Well, I read something on a forum about clichés concerning the 'knight on a quest to rescue his princess' and I began thinking about mutilating this cliché… Naturally, I came up with this little monster! Enjoy! Oh, and in case you're wondering, all of the chapter titles will be references to Shakespearian works. And I know that it's King Lear, I just changed it to suit my purposes. I'll do that with all of the other chapter titles too… I know, it's a short chapter, but I don't know EXACTLY where this story is going yet.
Chapter One: King Leer
"Black Knight?" asked a scrawny boy, timidly looking up at me, He looked like he may throw up at any minute, his face an unhealthy green against his straw colored hair and royal red, velvet clothes. I decided to treat him like one of the King's councilmen: ignore it; maybe it will go away.
Apparently the boy had more backbone than that.
"Please, Black Knight, sir?"
I gave an exasperated sigh from behind the dark visor of my helmet. I turned to look at him, going for a menacing approach, and said, "Don't call me sir." The boy looked like he might laugh for a second, hearing my feminine voice. But, surprise! The Black Knight is indeed a girl.
"Uh, no offense meant," he mumbled. I rolled my eyes. I shouldn't be angry with him. No one in this court knew I was a woman. The poor boy was just trying to be polite.
"What do you want?" I asked, turning my view back to the sad excuse for a play that was going on below my balcony seat. His Highness had insisted that I watch the show, and watch it comfortably. I was seated high above the lavish theatre in a once empty area. Then this boy came along. At first it had been more amusing to watch him cower under me than give my attention to the show, but that amusement faded quickly.
"Black Knight, the King demands that you speak with him in the throne room. Some important assignment has come up." I didn't respond. "Please, please come. This is of the utmost importance." I looked to the boy, then to the stage below me. Before he could speak again, I turned to the exit and began my long walk to the castle throne room.
"What is this important assignment?" I asked the boy, who was eagerly running after me as I clanked down the regal halls in my all black suit of armor. I didn't take it off except for when I was alone. If the world knew that the Black Knight was female, I would be out of a job and shipped off to some idiotic fairy godmother corporation to be re-institutionalized into an ever-smiling, plump old woman with a dainty little magic wand. That wasn't my idea of fun. Running bandits through with my sword, however, is very fun.
"His Majesty will explain it to… you," said the boy, slightly breathless from keeping up with my long strides. "I was just… told to fetch you."
"Well, let's not keep the King waiting, then," I said, waiting for the doormen to open the ridiculously large doors leading into the throne room. They creaked open, revealing a room decorated in the manner that a Christmas tree normally would be, with brightly shining chandeliers everywhere, and strange, ornament-like decorations. It made me want to vomit.
Fighting my heaving urges, I walked down the tiled lane, up to a stout and fat man sitting on his thrown, beady eyes leering at me. The boy trailed behind me nervously, almost hiding behind my armor clad self.
"Announcing the Black Knight!" called out a pompous little man, "summoned forth by King William Diffendorfer the Third." I fought down a fit of giggles threatening to overcome me at the mentioning of His Highness' name.
"Why do you call me forth, good King?" I asked in a gruff and disguised voice, only showing him respect because of the threatening guillotine he kept in his courtyard. I saw the boy, now standing beside me, give me a glance with the change in my voice.
"Knight, I have a most perilous quest for you," he declared, speaking as if he really did have a perilous quest for me. Most likely not, however. I would probably be asked to escort a little girl over the river and through the woods to her grandmother's house.
"I have recently learned of a fair maiden trapped away in a cave-"
"Why?" I asked.
"Why is she trapped in a cave?" I asked, already expecting some obscure answer.
"She was captured and put there by a dragon. Now, if you'll let me continue?" he prodded threateningly. I bowed my head to him. "She was taken by a dragon, shortly after becoming betrothed to my son."
"Your son, Lord?" I asked, curious.
"The boy standing beside you," He gestured to him and the boy came up and stood beside his father. "He is fourteen," the King placed a proud hand on his son's shoulder, the boy's face turning a deep red, "and it was high time to have his future sealed away." The prince looked down at his feet, shuffling them. "But, we get him a lovely bride, and she gets kidnapped!" exclaimed the King, angrily pounding a fist on the side of his throne.
"You want me to rescue his bride?" I asked, looking from King, to son, back to the King.
"Yes," stated the King, "and I want you to take my boy with you. Show him how to fight and how to be brave and… all of those knightly things."
"My Lord, you are putting the prince in danger, I will not be able to watch him all of the time," I cautioned. Neither did I want some kid tagging along to discover I was female. The whole situation was bound to end badly.
"I promise I will make it worth your while, Black Knight." The King clapped his hands together twice, and two pages came in from a side room, hefting along a large chest. They set it down and pulled back the lid of it.
"Dear sweet God!" I exclaimed, looking down into the shining contents of the treasure. My voice went high, forgetting to disguise it. But that didn't matter. I could retire with the mountain of gold before me.
"Have I persuaded you?" asked the King.
