A short story I wrote for English about a knight and his travels. Quite good, apparently.
|A Tale of Two Thrones
Though the mountain pass was illuminated by the warm sunshine of that pleasant day, it was still as treacherous as ever. This was the single season in which the passage wasn’t covered in snow and, for this one season, not an impossibility to pass through. A warm breeze drifted among the mountains, carrying with it the sweet scent of flowering plants that most likely originated from the forest nearby. A rough, narrow passage wound through the mountains, created hundreds of years ago by an unknown civilisation to grant a slightly less dangerous route through. It was well worn, adding another danger of slipping to the passage’s already deadly arsenal of ways to kill travellers.
A knight clad in shining, silver armour from head to toe travelled this passage on the back of his trustworthy steed. His name was Sir Wallace; he was on an errand for his mighty king. Both the knight and his horse were well-travelled, having completed many of the kings requests – trials of all kinds and tasks ranging from leading an army to victory, to guarding a merchant caravan from marauding pirates and bandits. For his loyalty and dedication to his liege, the knight had earned a particularly good standing with his king.
Now, he was on his way to find a scout that had been captured by outlaws and negotiate his release. The king had given the knight a small bag of gold to offer as a ransom. The outlaws had a makeshift camp somewhere in the mountains, the problem was finding exactly where.
Sir Wallace continued down the track through the mountains until he came to a turn in the road where he heard a thunderous roar resounding in the distance. Whatever had made it was no beast he had encountered before but it sounded massive, and quite likely dangerous. The knight halted his steed and dismounted. He thought about what kind of creature it could have been. He had heard tales and rumours of terrible creatures that inhabited this place but he didn’t believe them. He walked up to the bend in the road, where the mountainous wall that broke the path forced it into the turn, and cautiously peeked around the corner so he could get a look at the creature.
It was about a hundred meters away on a large piece of flat ground, rare in these ragged mountains. It was large, heavily-muscled, green and scaly, with four clawed legs, leathery wings, a large pointed tail and a row of spikes running down its back. It was a dragon.
The knight was surprised that such rare creatures would be in a place so relatively close to civilisation. Long ago his ancestors had killed off most of the dragon populations in some kind of frenzied crusade against them in retaliation for the utter destruction of a peaceful town. The remnants of the species learnt to fear humans and have since very seldom been heard of.
He continued looking at the creature, trying to figure out why it would be here, and what it was doing here. He noticed it had a human, was toying with it while it tried to escape its grasp. No doubt the human would soon be eaten. Chivalry and honour left Sir Wallace no choice but to go in and rescue the person. The only problem was that he didn’t have any experience dragon slaying, despite having pulled off some incredible feats of skill and bravery, he had never, ever, fought a dragon.
Wallace jumped back on his horse and rode on towards the dragon, hoping it wouldn’t notice him too quickly. His hopes were crushed when the overgrown lizard looked towards the approaching knight. A brief moment of doubt passed through the knight’s mind, but was swiftly replaced with the fact that he simply could not leave this person to be eaten. While mainly keeping his focus on the dragon, Wallace noticed out of the corner of his eye that the person in the dragon’s possession was a young woman, and that she was wearing the grand clothing of royalty.
The creature left its prey and flew towards its challenger. The knight rode on along the path, hoping that if he kept moving, his opponent wouldn’t be able to simply land on him and crush him. As a wall of searing flame opened up in front of him, he remembered that dragons had a mighty arsenal consisting of much more than claws and spikes. Wallace rode through the flames, protected from it by his armour. A different horse would have freaked out at the sight of the fire, but this horse trusted its rider fully. This rider and steed were truly a great team, sharing a mental bond almost as if they were both parts of a single entity.
The knight galloped faster as the dragon closed in. It flew quickly, matching the speed of the horse while closing in on the ledge on which the knight rode. Wallace drew his sword, but kept his shield on his back. He needed one hand to steady himself on the horse; he wouldn’t want to fall off at this speed, so close to the edge of the cliff.
