A lone knight accepts a quest from his king.
|The near tropical heat of late summer lay heavily over the kingdom of Havershaw as Prince Aulfric made his way to the office of his great-uncle, King Wulfric. His uncle was a well-liked and popular ruler from someone who was never meant to be king. The elderly King Wulfric had ruled the kingdom for thirty years after the premature death of the great-nephew who would have been king after the deaths of Wulfric’s brother and nephew. Thinking about the older man’s coronation made the prince frown. After the death of his cousin, the crown should have gone to him, or his late aunt at the very least. Then he could have ruled until his cousin was of age and then as the power behind the throne.
The sturdy oak doors stood open when he reached them and he could see his uncle seated at his desk, reading some papers. The office was brightly light by the large windows, which stood open in the summer heat. The prince paused outside the doors to make sure he was presentable. Appearances were important after all. Aulfric approached the office and knocked on one of the doors, causing the elderly man to look up.
“Aulfric, I’ve been waiting for you. Come in, come in,” the king said.
Aulfric strode into the study and approached the desk. The king gestured for him to sit in one of the chairs in front of the desk.
“I’ve received these,” Wulfric said, handing the papers to him.
Aulfric took the papers and began to read them, a scowl appearing on his face as he did so. There had been rumors that a lich had sequestered itself in a long forgotten temple deep in a forest on the edge of the kingdom. It had been terrorizing the local population for several months. It was rumored that the lich had several powerful talismans in its possession. Many had tried and failed to destroy it. At first it had just been rumors. Now, the rumors had been confirmed.
“Something must be done about this at once. I know! We’ll choose a champion from among the people to defeat it,” the king said.
“Are you certain, Uncle?” Aulfric asked.
“Absolutely and I want you to find the champion,” Wulfric said.
“You’re the best man for the job. I’d send you but I can’t risk it,” he said.
“As you wish, Uncle,” the prince said with a bow.
After his conversation with his uncle, Prince Aulfric retired to his rooms and poured himself a glass of wine. This worked better in his favor than he first thought. He could easily choose a champion from among the rabble to retrieve the talismans. It would bring hope to the people. It was a hope he could exploit. And if the champion should die in the attempt or afterwards from his wounds, well, then he could work things to his advantage even then. It was preferable if the champion survived. It shouldn’t be too difficult. I simply need to find someone desperate enough to take the quest, he thought. Desperation could be a powerful motivator. This was a glorious opportunity. It was a chance to not only earn the loyalty of both the chosen champion and the people but also a chance to strengthen his own position. Perhaps it would allow him to convince his uncle to abdicate in his favor. The elderly man had already been considering it.
As he continued to turn it over in his head, an idea struck him. He hurried out into the hallway and summoned a guard.
“I need you to find out how many knights are currently in the city,” the prince said.
“As you wish, your highness,” the guard said.
The guard hurried off and the prince returned to his rooms. A few hours later, Aulfric had a list of names and a suggestion to make to his uncle. The king read over the list of names that the prince had put together.
“We’ll send out members of the guard tomorrow morning to find him and bring him to us. I want him hear no later than noon,” the king ordered.
“Yes, sire,” the guards chorused.
In the Harpy’s Hand Tavern, Sir Fawkes of Knaerwood sat at the tavern’s bar, tankard in hand. He politely declined a woman’s very drunk pass at him. A knight should always act honorably and in a manner befitting, even one so impoverished a knight as him. He had spent much of his life listening to his grandfather bemoan the untoward circumstances that had sent their family into near poverty.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw three men approaching him. He looked at them when they stopped beside him. They wore the uniform of the royal guard and one wore a captain’s insignia.
“Are you Sir Fawkes?” the captain asked.
“I am,” the knight said.
“Your presence has been requested at the palace. The king wishes to speak with you,” the captain said.
Fawkes paid for his drink and followed the men. The captain walked in front of him and the other two walked behind him on either side. The knight kept himself composed in the face of his escort. The four men made their way up to the castle that stood at the heart of the city. He was led to the king’s study. The captain gestured for him to wait in the hall. A moment later, Fawkes was announced and escorted into the presence of the king. He bowed to the elderly man sitting at the desk in front of him. As he did, he saw Prince Aulfric enter from another door.
“Thank you for coming on such short notice, Sir Fawkes,” the king said.
“I am at my king’s service,” the knight responded.
“I have a quest for you, Fawkes. It seems that a lich has been terrorizing the village of Harper’s Glen. It appears that the lich has taken one of the village’s temples for its own. I want you to destroy this monster and stop its reign of terror,” the king said.
“Is there some object I should bring back to prove that I have succeeded?” the knight asked.
“Yes. The reports say that the lich wears a crown upon its’ rotten head. There are also may be several talismans that it has it its possession. Bring at least two of these back with you when you return,” Wulfric said.
“How are your weapons?” Aulfric asked.
“They’re in passable condition,” the knight said.
