, and he considered himself too old to be read bedtime stories. Flogging had brought both advisers back to their senses. Each in the end proclaimed the attack to be auspicious.
The inhabitants of his soon to be new lands were derisively called “Quackers,” and had been so called for centuries. The Duke’s spies reported that the land was poorly defended. The people farmed and raised poultry. Mostly ducks of various kinds. The land had many lakes and ponds filled with ducks, swans, geese and other waterfowl, some domesticated and some wild. There were openings in Quacker houses for ducks and chickens to go in and out, the birds living and nesting wherever they chose, even under the table and on top of cupboards. Trade with neighbouring countries consisted mainly of feathers, pickled eggs, and stone quarried in the mountains. It was not a rich area, but land was land. If Duke Onoth wanted to grow in power, he needed more land, more serfs, more taxes, more soldiers.
A scout galloped towards the Duke, hopped off his horse, knelt in the mud and made his report.
“My Lord, there’s something odd about their weapons and armour.”
“Give me my magic looking glass.”
An attendant opened an ornately carved wooden case. He took out a long tube of metal that was wider on one end than the other, bowed his head and offered the tube to the Duke.
The Duke took the magic looking glass. He placed the small end against his right eye and pointed the wide end towards the enemy. The magic looking glass had not come cheap. It had been obtained in lands much farther east and smuggled back to the Duke. He found it a great aid in preparing for battle, well worth the cost and trouble.
The Duke laughed. “They have hardly any armour, leather at best. Short swords and axes on their belts. Weapons better for finishing off the wounded than defending against an army. And what? Ducks? There is a duck sitting on top of each of their helmets, and each carries a duck under one arm. What fools. They deserve to be cut down, their families enslaved.”
“May I take a look?” asked Count Floss, the head of the cavalry. The Duke loaned him the magic looking glass. The Count laughed. He returned it. “Ducks. We could have beaten this lot with some swineherds. I’ve never seen ducks with feathers of that colour. I wonder how they taste.”
“We will soon find out. It’s not worth wasting arrows. Mow them down with your horsemen.”
The Count thanked the Duke for the honour of leading the assault.
The Duke watched as over three hundred heavily armoured men on horseback charged towards the men on the hill. He raised the magic looking glass to his eye to get a better view. On a signal the defending Quackers prodded the ducks on their helmets. The ducks rose into the air revealing nests they had been sitting on. The ducks climbed skywards and headed towards the advancing cavalry. The defenders whistled. The ducks reared back in the air and opened their bills. Streams of fire poured down on the riders, incinerating knights and horses.
The Duke gasped.
“Archers!” he cried. “Kill those ducks!”
Three hundred archers stepped forward, notched arrows, drew bowstrings back to their ears, and let loose. A volley flew towards the ducks. The ducks bellowed fire. Only ashes reached them.
“Fire at will!”
The Quackers stepped forward. Each man squeezed the duck under his arm. Flames shot forth in streams from open bills. Any horsemen left alive, fell. Any arrows headed towards then evaporated. The men released the ducks from their arms. The ducks rose into the air besides their comrades. The flock headed towards the Duke and his remaining men. A wall of flame preceded them.
“Run!” shouted the Duke. “Devil take the slow!”
He mounted his charger and headed for the border.
“What are those beasts?” he asked anyone who could listen. “Demons?”
“Firedrakes, I suppose, my Lord,” answered one of the royal guard.
“I thought firedrakes were dragons?”
“So did I, my Lord. But I never saw one. Things get muddled up in stories. Enemies get bigger or smaller. Especially the more times the tale is told. A male duck is called a drake, my lord. I guess the story got twisted over the years.”
The Duke looked back. The flock had overtaken the fleeing foot soldiers, turning them into barbecue. The birds were now gaining on him and his mounted escort.
“Damn all stories and storytellers,” shouted the Duke, right before all his dreams of glory went up in smoke.