The dragon came within reach of the knight’s sword. He swung his sword into the dragon’s face, aiming for the eye. He missed, instead striking it on the cheek. The blow made a shallow cut and the dragon flew out of the knight’s reach. Again it blew a ball of fire at the knight, which did no real damage to him or his horse due to the speed at which they were moving.
To Wallace, the dragon seemed to have disappeared for a moment. Then, it rammed into the wall of mountain in front of him, forcing him to stop. The dragon didn’t appear to have been very much injured by the feat and quickly rose to its feet. The knight dismounted his horse, took his shield from his back, held it in his off hand and readied himself. The horse backed away to stay out of the fight.
The dragon breathed fire directly upon the knight, who raised his shield to partially protect himself. He quickly felt the heat, and the shield was doing little to help. Soon he would have to get out of the flame or die. He jumped out, and was momentarily disoriented from having been engulfed in the brightness of the flames.
The dragon lunged at Wallace, again attempting to land on top of him and crush him. Wallace jumped out of the way towards the edge of the cliff the road was on, but was caught off-balance and fell down. He caught onto the ledge and held on for dear life.
Wallace tried to climb back up onto flat ground, but his armour was too heavy – it was weighing him down too much. He had to choose now, between his armour and his life. He used his feet to try to slide the armour off his legs and feet, and it was a challenge, they had been fastened tightly on.
When he finally slid them off, they fell down the gaping maw in the earth that lay beneath him. He heard the metallic clang of the pieces of armour hitting the sides of the chasm and then echoing through it. The knight felt a little lighter, but his armour was still too heavy. He brushed his helmet against his shoulders in an effort to remove it. It, too, fell off and clanged down into a seemingly endless fall. With a burst of strength the knight hauled his leg onto the ledge, and then used that leg to pull the rest of his body up. It required a lot of effort, and once he was up, he lay on his stomach to regain his breath.
Then he felt an abnormally hot breeze on the back of his neck. He turned around onto his back and saw the dragon standing over him. The dragon opened its mouth to breathe fire onto the knight, but he swung his sword at it, hitting the dragon across its lip. The dragon pulled its head back in pain.
Wallace quickly rose to his feet and looked towards the dragon. It furiously blew blistering flame towards the knight, who quickly stepped out of the way. Wallace realised that now without his helmet a blast of fire from the dragon could easily prove fatal.
Wallace sprinted back towards his horse, and the dragon blew a ball of flame towards the retreating knight. A small part of his hair caught on fire, but he kept on running. He had left his spare shield on the horse and he needed it back to protect himself against the dragon, especially now because he had lost some of his armour.
He reached the horse, patted out the fire on his head and took the shield from his steed. He commanded the horse to run away quickly; if it died he would be as good as stranded in this place.
While the horse galloped back the way it had come, the knight and dragon faced each other, neither yet making a move.
Wallace sprinted towards the dragon. In response, the winged beast scorched the ground where the knight was with flame. With its head down maintaining the flame, it was low enough to be hit. The knight jumped, the top of the dragon’s flame searing his feet, but otherwise he avoided the fire. In mid-air, Wallace raised his sword above his head in a strong, striking position.
He landed just short of the beast’s head, and as he was landing, followed through with a sword strike to the top of its head. With the momentum of his jump and the strength of his swing, the sword inflicted a painful wound across the top of the dragon’s head, the blade cleanly cutting through the tough scales and drawing a small amount of blood.
The dragon reared its head in pain. It blew a short burst of flame onto the knight before flying off, retreating back to wherever it came from. Wallace had raised his shield to protect his head from the flames, however his legs and feet went unprotected, and though it was only a small burst of flame it still caused quite painful burns.
Wallace whistled for his horse to come to him, hoping he hadn’t run so far that he couldn’t hear him. He waited for a while. A warm wind blew into his face carrying with it the typical scents of flowering plants. It blew through his hair, and to the knight it felt strange, as if his hair was lighter. He felt his head and discovered that he had lost a patch of hair on the back of his head from the dragon’s flames.
As he thought about his narrow victory, he heard galloping in the distance. It wasn’t of a single horse; however there were a lot of horses making the sound. In the distance, he saw a large band of people and their horses. They looked like some kind of travelling merchants, but something felt out of place.
