Tuesday, June 25, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: The Dastardly Duke

The following morning after the celebration, the townsfolk told them that the soldiers came from the nearby castle ruled by a cruel duke and that more might come when the six captured the day before didn't return. Sarai, Alatar, and Tiana agreed to go see what they could do to help protect the town and all the others nearby.

They gathered some provisions, food, water, sleepsacks, and backpacks to carry it all. Together right after an early breakfast, they snuck through along the road as quietly and quickly as they could. They came to a break in the trees and saw the tall, well guarded castle before them. Soldiers stood on all the walls, more at the front gate by the single bridge over the wide watery moat.

Alatar and Tiana began discussing how they might sneak in or scale the walls. Sarai, however, looked to the side and saw a small hut. She motioned the other two closer and they tiptoed over. Peering in the windows, they saw it was a small tool shed. Something seemed strange about it, though. The walls were solid stones and it seemed too well built to be a simple shed.

Since no one was inside, they pushed open the wooden door and glanced around. They spied a trapdoor in the floor and easily pried it open. Alatar grabbed a torch from among the tools and descended the short ladder to the passageway below. Tiana and Sarai followed silently, pausing to let their eyes adjust to the dimness of the stone passageway.

"This leads straight towards the castle!" Sarai exclaimed.

"Perhaps it's an escape route?" Tiana wondered.

They agreed to follow it and picked their way forward until they saw the glow of lanterns ahead. The walls were now just iron bars to cells on either side. They had found their way to the castle's dungeon without even knowing it. Here, the townsfolk had told them, they would find people the duke had captured because they refused to give him whatever he asked for or they had spoken out against him.

Ahead, two guards stood watch over the cells, leaning idly on their tall staves. Alatar put his finger to his lips and then slowly raised his staff above his head. He spun it in small circles, slowly at first but gradually gathering speed. He spun it faster and faster over his head until a small funnel formed and spun on its own.

With a softly muttered word, he jabbed his staff towards the guards and the small tornado flew off toward them with great speed. It came to a sudden halt right over one of the guard's heads. He looked up slowly, his mouth agape at the spinning air. It spun faster and faster, suddenly touching its tip to his helmet. In an instant, the helmet began to spin right along with the funnel.

Stunned, the guard grabbed his helmet with both hands. This brought it to a halt, but the whirling wind was faster. The guard began to twirl and spin in place, hands held fast to his helmet not now holding it onto his head but holding himself up. Alatar smiled and spoke another hushed word. The wind suddenly stopped and the guard whirled into the other, both collapsing on the ground as their heads crashed into each other and left them unconscious.

Tiana quickly pulled lock picking tools from her pouch and freed all the prisoners. Jubilant, they grabbed anything they could to help the three travelers take the castle from below. As they prepared, one lone prisoner broke open the door to a sealed cabinet, exposing a gleaming suit of armor, shield, and sword within. These he donned quickly and expertly, joining Sarai in the lead of the group.

They found their way up a tightly twisting stairwell to the main corridor above. Two more guards stood by the entrance, but a quick blow from the knight's sword sent them reeling. Alerted by the noise, more soldiers called out for help and raced to the scene. The escaped prisoners poured into the hallway and quickly overwhelmed the few guards present, but heavy footsteps could be heard running from all directions.

"This way!" shouted the knight, and they followed him as he raced first down one passage and then another.

Around another bend, they found themselves facing row upon row of archers, bows at the ready. The first arrow was already in flight before Sarai could think, but a dagger whizzed past her ear, thrown by Tiana with expert aim. It struck the arrow in midair, splintering it instantly. More arrows flew after the first, however, and everyone threw themselves to the ground or the walls.

Everyone, that is, save the knight. He raised his shield, deflecting the arrows left, right, up, and down. One slammed into a wall near a sleeping dog who awoke with a frightened "awoorf?!" and leapt clear out a window to a pile of hay below. Another struck a metal pitcher that landed straight on a cat's head and stuck fast. With an angry "mreow!" it raced straight toward the archers, knocking several off their feet. They, in turn, tangled up the next row behind them and arrows now flew wildly, and harmlessly against the walls and floor.

In the midst of the jumble, Sarai and her companions regained their footing and raced forward over the confused ranks and into the throne room.

There, they saw the duke's own guard and his favored courtiers all armed and ready to fight. Upon a red velvet throne raised above them all sat the duke, his face fixed in a permanent scowl. His beard was a mass of tangles and angry snarls, and it hung halfway down his broad chest. He rose slowly to his feet like a mountain eager to get a better view of the sea.

"Seize them!" he boomed, his deep, gravelly voice echoing in the wooden rafters.

His guards and courtiers began to move forward as one, but stopped when they saw the mass of people pouring into the room with the knight in shining armor in the lead. Vastly outnumbered they looked carefully at one another, back to Sarai and her forces, and then up at the duke. Slowly, but quite deliberately, each of the duke's guards laid their swords and spears on the ground - they would have no part of this fight.

The duke roared with anger and reached both his hands over his head to grab the hilt of his own sword. It was as tall as a bear standing up on its hind legs to fight and as wide as grown man's leg. He swung the heavy sword first to one side, splitting a stone pillar as it struck. He swung it back to the other side, where it struck a large tree (which was inside for some reason) and sent it flying backwards through the window. With one more step, he raised the terrible sword above his head and was about to bring its full force down on his enemies.

Before he could, the knight flung his own sword with all his might. It crashed into the mighty blade and splintered it to tiny shards. The force of the knight's sword was so great that the duke's hands shook like two bells announcing a holiday or wedding. The duke fell to his knees, and the knight quickly tied him up in ropes and chains.

As he turned back to face Sarai and her friends, the knight removed his helmet. "I am Mandalar," he announced, "and I was once the king of this castle. This duke captured me and cast me into the dungeon with so many of my poor subjects. Thank you for rescuing me and helping restore me to my throne. We shall return to the towns all the duke has taken and try to set right what has been done here. Now, in return for your help, is there anything I can do to help you?"

Sarai was almost too stunned to speak, so Alatar urged her on. "Perhaps he can help us in our task?" Alatar prompted.

She nodded. "We're trying to find the old king's crown, scepter, and throne so we can bring them to his castle and bring back peace. But we just don't know where to start looking," she said. "Do you know anything about them?"

Mandalar smiled and nodded. "I do not know for certain, but I have heard that the crown rests in the treasure trove of a goblin king not far from here."

"Thank you! We'll have to go see if he's willing to let us have it to help make the country whole again," Sarai replied.

"Let me come with you, if you please," Mandalar offered. "It's the least I can do after what you've now done for me."

They agreed and spent the rest of the combing through the castle, looking for anything that had been taken from the several nearby villages and towns. They had another feast and party that night to celebrate the duke's defeat.

Elie's commentary: I didn't like all the fighting.

Next time: More diplomacy, puzzles, and scenery! Fewer swords, daggers, and arrows!

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

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