"I accept your mission," I said with the deep and strange voice, bowing to the King.
"The you shall depart tomorrow morning!" he declared loudly, throwing his arms up in excitement. I watched with sadness as the chest had it's lid tightly shut and the fortune was dragged away. "You shall receive your reward when you return from your quest with my son and his bride unharmed.
"Yes, your majesty," I growled.
"Meet my son by the royal stables at sunrise. There you shall receive the location of the princess and any extra supplies you may need. You are dismissed," said the King with a wave of his hand. I bowed to him one more time, avoiding the leering gaze of his eyes before turning and leaving the throne room.
Late into the night, I found my way to an old and rickety home, my home, to be exact. I snuck inside and upstairs to my room, where I quickly shed and stowed away my armor and shook out the white cotton slacks and shirt I wore underneath. I then allowed myself to walk about noisily, heading downstairs in search of food.
"Who's there?" called out an old and worn voice. Ah, yes, I live with my old and blind grandmother. "Come now, speak up. I know yer hear, yeh dirty thief. No one sneaks up on me!"
"It's just me, grandmother," I announced, keeping my distance from her as she spun about the room with a frying pan in hand. "It's just your granddaughter, Zorana."
"Oh, Zorana," she cooed, setting the frying pan down clumsily on a wooden table. "I thought someone was sneaking about the house. But, you know yer grandmother. I may be blind, but I'm still sharp as a tack!" she exclaimed, pointing to some invisible person away from me.
"Behind you, grandmother." She turned about and I walked to her, embracing the frail woman.
"How are you my dear?" she asked. I pulled away from her, but she kept a firm grip on my shoulders, her grayish eyes looking nowhere in particular.
"I'm fine," I answered.
One of her hands drifted to my curly auburn locks. "Your hair is getting longer," she commented before pulling away and shuffling off to the kitchen counter, hands outstretched.
"Where is the caretaker?" I asked, referring to the woman who watched over her when I was not around. Usually I would see her returning to her own home when I came back. Of course, she never recognized me in my armor.
"She had a family emergency to attend to," muttered my grandmother. She was busy slicing a loaf of bread. We fell into silence, and I watched as she buttered the stale bread and handed it to me. It wasn't much, but I ate well while in the King's service, and I insisted that my grandmother have the better food. "So, where is the wind taking you this time?" she asked, guessing that I would be leaving soon.
"I'm to travel a far ways away, to a dragon's cave this time," I said, eating the plain food.
"Ah, that's a long ways away, if it's dragon territory… A three day ride on horse, if I remember correctly," she mused.
"I will try to be quick," I said. My grandmother shuffled to a chest of drawers, carefully rifling through it. 'What is it?" I asked.
"I have something for you," she muttered. She withdrew something clenched tightly in her fist before shutting the wooden drawers and coming back to me. I extended my hand and she pressed the item into it once finding it.
I looked down into my palm to see a red piece of yarn. "You do realize that this is a piece of string?" I asked, holding the thing up in the candle light.
"Silly child, it's a bracelet."
"Oh," I muttered, feigning a sudden enlightenment as I tied the piece of yarn around my left wrist.
"It is said that yarn worn on your wrist wards off evil," said the old woman cryptically.
"You know I don't believe in superstitions," I sighed, finishing off my slice of bread.
"A little superstition never hurt," she said, smiling. She began pawing around for a chair to sit in. I quickly guided her to one and she sat down gently. "I remember when you would have believed that. Where does the time go? How old are you, my dear? Twenty?" she asked, taking my hands in hers.
"Yes… I've been in the King's service for two years now," I mused, remembering how I had first joined the ranks of his freelancers.
"I wish you wouldn't do all of this dangerous work."
"Grandmother," I cautioned. She stopped there. I never liked it when she tried to dissuade me from my work, especially when I found enjoyment in it sometimes. "I work for the King firstly so that I can keep a roof over your head and food in your stomach."
"Ah, you're a good girl, yeh know that?" she asked. She dropped my hands from her grip. "Well, you should go off to bed. I expect that the King has demanded you get up at some ludicrous hour of the morning."
"Right as usual," I muttered, walking to the old wooden stairs that led to my room.
"Oh, and Zorana?" she called out as my foot touched the first step.
"Yes?" I asked, turning back to her.
"Great things will come of this journey, child."
"How do you know how much gold the King offered me?" I asked.
"I'm not referring to gold, child… Just, promise your grandmother to keep your heart open, and remember that wealth is not the greatest treasure."
"I promise, grandmother." And I went upstairs, trying to dismiss her cryptic words as rabble. But as I lay on my bed, I couldn't help but wondering about what she had said. My grandmother never acted surprised about things, and often talked about the future. Was she an ex-gypsy who specialized in seeing the future? I wouldn't know. My parents never talked about her that much, and now that they were dead, I could not exactly go and ask them about her. I would not even ask my grandmother about it. She didn't ask questions about my personal life outside of the house, and I returned the favor by not asking questions of her.
Little did I know that I would never see her again after that night.