Wallace thought about it as the mysterious travellers made their way towards him. Why would merchants risk losing everything travelling this dangerous route? Even if they did risk it they surely wouldn’t approach after they heard the sounds of the dragon, or even saw it flying away.
“Halt!” He commanded, “Who goes there?”
The man at the head of the travellers gave his reply, “Just, don’t struggle. Don’t make it harder for everyone. Please don’t struggle.”
The lone knight drew his sword.
“Really? There’s no way you can beat us. We are many, you are but one man. Just, don’t struggle. There’s no need for bloodshed.”
“In the name of Good King Bryan, I shall not surrender to you!”
An arrow was shot by one of the travellers. It flew through the air towards Wallace, who noticed it and raised his shield to protect his head. It came down and embedded itself in his foot. The pain of the blow rushed through the knight’s body.
Another arrow landed in his unprotected hand wielding his sword. It lodged into his palm and he dropped his sword. The clang of the sword hitting the ground echoed through his ears. He noticed it as the sound of bitter defeat. He heard a whinny. He looked up and saw his horse in a cage, held by the travellers.
Wallace dropped to his knees. The travellers rushed around the kneeling knight. The last thing he remembered was a club impacting with his face. The blow to the face rendered the brave knight unconscious. He lay on the cold, stony floor and the mysterious travellers picked him up and put him in a cage.
Four hours passed and the knight finally awoke to find himself surrounded by tall, straight trees. The same scent as he had smelled in the mountains, of flowering plants, filled his nose, but it was now a lot stronger. The wind blew through the green canopy of the forest, the odd leaf here and there falling off its branch and blowing through the air with the wind. Wallace looked onto the ground and noticed the floor was covered in lush dark green bushes with bright red, blue or yellow flowers peeking out through the green regularly. He was caged, and his captors had set up camp.
Around him, the travellers who had imprisoned him still lay sleeping in the makeshift tents they must have set up while he was unconscious. The knight had been stripped of all his armour, which he could not see anywhere, though he was almost certain his captors had kept it. Fine armour like his was very valuable.
He heard another whinny. He looked towards its source. He saw, in another cage similar to his, his trusty steed. It looked worried, perhaps stressed, but seemed relatively unharmed. Wallace tried to stand, but as he rose he felt the throbbing pain in his head no doubt caused by the blow that had knocked him unconscious.
He gave up his attempt to rise and lay his head back onto the floor of his cage. He looked through the canopy and saw in the distance the mountains he had been travelling through previously. Then he had a thought; if the mountains were that far away and he was in a forest, he must be in the same forest he had travelled through to get to the mountains. The captors must be heading back to King Bryan’s castle. Why they would be doing such a thing, Wallace didn’t have a clue.
Then he heard someone speak. It was a fair and soft female voice, and flowed with a grace that reminded him of the way royalty speaks. “Hey, that was quite a blow you took. It must have hurt.”
Wallace turned to where the voice was coming from. In another cage, also similar to his own, sat a fair young woman. Her skin was soft but dirtied, her clothes patchy and ragged, and her hair smooth and clean, but slightly tangled. She was royalty, no doubt. A princess most likely.
But then it came to him, this person looked very familiar. He thought about it for a moment, and when he saw the dress on her – the same dress he had seen on the dragon’s prey, he realised that this was the person he had rescued from the dragon, or at least attempted to rescue.
“Not ready to talk yet? I don’t blame you. That must be a mighty headache you have.”
Then one of the captors came out of his tent. Wallace recognised him as the one he had spoken to in the mountains. “That armour of yours – it must be worth a fortune. You must be one mighty rich gentleman. Or in good grace with the king. Either way, your ransom is gonna make us a fortune.” The captor made a horrible smile, revealing his rotting, yellow, worn teeth. He walked closer to Wallace’s cage.
“You must be a knight of the Good King… Bryan’s his name, isn’t it? That means you must know about this guy we had pesking us earlier.” He said, pointing to a head on a pole. Blood and gore ran down the pole, making it a mixture of brown and red in colour. The head was starting to rot and a few flied buzzed around it. The sight was sickening, but Wallace had seen worse.
