Ernest: Expendable Guard
a short story by Merry Butterfly
There were many rules involved in being an expendable guard: codes, bylaws, formalities… But they all basically amounted to the same thing: be expendable. Expendability, coined by and according to Expendable Guards International, was not a very difficult level to attain, as it required nothing more than a penchant for short-spoken-ness, mindless conformity, and complete and utter stupidity. Stupidity especially was encouraged, as few healthy, functioning brains could withstand the monotony of pacing in front of the villain's inner sanctum for more than a few hours a day.
This put Ernest Hollow in a curious position, for Ernest was an exceptionally bright fellow- for all his masculine bulk and squarish features would have you think otherwise. He was surprisingly eloquent when he spoke, typically with his tongue in his cheek. He was partial to Mozart, Hellenic Greek literature, and could spend hours on end discussing the finer points of Shakespeare with you over coffee and cake.
Just how he had got stuck working this menial job was beyond the comprehension of even the brightest minds in the business, and there were few. In general, his coworkers just scratched their heads, accepted it as a matter of fact, and went back to being decapitated by zealous young heroes trying to storm the villainous sorcerer's keep.
Ernest's critical thinking skills were an especially prominent characteristic of his, and too often got him in trouble with authority:
"You!" Ernest's commanding officer, Foreman Mudd, had growled at him on his very first day. What this?"
Ernest looked down at the oiled, shirtless, and very much dead body of a young desperado he had throttled. "Swordsman." he shrugged deprecatingly.
"Why you keel him?"
"Well, he had this sword…"
"Ernest! You no keel hero! Hero keel you!" Foreman Mudd roared in exasperation, the testosterone-fueled vein in his jaw making itself prominent. "You no reed handbook? Say: you be dumb guard! Pace back and forth! Hero keel you- or conk you and steal armor for disguise-"
"Or bind and gag you and shove you into custodian closet." Ernest had sighed, reciting the oft-traveled trope. His superior glared at him with mean, piggy little eyes. "I no like you tone!" he growled, poking Ernest in the heavily plated chest. "You want work here? You remember motto-" He motioned to the cheery neon banner above the archway.
"Be expendable." Ernest read, none too appreciatively. "Yes, sir, I understand."
"No more self defense nonsense?"
"I shall try excruciatingly hard to abandon my self-preservation instincts."
"And use small words!"
"Yes, sir." Ernest sighed, rolling his eyes as he watched the squarish man lumber away.
But despite any promises made, Ernest continued to kill any hero or heroine, and sometimes even entire parties who seriously thought they could sneak past him in ill-fitting disguises stolen from his unconscious mates. People like this were an insult to his intelligence, he reasoned, and if they weren't going to put up an honest fight, well, he sure as hell wasn't going to put up with them for long.
In reality, there was nothing Foreman Mudd, or anybody else for that matter, could do about it. The latter had developed a primal fear of Ernest, and avoided him whenever they could. The former, in a bizarre twist of fate, had been decapitated by a zealous young hero before he could make good on his threat.
And so Ernest remained. It was his third week on the job, and so far he had not so much as a razor nick on his chin. There were no awards for this- if only because there were no precedents. Being an expendable guard was known to have only two eventual outcomes: being killed by the hero, or being thrown into the lions' den by the employer whenever he had the desire to show he meant business.
But Ernest was alive and kicking, and most importantly, receiving his payroll. It had been rather slow going for our chap on this particular day as he paced with his spear held aloft and an unabridged copy of King Lear on his mind, when suddenly; he heard a not-too-subtle noise coming from around the corner:
"Now you wait here, your majesty, while I take care of that guard over there."
'Oh bother,' sighed Ernest. 'Here we go again…'
"But Jared!" hissed a light, melodious female voice. "Oh do be careful! He- he's got that big weapon and it- it's so big and deadly!"
"Fear not, my lady!" replied the rich, manly voice which by now Ernest was convinced belonged to the hero. "For you forget: we have… disguises!"
"Oh yeah!" the princess giggled. "I totally forgot about those."
It was all Ernest could do to keep a straight face as three figures emerged from the shadows. Two of them positively lumbered, for the heavy, generic expendable guard uniforms did not appear to fit them well at all. A third compatriot, a handsome and defiant-looking young woman staggered between them- a warrior to judge by the empty scabbard that hung from her belt. No doubt her only vital role in the story so far had been to be played by the hero and to angst while he got together with the princess, Ernest thought sadly, which was a shame, because she really did look more intelligent than the other two.
"Er, um evening, Comrade!" the hero rumbled, trying to make himself sound gruff and unintelligent, as he imagined a guard should. "Me big dumb brute! Have prisoner!"
"Me too!" giggled the princess, most of whose floor-length raven locks still showed from underneath her helm.
"Her too." the hero grunted. "We take to Big Boss. He mess up real good. Get information. …and stuff."
Under normal circumstances, Ernest might have retorted something to the effect of: "I say, your lot are about as insipid as the gadfly that tormented Io!" before running the poor bastard through with his spear.
In this case, he simply ran the poor bastard through with his spear.
"Jared! Nooooo!" her royal highness shrieked, all pretenses forgotten. She threw herself at the dead hero's side. "My love! My darling! Oh, by the grace of the Pure Virgin Goddess- let my maidenly tears restore my beloved to life!" A few moments passed in awkward silence during which a whole lot of nothing seemed to be happening.
The princess's head shot upright, mascara running down her cheeks. "Why isn't it working!?" she screeched, and summarily expired from heartbreak and righteous indignation.
"Right then," Ernest shrugged, turning back to the warrior woman. "You're next."
The girl looked at him incredulously. "That wasn't in the book!" she protested, pulling a pocket sized code of conduct from her bodice.
Ernest sighed. "Sorry to be the one to tell you, miss, but I don't do a lot of things by the book."
"Well, hell! What am I supposed to do now?" the little vixen snapped, her pale sunflower hair crackling with irritation.
"Do try not to make a mess," Ernest suggested. "I'm about to kill you."
"Figures." the lass snorted, crossing her arms. "Just what I get for tagging along with a lunkhead like him-" she motioned to the dead body of her hero at Ernest's feet, and none to lovingly.
A strange sense of pity overwhelmed Ernest, and perhaps rightly so. "My word," he sighed, lowering his weapon. "I know how that feels." He took a moment to ponder this predicament.
"Look here, lass." he said finally. "You haven't got any personal vendetta against my boss, have you?"
"You mean the mad old sorcerer in there?" she jerked her thumb at the doorway he was guarding. "Not really. Jared's the one who had the vendetta. Villain killing his father when he was a baby and all that… No, I was just sent along to make up the numbers and," she flipped through the manual with a look of utter distaste "to be played by the hero and to angst while he got together with the princess."
Ernest nodded sympathetically. "So I heard. Well, how about this: I change shifts in fifteen minutes or so." He tapped his watch pointedly. "And I would be honored if you would accompany me for a cup of coffee down at Ye Olde Star-on-the-Buck's, um…"
"Amanda." the young woman said helpfully. "My name's Amanda, warrior maiden of Astralline."
"Pleasure to meet you, Amanda." said Ernest. "I'm Ernest, an expendable guard."
A/N: Dedicated to everybody who liked Two Lights. :3 Inspired in part by Peter's Evil Overlord list (look it up online!). Also, if you didn't get the joke, Ye Olde Star-on-the-Bucks is a parody of a certain copywrited, $7-a-cup coffeehouse in the United States.