Elie: What's a deer path?
Me: It's where the deer often walk through the woods to get to food or water. All the repetetive walking makes a small path that others can follow.
Elie: Did they see any deer?
Me: They may have, but deer are very shy and may have been frightened by the horses.
As they continued, the forest grew older, the trees wider and more twisted by age and elements. More and more were entirely bare of all leaves. The undergrowth disappeared and was replaced by swirling mists creeping from the surface of some long forgotten lake.
Elie: Well, who was in the back?
Me: You said it was Tiana, I believe.
Elie: I think she had a chain on her horse so she wouldn't get lost.
Me: A chain from horse to horse? Good idea - that helped them all stay together in the mist.
A gust of stale wind scattered the mist before them and they saw a large jumble of stones and rubble that may once have been a wall or gate. The horses carefully picked their way over these and into a flat open area beyond. An archway still stood to one side. There were runes carved into the top of the passage.
Alatar consisdered these for a moment and then translated:
A hallowed throneroom lies beyond, open for the world to see.They passed through and found another note scrawled on the wall:
The one who'd take the crown deserves it notElie: Who had the throne?
To sit upon the throne will make you rot
Me: Well, they have four horses, who do you think?
Elie: Mandalar's horse is the strongest so it had the throne. Sarai's had the crown, and Tiana the scepter.
Me: Leaving the chest with the treasure of science for Alatar's?
They had to dismount their horses as the ceiling grew lower as the passage continued. Behind them, they heard the now familiar scratching, clawing noise of stone on stone.
Me: What was behind them?
Elie: The gargoyles!
Frightened, they rushed through the end of the stone hallway and into open mist. Another stiff breeze blew in, this one carrying a salty smell of a nearby sea. Alatar spun around and formed a wall of the mist at the tunnel's mouth. Mandalar drew his sword and hefted his shield before him.
Tiana turned to Sarai. With a hand on her shoulder, she spoke quickly, "Do you want me with you or here to hold them off as long as I can?"
Elie: I think Alatar and Mandalar should be partners and Sarai and Tiana should be partners.
Together, Tiana and Sarai moved led the horses on. The breeze exposed a tlarge square trellis on a large stone courtyard, supported at four corners by thick stone pillars. It was open on all sides with mist streaming through. The ceiling was a latice of wood covered over with ancient vines.
"The throne room, open for the world to see!" Sarai exclaimed. She and Tiana quickly unloaded the throne and put it at one end. The scepter leaned against it to one side, and the treasure chest they placed on the other. The crown they set in the seat.
Me: The old king's throne was covered with hand quilted blankets to make the wood a bit more comfortable. Did they have anything to put on it?
Elie: Their pillows and blankets for sleeping.
These they carefully placed in the throne and it looked almost regal.
From behind them, they could hear more of the gargoyles clawing their way over and around the castle in great numbers. Alatar and Mandalar were losing ground, trying not to get surrounded.
"Quickly Sarai, you have to do something!" Tiana's voice quavered as she glanced back at the approaching hoard.
Sarai looked at the throne. "I can't sit there. And the crown is not mine. I need... something." Casting about quickly, she found an uprooted tree stump just over the edge of the stone floor. With Tiana's help, she moved this to the middle of the trellis. She grabbed a small twisted brach and fashioned this into a circlet for a crown. Instead of a scepter, she chose a heavy broken piece of stonework from an old statue.
With the circlet on her head, she sat on the stump and help her stone. Her shield fastened tightly to her other arm, she faced the gargoyles as they came over Alatar's wall, out of reach of Mandalar's sword. The sound of steel on stone rang out again and again, yet still they came. Eddies of wind whipped from Alatar's hands, sending more spinning and flailing harmlessly away, but two came to replace each one thrown back.
Tiana hurled a dagger a the closest one but it glanced harmlessly to the side. She picked up a large stone and threw this instead, crushing the beast's head. It turned into to a fine gravel and collapsed to the floor. Another came onward and Tiana grabbed for its neck, spinning herself onto its back and out of reach of its claws. The two dissappeared into the mist as the beast bucked wildly.
Two more crept under the trellis toward Sarai.
"Sarai! We're here!" Alatar called, whirling his staff with both hands above his head. A huge cyclone errupted and flew toward the trellis. It landed right around it, clearing the mist inside and preventing any more gargoyles from approaching. The two already in looked at one another and then back at the girl sitting before them.
"We think it's time for you to give us back our fine things," one snarled. "They've been lost to us for far too long.
Elie: No! They're not yours.
"Oh, but they are!" it retorted, rising on its hind legs. "Our father kept them from us, from us all. They were rightfully ours, as was the kingdom, but he thought us unworthy. Now, he is gone and there is no one to stop us. We will be taking them back now."
