Real Knight

By Jane Bishop

Part 1:

The cool morning air stung Daemyn's cheeks as he trudged through the thick mud of the courtyard, keeping a wary eye out. Getting caught doing something thought "improper" for a prince was not something that was usually pleasant. He was fixed on one destination, and one destination only: the stables. A relatively chilly breeze had picked up, and he wanted to get out of it as soon as possible. Of course, there were the stables looming ahead, so his wish might very well be granted. The door creaked open with a sigh, and Daemyn quickly slipped in, reveling in the musky odor that rose up from the stalls. Now, where was his horse, Firen? Ah, there, in the last stall. Quietly, as to not disturb the other horses, he crept over to Firen and patted the warhorse's glossy mane.

"Hey boy. Not too rough for you last night, was it?"

In response, the horse merely stomped its hoof and whickered quietly.

"Yeah. Here, I brought you a treat," Daemyn murmured, pulling an apple out of his pocket. Happily, the horse took it from his hand and munched on the succulent piece of fruit. However, the peace was short lived, because the door banged open and Daemyn whirled around in surprise, ready to draw his knife. But it was only the herald.

"My prince," he said, bowing respectfully to Daemyn. "Your father, the King, wishes for your presence in the Great Hall immediately."

"Aw, c'mon Arnulf. Can't he wait?" sighed the young prince, once again stroking Firen.

"'Fraid not. You know he is a very impatient man, and I believe it's a matter of importance too.

Daemyn nodded. "All right. Run and tell him I'll be there after I change. Oh, and by the way, how'd you find me?"

Arnulf smiled and tapped a finger to his nose knowingly. "You're always here. Day in and day out, you spend your time with that horse, riding, hunting, or simply sitting with him."

"Just go and tell father," said Daemyn.

"But of course, sire. Right away," replied Arnulf, bowing before exiting.

Several minutes later, the young prince, now garbed in fresh clothing, stood before his father, the king, and his older brother Felix. King Runulf stood and came to embrace his son.

"Hello! Please, take a seat. We have something to discuss."

Obediently, Daemyn sat, waiting for his father to continue.

"Now, if memory serves correctly, last week was your fifteenth birthday, and every time the youngest son of a king turns fifteen, he is old enough to undertake a quest."

Daemyn bristled with excitement. A quest! This was what he had been anticipating.

"So, you're sending me?" he asked.

The king laughed. "Yes, you are going on a quest. A traditional one, too. You, my boy, are going to rescue a princess!"

Hmmm, a princess. Not nearly as exciting as he had thought, but it was still a quest. Daemyn smiled.

"Thank you, father. When will I be leaving?"

"As soon as you pack your things, if you like," said Felix. "Hey, when you get back, tell me how it goes, 'kay?"

"I will," promised the younger boy. He wasn't at all fazed by the fact that he was leaving. It was quite common for the youngest prince to leave home around this age, and it had been bound to happen to him sooner or later. "Goodbye then."

"Well, not yet," pointed out Felix. "We'll have a parting ceremony first, and then it'll be time to say goodbye."

And so, Daemyn packed and when the time came, mounted his horse, rode through the throng of cheering villagers, received a sword and shield, and then rode proudly out the gates with the standard bearer's flag waving valiantly in the wind.

Part 2:

"Hello, and welcome Champions!" boomed King Lamberd to the assembled semi and non-semi royals standing before him. "Yes, welcome to the humble kingdom of Kingdom. As you all know, my lovely daughter, the fair princess Kye, has been captured by…" He paused for dramatic effect. "The dreaded dragon, Edgard."

Ripples of disbelief in the crowd. Lamberd continued.

"And now, I am willing to wed her to any man who can save her from the greedy clutches of this monstrous beast!"

Oh please, thought Daemyn, rolling his eyes during King Lamberd's imperious speech. I've known Edgard for years, and he wouldn't hurt a fly. The king's men probably dumped Kye on his doorstep and now all he can do is sit there and wait for us princes to pick her up. And who would want to marry this Kye, anyway? She's probably stuck up and snotty like the rest of the princesses.

"But I beg of you, you must make haste, for one can never know the mood the fiend is in. He may decide to eat her, my one and only child!" exclaimed the king. "So, it has been arranged that you set off at once. Princes, please come forth!"

Daemyn, like all of the other Champions, took the flag from the standard bearer and stepped forward.

"Excellent! Excellent! Now listen closely. You already have weapons. Now you will need armor, which has been prepared for you in advance – and made of only the finest quality in the land, of course – so you only need to pay a visit to armorer, and off you'll go. And now, good luck, and Godspeed!"

With that, the boys shuffled off to the armory amid much waving and eye dabbing.