Aulfric had seen the handed down sword and long dagger the knight owned. Though they were in passable condition, it was the rough side of passable. Though he could use it to his advantage, he would much prefer the knight to survive the actual quest, even if he died after returning.
“To be fair, calling their condition passable is being charitable. If Sir Fawkes is to succeed in his endeavor, then surely this should be rectified,” Aulfric suggested, glancing at the sword at the knight’s belt.
“Yes, indeed it should. Perhaps you should go down to the armory and pick out a new one. That will be part of your reward upon your successful return,” the king said.
“Thank you, your majesty, your highness,” Fawkes said.
“How long do you need to prepare for your quest, Sir Fawkes?” Wulfric asked.
“The rest of today at the least,” he said.
“You have until noon tomorrow at the latest to make your preparations. The captain will take you down to the armory so you can choose a new sword,” Wulfric ordered.
The knight bowed to the king and then the prince. He knew a dismissal when he heard one. The captain, who stood waiting at the door, led him out and towards the armory. The prince couldn’t fight the smile that made its’ way onto his face as the knight left. Everything was going to plan. He had his champion.
The knight was led down to the castle armory. The long, lantern lit room was full of weapons and shields of all types and sizes. Some were made, per order of rulers past and present, for the army and the royal guard. There was a separate armory for the city guard. Other pieces were things that belonged to knights who chose to store their weapons here when not in use as opposed to their rooms. It didn’t take the knight long to find an appropriate sword. It was a hand-and-a-half sword with a dual-edged steel blade. After a few practice swings, he decided it would do nicely.
Once he had chosen to his sword, he was shown to the rooms where he’d be spending the night. He was surprised to find his things from the tavern had already been brought there. He was grateful that the prince had encouraged the king to choose him for this quest. This was a chance to restore honor to his family and to his home. There was something that was nagging him. Something about the way the prince spoke set his teeth on edge. Aulfric had something nasty up his sleeve and Fawkes didn’t like being used. The knight decided he couldn’t dwell on it too long. He still had preparations to make. The captain had asked if Fawkes had felt the need to visit the library but the knight had said there was no need. Though he’d never faced a lich before, he knew enough to know how to defeat one.
Lichs were undead beings that used rituals and magic to attach their souls to objects in an effort to gain immortality. He’d read the reports as he began to gather the things he would need for his quest. Many of the villagers had mentioned the iron crown the lich wore. Even the king had mentioned that. He needed to break the crown at the very least. That would force the lich’s soul out and then all he would need to do was decapitate the monster. The knight packed his saddlebags, double checking everything as he did. He couldn’t afford any blunders. There was too much riding on this. There were too many people counting on him. He intended to ride out at dawn the next day. It was a long ride and he wouldn’t reach the temple until almost dusk. Once he was sure he was packed, the knight checked the time.
It wasn’t quite dinner time, but it was close. Before he left, the knight wanted to visit one of the temples within the palace itself. He made his way down to the castle temples and found the way to the one he wanted. It was the temple of Eidone, Goddess of justice, honor, protection and healing. She was a Goddess in whose name oaths were sworn. The temple that the lich had taken over was one of Her temples. The priestess nodded to him as he entered the temple and he gave her a short bow. The knight approached pone of the small altars for parishioners and lit several candles that stood upon it.
“Gentle Goddess, I ask for your guidance and protection on my quest. I ask for the strength and courage so that I may stand tall in the face of this evil so that it will no longer terrorize those who are living in peace. So mote it be,” Fawkes said solemnly as the candle flames danced.
His prayer said, the knight watched the candles burn for a moment before he made to return to his room. As was tradtion for those praying to Eidone, he left the candles burning.
As he planned, Fawkes rode out at dawn. It was a hard day’s ride in the summer heat. Dusk had fallen as he reached the temple’s ancient doors. He dismounted from his horse and patted the stallion o the neck. He removed his leather belt and sword from where he’d placed them on among his saddlebags. He replaced his belt around his waist and pulled it tight. The knight tied the reins of his horse to an old post outside the gate. He took a torch from one of his bags and tucked it into his belt beside his flint and steel. He was going to need it. Night was fast approaching and the temple interior was likely already dark.
Fawkes made his way up the short steps up to the doors of the temple. The doors were intricately carved in honor of Eidone, the goddess to whom the temple was dedicated. He traced the carvings with reverence. He grasped the handles and pulled the doors open. Beyond the doors, all the knight could see was darkness. He removed the torch from where he’d tucked it before lighting it. The torch lit quickly and its’ flickering light danced across the temple doors. The knight took a deep breath before stepping through the door into the temple. There was a stagnate staleness to the air. The door’s movement had kicked up months of accumulated dust. The knight sneezed and the sound reverberated throughout the room. Despite the heat outside, the temple interior was icy cold.
