A light drizzle fell upon the king and his court as they stood ankle-deep in the thick mud that covered the town square where the man, Thomas the Cooper, had come to collect his due. No one had spoken for an uncomfortable duration, perhaps the length of a good short nap, but the king’s eyes were locked with Cooper’s, the princess’s arms were locked around the king’s, her eyes red, her nose running, and several jaws belonging to men-at-arms and ladies-in-waiting still hung loose.

Thomas the Cooper’s men, for their part, locked their eyes on the king’s as well, or alternately on the princess’s comely and peach-like bosom, with their jaws set tight. They were a coarse and aromatic band of murderers and miscreants, and their outward appearance illustrated well their characters: missing teeth, eyes, fingers, and ears; scarred, burned, leathery, and pockmarked faces; the occasional peg leg or hook hand, or seeping bandages over a newly severed limb; and wearing rags, cracked leather, filthy fur, and random pieces of dented and rusty armor, all looted from the dead, be they friends or foe no matter.

I’ll not describe Thomas the Cooper, but I’ll tell you, dearest reader, that he was an amalgamation of the worst physical and hygienic qualities of the bunch and let you fill in the details of your own. Other than that, he was very tall, and his chest as broad as the barrels from which he derived his name. And in battle he wielded an executioner’s sword single handed.

It was Thomas who broke the silence.

“My king,” Thomas seethed as he unrolled the greasy parchment. “The decree clearly states that whomsoever rids the realm of Ogdred Maneater and his son Geoffard the Red, whose bands have raided our coasts, burned our villages, and fathered scores of bastards upon the widows of our men these past three winters, shall possess the hand of your daughter and titles and lands befitting his deeds.”

Thomas’s voice was gravelly and deep, but his manner of speaking and surprising ability to read the decree as well as a herald or priest hinted he was not, as his name suggested, the son of a barrel maker.

“As you see at your feet, I have delivered the head of Ogdred, and my hound chews at his son’s at my own. I have made good on my promise, for which I expect a pardon for my men, and my due as detailed in your decree. I’ll return at daybreak to collect my prize. As you are no doubt aware, I am not a man with whom you should trifle.”

Thomas the Cooper kicked the muddy head of Geoffard toward the king, to the dismay of his hound, and led his men to the tavern, where they would spend the night in drunken excess, fathering children, losing more eyes, ears, and digits, and composing ballads (many of which are still sung to this day) honoring the heroic deeds of Ugly Thomas the Cooper, outlaw turned hero.

At dawn, Thomas and his band staggered and limped their way to the town square to find the king and his court waiting. The king stood proudly, smirking, while his daughter was all but collapsed in the mud, her Oriental silks ruined, her auburn braids frizzled, and her complexion pale and sickly.

The king spoke.

“I have come to deliver your prize, Thomas the Cooper. I have made a promise, and as a man of honor, I intend to keep it.”

“That pleases me, my lord, said Thomas. “My men have been sharpening their swords all night.”

“They are all pardoned for their crimes, and will receive lands and pensions for their efforts and sacrifices.”

A roar went up among the men. Hundreds of years on, the descendants of many of these same men are among the wealthiest and most respected families in the kingdom, whether they’ll admit their humble beginnings or not.

“Thank you, sire.”

“As for you, Thomas. I hereby remove the bounty on your head, and I bestow the title…outlaw. You are banished from this land. No bastard will sire my heirs.”

“You promised. You promised me your daughter’s hand!”

“I did, didn’t I? Well, I’m a man of my word.”

The princess wailed and collapsed into the mud.

The king tossed a small object, wrapped in red silk, to Thomas. It fell at his feet, and he slowly bent to unwrap it. He held it high to show his men: the severed hand of the princess.

It was then the rain began in earnest.

And that is the story of how Ugly Thomas the Cooper, erstwhile bandit king, murdered the king, claimed the kingdom, and took to wife the king’s daughter, Ygraine the One-handed, with whom he fathered eleven children, and who died of a broken heart when she heard news of his death in battle. Under their leadership, the Northern invaders were driven back, and the realm entered a golden age.

AuthorBrennen Reece