Elie: Daddy, I think there was a strong spell then that helped Sarai.
Me: There's a very powerful magic at work here, one that the gargoyles don't know or understand. They can't hurt her. They can't even touch her.
The first gargoyle lunged past Sarai and grabbed the crown. As it looked at it, it laughed and placed it on its head. The instant it did, however, it stopped moving entirely. Then, slowly, cracks appeared in its stone skin. With a thunderous crack, it simply fell to pieces and melted into the stone floor. The other gargoyle shrieked and turned to Sarai.
"You've killed him!" it shrieked. "We worked so hard and so long, casting forbidden spells on our own bodies to prolong life and give us strength. And here, in our moment of triumph, you've somehow struck down my brother? You shall pay for this."
It crept closer slowly as it talked. Unsure what to do. Sarai lept up and backwards. She landed hard next to the treasure chest. A faint line of green seemed to lead straight into it, so she lifted up the lid. The magnifying glass glowed all green at her. She grabbed it and looked through at the gargoyle.
What she saw surprised her. There was no monster there, no wings and claws and whippy tail. There was no snout or sharp teeth or fox ears. What there was instead was an old, thin, bony man with knees that wouldn't stop knocking with each slow step. He leaned on a cane and had no teeth at all.
"You siwwy widdle giwl! What hab you done!" the gargoyle continued shouting. "My poow bwotheh!"
Sarai looked closely and saw that he could barely balance. Remembering the man training himself in unarmed combat, she swung her foot low in a quick arc that landed just below his knees. Her foot connected with a snapping sound and the gargoyle collapsed in a heap. The breeze blew in another gust, and the creature turned to dust before her eyes.
A shout from outside the trellis caught her attention. She saw that the mists had lifted and her companions were struggling with dozens of the beasts all around. The cyclone around her was no longer and more of the beasts were coming fast.
Before she could think what to do, a long low blast from a horn filled the air. Everyone stopped still and listened. The call was answered by another lower one.
"Dwarf horns!" shouted Mandalar.
Goblin bugles blew a high clear melody in reply, followed by the drums of the desert tribes. A hearty shout filled the air from the side, coming up from the now visible sea. The lobster captain and his pirate fleet had landed and were rushing up the hill armed to the teeth. Fairies flew in from the other direction, dumping great buckets of magic dust. Gargoyles screamed and turned into a beautiful field of flowers as it rained down on them. Gnomes followed, throwing magic seeds of their own. A whole group of gargoyles turned into a grove of mushrooms. The gnomes squealed with glee and began gobbling them down hungrily.
The gargoyles flew into a panic and took wing. Sarai grabbed in the chest, her hand finding the telescope. She looked through it and up to them. Each gargoyle caught in her gaze screamed and exploded into a burst of glitter. She lowered the telescope and simply shouted at them, "You cannot be! You've lived far too long and it's time for you to go!"
With that, the rest looked at her, pausing for the briefest moment. Then, they burst as one into a cloud of shimmering mist, drifting away on the breeze.
The gathered creatures of all kinds cheered and shouted. "Go on! Take the throne! Wear the crown!" they shouted.
Sarai shook her head. "It's not mine to wear," she declared. "I don't want to be queen, and you don't really want me to be. But I would happily sit as... as a judge. To provide my best judgement of what to do when there's an argument. I'll serve you in that way, helping you not to fight but rather to help each other. Will you accept that?"
The cheers resounded, filling the whole of the ancient castle. Sarai found Alatar's face in the crowd and saw him nodding silently.
The goblin king made his way through the masses to Sarai. "After you left, I thought about what you were going to do and realized you might want a little more help," he beamed. "Everywhere we went, we heard about the good you were doing and everyone you were helping. Each of them wanted to join us, too, and, well, here we are! I hope we arrived in time."
"Just!" Sarai laughed. "I'm so glad you did. Thank you."
Together, all the gathered creatures began clearing out and cleaning the old castle.
"Since you won't be a queen, would you still want a castle?" the goblin king asked. "We should have some place here for people to come to."
Sarai furrowed her brow, deep in thought. "No, not a castle," she agreed. "But a place to hold court, in a sense. A house is less fancy than a castle, so maybe a 'courthouse' would do? What do you think?"
Everyone agreed and set to work. In a few days, they had built a strong stone courthouse. The dwarves carved a giant stone scale to put before the entrance, perfectly balanced to show fair judgement.
Elie: I think Alatar and Tiana stayed on to help Sarai.
Me: Like advisers? A very good idea.
Elie: Yeah, and they were going to be her mommy and daddy.
Me: That sounds lovely!
Elie: They fell in love and wanted to be married.
Me: And together they helped everyone in the kingdom to live a more peaceful and content life together.
And that's the story of how Sarai helped unite the kingdom.
Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.