Fawkes moved forward towards an open archway in front of him. As he did, the door slammed shut behind him, startling him enough to nearly drop his torch. He turned back towards the archway and kept moving. Beyond the arch was the main chapel itself. There was no light in the large chapel except for his torch , which did little to dispel the eerie shadows. He couldn’t see much of the room. His attention was caught when something moved off to his left. It was a luminous figure in a gossamer veil. The figure beckoned for him to follow before walking through an archway down a dark corridor. As the light the figure gave off passed through the archway, the knight hurried to follow it. Perhaps it was leading him to where he needed to go.
The light always seemed to be just beyond every corner of the hallway. After several moments, the hallway reached a set of crooked stairs that most likely led down to the catacombs. He could see the light just around a corner at the bottom of the stairs. Fawkes took another deep breath and made his way down the stairs. When he reached the bottom of the stairs and turned the corner, he found that he was indeed in the catacombs and the light had vanished. He could just make out some of the tombs spread throughout the room. He stepped slowly forward into the room. When he raised his torch, the flames suddenly strengthened before torches all throughout the room ignited.
A noise brought his attention back to the far side of the room. Standing there at the end of the room was a corpse dressed in ragged robes. The smell pervaded the room and assaulted his nostrils. This was it.
“So, another fool has come to try and defeat me?” the lich said.
The voice was the hollow voice of what had once been a man, possibly a wizard or sorcerer. The knight tossed his torch to the
ground. He no longer needed it, not with the other torches now lit. The sound of him unsheathing his sword rang throughout the room.
The cadaverous figure laughed mockingly at him. It was a horrible noise that rattled in his chest, like someone was using his’ ribs for a xylophone. It lurched forward on legs that had long become skeletal.
“You think to take that which I have held for over a decade? You are not the first to try, nor shall you be the last. All before you have failed, and none shall succeed. This quest is too much for the likes of you. Better men then you have tried and failed,” he cackled.
The lich made a half shambling lunge at the knight. The blade sliced through the lich’s rotted flesh as it shrieked in pain and rage. Defense would only get him so far in this battle. He had to get to the lich’s crown, the object that held the lich’s soul. The lich lunged for the knight again and Fawkes caught the crown on the tip of his sword. The crown rattled as it slid down the blade until it reached his hands. The lich screeched and the knight dodged the lich’s next lunge, though not well enough. One of the lich’s clawed iron gauntlets had sliced into his arm. The knight backed up as he began to slid the crown off his blade. A prayer to Eidone to banish evil came to Fawkes lips as he pulled the crown of his sword. The crown began to twist before cracking. The lich roared in anger and pain as his hollow eyes began glowing a sickly green.
That was what the knight was hoping for. He tossed the crown beside his fallen torch so he would know where it was. As Fawkes held his blade before him, he heard a voice in his ear. It was the voice of a woman, with the song of mourning doves raised in chorus buried within it.
“All mortals will have their day to day but today is not yours. Be brave, paladin of light for you are a jewel of the realm, “the voice whispered.
The knight tightened his grip on the hilt of the sword as the lich took another lurching step. Fawkes kept the sword raised before him. When the lich lunged for him, the knight struck. He struck for hope. He struck for the hope of the villagers who spent months living in fear. He struck in memory of the lives already lost. He struck for the glory of his kingdom. He struck for the honor of his family. He struck for the faith that had been placed in him. He struck for the Goddess who whispered in his ear. With one swift swing, he decapitated the lich. The body and head fell to the ground with a clanging thud before dissolving into dust.
As he grabbed the lich’s iron crown, something caught his eye. A silver crown sat on a tomb, glinting in the torch light. The king had said to bring back to things so he grabbed the crown. As he made his way back to the chapel, he heard the voice again.
“Do not linger here, sir knight. You do not need to be here when the darkness is banished. Remember to stop at the altar,” the voice said.
Fawkes did as he was told. He wasn’t going to argue with a Goddess. When he returned to the chapel, something caught his attention on the ancient alter. It was a large white-pink opal formed into the shape of a dove. It was just about the size of his fist and attached to a silver chain. He grabbed it quickly and hurried out to his horse.
The next day, Aulfric joined his uncle in his study, feeling a bit smug.
“Good afternoon, Uncle,” the prince said.
“Good afternoon, nephew. I’ve received word about our knight,” the king replied.
Before Wulfric could continue, he was interrupted by the sound of commotion out in the courtyard. King Wulfric hurried out onto the lower balcony with his nephew close behind. A rider had entered the courtyard and a small crowd had gathered. It was Sir Fawkes. The knight dismounted from his horse and approached the balcony. He raised the two crowns above his head so all assembled could see that he had succeeded. The gathered crowd erupted in cheers. Fawkes locked eyes with the crown prince. The message was clear. Aulfric knew then that his plan had succeeded but not in the way he’d hoped. The people had a champion, but he wasn’t the crown prince’s champion. That’s when Aulfric saw it. Around the knight’s neck, hanging from a silver chain, was a white-pink opal dove.