Part 3:

The horses' hooves clattered noisily against the trodden dirt of the road as Daemyn and the rest of the party made their way towards the mountains towering in the distance. Even in the fading light, he could make out their white, snowy peaks, like jagged teeth rising out of the Earth.

"See that outcrop of rock over there?" said their guide, pointing. "That's where we'll camp for tonight. It's an excellent shelter."

Daemyn nodded absentmindedly. He wasn't planning to stay there. Once the others were asleep, he would slip away and go to find Edgard. It was time he paid another visit to his old friend.

Daemyn had met Edgard when he was eight. Going on his first hunting trip, the prince had gotten lost and by chance had met the dragon. At first, he'd cowered, but when Edgard reassured him that everything was okay, Daemyn gradually warmed to him. Edgard even told Daemyn how to get home, and from then on the two had been fast friends. It had now been a little while since they'd seen each other, but that was about to change.

Dinner consisted of a stew, bread, cheese, and ale. While the others congregated amongst themselves, Daemyn kept quiet, sitting at the fringes of the group. Finally, the last of them dropped off to sleep, while Daemyn kept first watch. But he didn't stick around. After waiting several minutes to make sure nobody was still awake, he saddle up Firen and once out of earshot, galloped away into the night.

Part 4:

The mountains were chilly. Daemyn wrapped his cloak around himself for warmth, but determinedly kept going. Now, the mountains were larger than ever, and the mouth of the pass materializing in front of him. Firen whickered nervously, and the young prince patted the warhorse to comfort him. The climb also proved difficult, as their ascent began to get steeper and steeper. The path, too, was rough and jagged, more so than the road had been. No one had been here for years, and so trail had become disused. Daemyn's horse had difficulty traversing it, but with luck and skill, they managed it. Finally, they reached the yawning entrance of the cave.

"Stay here," he muttered quietly to Firen, tying the reins to a low-hanging branch of a withered tree. Then he crept into the cave.

"Pssst! Edgard, it's me Daemyn!"

"I thought I'd see you here," replied Edgard coolly. The dragon emerged from the shadows and confronted the prince. "Being Runulf's youngest son and all. My, my, you've grown."

"Glad you've noticed," said the prince. "But unfortunately, we don't have much time to talk. I have to pick up the princess."

"Ah, yes, her. She's this way, but just to let you know she refuses to budge. Says her father is a tyrant, and that she isn't going to go home."

Daemyn raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

"You can come see for yourself," said Edgard.

Sure enough, Kye was sitting in the back of the cave, arms crossed, no restraints, frown on her face.

"So you've started arriving already, huh? Well tough luck," she declared when she spotted Daemyn. "I'm not going! That's final!"

"Princess, do you even know who I–"

"No, but I don't care. I'm not going to get married to some snotty prince. Now go away!"

"Look, you don't really have a choice in the matter," stated Daemyn, losing his temper slightly. "So you're going to come with me, like it or not."

Kye stared at him in astonishment. "Did you just stand up to me? I didn't know you were capable of that."

"Well, since you were being uncooperative, yes, I did stand up to you," he replied. "And I'm not snotty or stupid or stuck up. If anything, you are."

"Am not," she snorted. "All the other princesses are, but not me."

"All right, prove it."

Daemyn stood back and crossed his arms.

"Fine. See that rock on that boulder?" Both Edgard and Daemyn looked in the direction she was pointing. "If I can hit it with my sling, will that prove that I'm different?"

"You're on," challenged Daemyn. Everyone knew princesses couldn't use a sling, let alone hit something with one…

Clack! The small pebble barreled its target with dead accuracy, sending the rock on the boulder flying. Kye smiled triumphantly.

"Believe me now?"

"Yeah, yeah. Now please, let's go."

The princess sat back on the ground and crossed her legs. "No."

"Please?"

"No."

"Pretty please with a cherry on top?"

"Let me think about that. No."

"Why not?" demanded Daemyn. "It's better than being in this cave, isn't it? No offense Edgard," he added.

"It's fine," yawned the dragon, curling up. "I don't find the cave particularly comfortable myself, but I make due with it."

"Anything is better than being within a mile of the man who calls himself my father," sniffed Kye. "He's an outright tyrant! He taxes the people to the point where they have only the clothes on their back, keeps all the riches and spoils to himself, and worst of all keeps me confined to my stupid room all day. And now he wants me to marry you?"

"I don't see what's so bad with me," reposted Daemyn. "But… I've never heard about the taxing problem. Is it really that bad?"

"That, and sometimes even worse," replied Kye. "Notice how you haven't had much news about Kingdom? He's basically sealed it up. Until now, not many were getting in and out. Been keeping everything hush-hush as much as he could, and the kingdoms who do know what he's doing don't care about a thing but themselves. And now the one to marry me will become his puppet."