Due to the decaying nature of the head, it took Wallace a few moments to notice it, but when he did he was shocked. It was the severed head of the scout he had been sent to rescue.
Wallace was saddened that he was not in time to save this poor man, and that in being as slow as he was, he had failed his mission. But he did not despair; he knew he had to find a way to escape. He might even be able to save this unfortunate princess as well.
He looked back at the captor. The foul creature seemed to take pleasure in how horrified Wallace had been at the sight. He seemed to take it as a compliment to his work. “I see you like it. Good. Know this; if your ransom isn’t paid, your head’s gonna be accompanying his.” He said, pointing again to the severed head.
Wallace spoke angrily, “Face me, you coward! Single combat, me and you, we’ll see who truly deserves to live!” The captor smiled and turned away. He set about packing things up around the camp. He was no doubt planning to move location today.
The caged knight thought on what he had seen. If the scout was killed by these men… that means these people are the bandits he was after. The king would most likely be grateful, if not joyous if these vermin were to be removed from the land. They had raided merchant caravans since the dawn of civilisation but had never been captured. Now was a chance to finally be rid of them.
The rest of the bandits soon awoke and packed up the camp. They were soon moving again, travelling by road now. During the day Wallace noticed the leader, the man who had shown him the severed scout’s head earlier, had scribbled a note on a piece of paper and sent a messenger boy in the direction of King Bryan’s castle. It was most likely a ransom. Hopefully the King would send some soldiers to try and free him.
The day dragged on. They kept on moving, not stopping for food or rest. These bandits were no doubt used to this nomadic lifestyle, constantly on the move so as to never be found by the law. Then, as the sun met land on the horizon, a small while before nightfall, they stopped and set up camp. They made a campfire and ate and drank. They clearly enjoyed themselves; most of them quickly became drunk. A few fights broke out.
Wallace felt his hunger as he observed his captors stuffing their faces with food. He felt his thirst also as they scoffed down litres of ale.
Then it came, in the dark of the night when the only light by which to see was that of the bright full moon, the stars and the campfire, the sound of a horse galloping closer and closer in the darkness of the trees. The drunken men gave it not a second thought and continued feasting, but the leader, who had drunk as little as he could in order to remain at least partially sober, became suspicious of the sound.
Whatever had made the sound came closer and closer, until it broke into the light where it was partially visible. It was a single horse and rider. The horse reared onto its hind legs and whinnied, the rider fell off limply onto the grass below. Then the horse turned and galloped away.
The leader grabbed a stick, put it into the campfire to set it alight, took it out and investigated the rider that had fallen off the horse. Using the burning stick as a torch to light his way, he shone it onto the fallen rider, revealing it as a headless corpse.
The bandit stood, trying to figure out who it was, what it was, and what it meant. He stepped back in shock as he realised it was his messenger boy he had sent to the castle earlier with the ransom.
The leader stood, wondering what to do next, before marching up to Wallace in his cage. “It seems your king has refused my generous offer. Time to join your friend.” He called out to his people, still feasting. “Come; help me put this knight where he belongs.”
“Can’t it wait?” Asked one of the drunken men.
“Why now, in the middle of our dinner?” Asked another.
“No questions! Now come here and help me!” The leader demanded.
“Fine then. I’ll just have to do it myself.”
The leading bandit grabbed a rough sword and cut loose the rope holding a part of the knight’s cage together. He put his hand in and grabbed Wallace by the shirt. Wallace retaliated, grabbing hold of the man’s arm and twisting it to force him into putting his hand behind his back.
Wallace kicked the bandit, who went a short distance before collapsing to the ground. The knight looked around for a weapon to use to fight the bandit leader. He found a thin wooden stake. It wasn’t much and wouldn’t stand much of a chance against a blade but it was better than nothing. He picked it up and turned to face the bandit, who was now back on his feet and getting ready to attack.
“A stick, huh?”
The bandit lunged towards the knight. Wallace brushed the blow to the side, and sidestepped to avoid the blundering bandit. He spun once to gain momentum in his blow, and then he struck the leader on the back
The bandit seemed to be mildly pained by the blow and very briefly stunned, but he quickly turned back to face the knight again. Now he struck Wallace with an overhead blow. Wallace held out his stick to block the blow.