"Not if I can help it," said Daemyn. "This is terrible. We have to find some way to stop him."

"Well, seeing that you're smarter than most princes, count me in," stated Kye.

"Me too," said Edgard. "That Lumberd is an idiot, and I've had a mind to go down there and show him what I think of him."

"Right, so what can we do?"

"Go back, I guess, and we can get ma–"

"Absolutely not!"

"Awe, c'mon Kye."

"I don't want to marry you!"

Daemyn heaved a sigh. "You didn't let me finish. You go back with me, we get married, and then you can run away to wherever you want while I sort out Kingdom's troubles, okay? I don't care if you change your name and become a peasant and marry some blacksmith's apprentice. Just please help me stop Lamberd."

"Oh all right," sulked Kye. "But you have to promise to let me go afterward."

"I promise," he sighed, and then he rolled his eyes.

Part 5:

"Shhh! Hear that? It's talking," hissed Edgard once the trio was halfway down from the cave.

"Those are guards," whispered Kye, leaning forward and straining to hear. "I'd stake my life on it. Princes never talk like that."

"But what are guards doing in the mountains?"

Kye dismounted Firen and crept forward a bit. "Stay here. I'll go check it out."

"Princess, are you–?"

But she was already around the corner. Then, after a few seconds, she came dashing back.

"Traitor! There are two of them, and more hiding at the entrance to the pass. My father sent them to kill us!"

"What!"

"That's right," she muttered through clenched teeth. "He was going to get rid of all the princes by having Edgard kill them, and if that didn't work the guards would get rid of them. He doesn't want to hand the throne over, and he thinks I'm just a stupid little girl who can't handle anything. He never liked me, and this is his revenge. Oh bother. What do we do now? They've got us cornered."

"Daemyn, can Firen find his way back on his own?" asked Edgard, looking contemplatively at the horse.

"Yes. Why?"

"Because," explained the dragon, "the path widens a little ways from here, and if we send Firen past the guards, he'll cause enough of a distraction to divert the guards' attention. Then we can fly away without disturbance while your horse leads those two on a merry chase."

Daemyn got down from the horse and patted the saddle. "It's risky, but worth a try. Kye, have you ever ridden a dragon before?"

Kye raised an eyebrow. "I thought it'd be obvious."

"Alright, here's what you do," said Edgard. "Climb my tail and have a seat on my back between the spines. Keep a good hold on me, or you'll fall, okay?"

Hastily, the princess clambered up onto him.

"Got it."

"Right, here we go," said Daemyn. The guards were getting close now, so he gave Firen the command and flicked the reins.

"Yaah!"

The warhorse ploughed ahead, and around the corner. A few moments after, the guards let out surprised shouts and galloped after the horse.

"Quick Daemyn! Get on!"

And then they were off, soaring though the skies towards Kingdom.

Part 6:

The Captain of the Guard stared incredulously as a dragon landed near the castle walls and two small figures slid off its back. In the blackness of the night, no one would have noticed the intruders, but the Captain had keener eyes than most.

"Halt! Who goes there?" he called, watching the two figures striding towards him.

"Your princess, and her rescuer, Sir…"

"Daemyn," whispered Daemyn in her ear.

"Sir Daemyn."

Blast! Lamberd wasn't going to be happy about this.

"Please come forward so I may identify you."

The Captain raised his lamp higher, and sure enough there were the two semi-royals.

"Oh, uh, greetings, your majesties. You had a pleasant journey I hope?"

"Oh, please, spare us the trifles. We know you're trying to stall, and we know Father wanted you to kill us."

"Your majesties, I believe there has been a misunder–"

"Linus, we heard your men. We know the truth."

A sigh. "Look, I'm sorry. Orders are orders. I cannot let you live."

"Well, by royal decree, I overrule that order."

"But he's the king! No one can overrule the king."

Kye stood with her hands on her hips, every inch of her emanating authority. "Well I just have. Besides, you hate him. Everyone does."

"I…"

"Just say the truth," said Edgard. Linus stared at him with wide eyes.

"F… f… fine. It's true. But what can any of us do about him? He's too powerful."

"True, he'd be more powerful than us if were all separate. But united, he doesn't stand a chance. Two semi-royals are equal to one king, right? And besides, we have justice on our side too. That, coupled with the entire guard and a dragon, he's history."

The Captain looked in awe at the trio. "Are you sure?"

"Oh come on," said Daemyn. "Everyone knows that behind the façade, he's just a coward. So will you let us in?"

"I don't know…" said Linus unhappily. "I've never disobeyed orders from the king before."

"Then this'll be a first," huffed Edgard. "Now we won't ask again. Either you help us or stand aside."