The blade carved straight through the stick, splitting it into two, but luckily missing Wallace himself. The bandit then delivered a strong kick to the knight’s stomach. Wallace stepped back, in partial shock from the painful blow.
The bandit took this opportunity to strike Wallace again with his blade. The weapon fell slightly short of its target, but still left a deep wound in the knights left arm. He drew his wounded arm back, the pain now coursing throughout his body.
Another wound was delivered to the knight’s left leg through another swing of the bandit’s blade. Then the leader thrust his sword towards the knight, attempting to stab him in the chest. Wallace knocked the blade off course with his stick, sending it into the ground. He then stepped on in, forcing it out of the bandit’s hands.
Wallace threw his stick at the bandit’s head, not as an attack but to distract and disorient him. The knight grabbed the sword from the floor and slashed the foot of the bandit. The bandit yelled in pain, and fell to his knees, his hands clutching his wounded foot. Wallace held the sword to the bandit’s throat.
“P… please… don’t… kill me.” The outlaw begged.
“The die is cast – there is no going back. You chose to travel the path of piracy and for that, in the name of Good King Bryan, I execute you.” He killed the leader with a cut across the throat.
By now, those bandits around the campfire who hadn’t already drunk themselves to sleep had noticed that Wallace had escaped and were reaching for their weapons. With his injuries, Wallace thought he may well not be able to take on so many bandits at once.
Wallace ran into the shadows to attempt to hide. He stepped on something hard, metallic which clanged against another metallic object, alerting the bandits as to his position. Instead of running the knight realised what these metallic objects could have been.
He picked one up. It was his breastplate. He picked another up. It was his shield. He realised that his sword must have been somewhere in this pile. He rummaged around and quickly found it.
As the bandits closed in around him, Wallace thought about the fate of the princess. He was only in this situation because he tried to save her. If she died here, it would have all been for nothing. He grabbed his sword, shield and the sword he had taken from the leader and sprinted towards her cage.
He handed the sword he had taken from the leader to her. “Take this, cut yourself free and escape. Run in that direction.” He said, pointing towards the king’s castle, “It will take you to King Bryan. You’ll be safe there. If I don’t make it… tell him I died well. Go.” The princess began cutting herself out of the cage. Wallace held his sword and shield, ready to fight to his death to make enough time for the princess to escape.
A bandit lunged towards Wallace, sword in the air ready to strike the knight. He cut down the bandit, who was considerably lacking in combat skill compared to the knight. Another bandit attacked and was dealt with. Then they began attacking more than one at a time. The knight used both shield and sword as weapon and defence, fighting as best he could. He struck down at least ten bandits before he was wounded in the leg again. Two wounds in the same leg. Both were very painful, but he fought on.
He cut down the man who managed to wound him, and a few more before being struck in the back. It was painful and brought the knight to his knees. On his knees, the knight didn’t last very long before a flurry of blows rained upon him.
Wallace fell to the ground. He saw blades of grass, the dirt on the ground and plenty of spilt blood. Then, before falling unconscious, he saw the princess escape, unnoticed by the bandits.
The sun shone bright, enough to glare out everything else from his sight before his eyes adjusted. He looked around where he was. It was not in a forest. It was inside a building. It was gleaming white, the reflections on the tiles contributing to the brightness of the sun shining in through the curtained windows.
For a moment he thought he might be in the afterlife. Then a familiar face swept over him, filling his sight. It was that of King Bryan. His neat beard hung down, almost touching Wallace. He lacked the crown he usually wore, signifying his position as king. Then he spoke.
“A patrol found you near death in the forest. You seem to have had trouble with those bandits.”
Wallace groaned in pain. He still had plentiful wounds.
“I couldn’t have you, one of my best knights dying on me. You’re in the hospital. Enjoy your stay. As soon as you’re recovered I need you for an urgent mission. This princess you seem to have rescued… she’s the daughter of my equal and rival; King Boradeen. He won’t be pleased if she remains in our possession for too long.”