"Alright! Alright!" Linus reached for the key ring on his belt and opened the little gate in the wall. "Dragon, I'm afraid the door is too small. You'll have to fly over into the courtyard."

Edgard nodded and rose into the air, disappearing over the stone crenels. Several seconds later, the door was once again closed and all four were standing in the Great Hall.

"I shall go fetch King Lumberd," said Linus, glancing around nervously. "I hope you know what you're doing."

Kye nodded, and then they all waited for the Captain to return with the King.

Part 7:

"What is it?" Lumberd started to say irritably as he entered the Great Hall. "For goodness sake, it's the middle of the night. A king needs his rest you know." Instead, he froze and then started shrieking, "Dragon! Dragon! Quick, you there, slay it!"

Linus didn't bat an eyelid. "Your Highness, may I present to you your daughter, Princess Kye, her rescuer, Sir Daemyn, son of King Runulf, and the mighty dragon Edgard."

Lamberd goggled.

"Sir, I have returned with the princess as promised. Now you must fulfill your promise and let me become king, with her as my queen."

"Absolutely not!" cried the king, regaining his wits. "You didn't slay the dragon, so you have not fulfilled the quest requirements."

"Father, if I may point out, the quest requirements were to rescue me, not to kill the dragon."

"Well… killing the dragon… was more subtly implied. That's it! It wasn't mentioned outright, but it was still there."

"Pardon me, but if I may say so, it wasn't," coughed Linus. "I was a witness, you know."

"Well, now I say it is!"

"Quest failed or not," said Daemyn. "We have right to impeach you for your crimes against Kingdom's citizens, including overtaxing and unfair confiscation of land and property."

"Why you little upstart! I could have you hanged for treason against the king. Guards! Seize them!" shouted Lamberd. But when the guards swarmed in, they surrounded Lamberd instead.

"What? Who?"

"Me," said Linus. "Sir Daemyn has a point. Even a king cannot escape the law, and as second highest ranked here I believe that Kye may now make the decisions. Princess, what is your verdict?"

"Even without an official trial, I believe that everyone here knows that my father is guilty. Are we in agreement?"

There was a chorus of ayes.

"Father, as you may well know, the crimes that you have committed can often be sentenced by death. However, you are of royal blood and are my kin, so instead of death I have decided that you shall be dethroned and sent into exile."

"But… I…" spluttered the enraged ex-king. However, his words were drowned out as he was escorted from out the room.

"And now I believe we have other matters to attend to," said the newly appointed queen. And so, that was the end of that.

Part 8:

"Well, I guess we don't have to get married after all," said Daemyn as he skipped a rock on the surface of the lake. It bounced seven times before sinking into the pristine water.

"Yeah," sighed Kye. She watched the ripples where the rock had disappeared. "But being queen is going to be a real pain in the butt."

"I bet you could handle it," mused Daemyn. "You're good with that kind of stuff. You should have seen yourself next to Lamberd. Compared to you, he was like a little kid being scolded by their parent."

The princess laughed. "I'm glad you think I'm so capable. But seriously, Father left a mess for me to sort out."

"Look, I'd help if I could, but I'm just the youngest prince from a neighboring kingdom," said Daemyn. "Besides, you've got all these advisors, and Linus."

"I was hoping you would help me though," mumbled Kye.

Daemyn was so surprised that he threw the rock wrong and it landed with a plop in the water.

"So you do want me to marry you?"

Kye blushed. "I-I didn't mean it that way. It'd just be nice for you to stick around is all."

Just then, Edgard alighted on the ground near them and trudged over.

"Phew, rambunctious little tikes. I flew them around five times and they still wanted more," he said, drinking a few gulps of water.

"They're just little peasant kids, you know," said Daemyn. "You could always say no."

"I know," replied the dragon. "But then they'd be terribly disappointed. Oh, and Kye, you might just want to out with it, hmm? Well, there's a few more who haven't had turns yet. Cheerio." And then he flew away again.

Daemyn turned to the princess. "Out with what?"

Kye turned bright crimson but didn't say anything.

"What's the matter? Dragon got your tongue?"

"Okay, well maybe I kinda do sorta want to marry you. So what?"

"But I thought you thought I was a snobby, stuck up prince."

"Originally," admitted the queen, "but you proved me wrong. I would have never been able to word 'unfair confiscation of land and property' like you did. That's what had the rest convinced. And besides, if you hadn't come along and dragged me out of the cave, I would be stuck with some meathead and Lamberd would still be on the throne."

"Aw, come on. I didn't do that much. It was all you and Linus and Edgard," he commented.

"Look, just answer yes or no."

"If you really want me to," said Daemyn, smiling, "then I'll think about it." Kye beamed back, and then they settled down to watch the rocks skip over the water.