A title has been created!! Not sure if anyone noticed or not :P I’m just going to take this moment to thank my awesome husband for helping with coming up with the title, and also his patience in showing me ‘new’ Photoshop tricks. He really hates my computer mouse… But enough about me! On to the story!
Edited August 19, 2022
Notice anything new? That’s right! I’ve edited this chapter as well! Editing is going great as I’m already on chapter 11. With some perseverance, I’ll have the rest of the chapters (32 in the whole book) done by the end of the month. That’s right, DONE. As in, I’ll be publishing the book before the end of the year. Exciting, right?!
I’d say more about what’s going on, but I’ll leave the publishing information for a different post. Exciting things are on the way! May your adventures be many and your inspiration be endless!
Photo Credit: Pixabay
“To all thine enemies, destruction and ruin,” the knight repeated the phrase, a litany against the chill of the wind and rain. Zor, his faithful steed, shifted uneasily beneath him, reminding Ryac of his own discomfort.
The fires on Arbor’s Peak, which lay on the other side of Lake Obriod, were hardly more than a thin tendril of smoke. As the leading edge of rain struck the peak, the tendril became an ashy cloud of darkness that quickly became pelted back down to the earth. There was likely nothing left of the captives, nothing that could be saved, anyway.
A flash of lightning made Zor stir uneasily beneath him. They were exposed as they stood on the edge of a cliff, so Ryac, reluctantly, headed them back toward the protection of a nearby forest. He was loath to abandon his mission, but as a peal of thunder shook the air and another flash of lightning streaked across the sky, he hastened his retreat.
Still, the idea of crossing the lake lingered in his mind. The nearby villages likely had boats, but the more he thought about it, the more the knight realized none of them would likely be large enough to make the harrowing journey across the lake. Holden, the nearest port town, was still a day’s distance or less, if he rode hard. From there, he would need to convince a crew to take him across Lake Obriod so he could settle the score with the Dark Mage.
Another flash of lightning, and the knight was forced to reconsider such a journey. He had no way of knowing how long the storm would last or how long the waters of the lake would remain turbulent after the storm’s passing.
Zor made a barely discernable stumble as a hoof slipped on a rain-soaked rock, reminding the knight of his current predicament. Although the war horse showed no signs of fatigue, it wouldn’t do to push onward to Holden, much less during a storm. Besides, it would take more gold than he had to convince a crew to brave such treacherous waters, and if they’d heard of the Dark Mage and his tower, they may turn unwilling to make the journey even in fair weather.
Regardless, the dark deed had already been done, and he had to accept that there was nothing more he could do. Even if he were standing on the other side of the lake at this very moment, the fact remained that he was ill prepared for dealing with the Dark Mage or laying siege to his tower atop Arbor’s Peak.
The sky darkened as more rain pelted down on the lone knight and his mount. He hardly heard the thunder anymore as the rain against his armor made too much of an uproar. Sir Ryac reluctantly turned Zor toward the road leading back to Eastwatch, the city below the castle of Wismooria. They traveled now at a much slower pace than when they’d left earlier that morning.
He’d failed to confront the mage or to save those he’d captured. The success of the mission had been unrealistic from the start, given the mage’s powers and the timing of it all. Even so, the failure weighed heavily on the noble knight.
He dreaded returning to his beleaguered princess with yet more grim news, but it couldn’t be helped. His thoughts as he rode were as dreary as the rain-soaked land. By the time he arrived at the stables just inside the city walls, the last glimmer of daylight had faded from the murky skies, a poor omen to an already dismal day. The rain, at least, had lessened to that of a dreary drizzle.
Now that night had settled, he had no choice but to remain in the stables, as venturing out without the sun’s protection could prove fatal. As he settled in a pile of hay near Zor, he debated risking the kingdom-wide curfew but decided against it. He knew well the tales of the Vampire Lord who stalked the streets at night. Some of the tales were quite gruesome, unbelievably so. Ryac took no chances when it came to magic. He was well-trained in the art of swordplay, but against a magical being, his swords and training could only do so much.
A quiet knock on the barn door quickly brought Ryac’s hands to the familiar hilts of his sword and dagger. It had been a long day, and his grim thoughts had him more on edge than he liked.
Taking his right hand off his dagger’s hilt, he cautiously made his way to the stable’s double doors. His left hand remained ready to draw his sword at the first sign of danger.
There was a hole in one of the wood planks, which Ryac used to peer out into the night. At first, he saw nothing. Then, as his eyes adjusted, he saw the outline of a dark, cloaked figure. After a moment, the person pulled back their hood enough for Ryac to make out their features.
“Princess DeNadie!” he said in surprise. His hand unconsciously moved away from his sword. He backed away from the board and quickly opened the door. “Thou must hasten inside,” he said, his voice barely audible over the gentle drizzle outside.
Matt groaned and leaned back to stare at the roof of his treehouse. So far there hadn’t been much other than a storm and a knight heading home in defeat. What worried him most, however, was if the story would have the medieval dialogue the whole time. So lame. Unless that meant it also had sword fights and magic and violence. Knightly moral codes could be nice, too. His family could certainly use a little of that, Matt decided as he recalled the lack of fairness when it came to the twins.
He wondered if Kyrin was writing a world that would have people get what was owed to them or if he would ruin it all by giving the heroes whatever they wanted at a cost to someone else. Then again, hadn’t Ryac just failed to get something he wanted?
Matt turned his attention back to the story.
Silent as a shadow, the princess slipped into the stable. As she passed by, the light from a nearby torch illuminated her face and revealed the hurt expression she tried to hide. Ryac closed the door quickly, hoping to prevent anyone, particularly the Vampire Lord, from having time to notice the cloaked figure.
“My apologies, your Highness,” he said once he had the door secure. “Prithee, forgive me. That was never thy name, and though the Dark Mage’s magic prevents us from remembering thy true one, that dost not make the lie a truth.”
“Dear Ryac, there is nothing to forgive.”
“I must protest!” Ryac insisted.
“My dear and noble knight. Truly, there is nothing to forgive,” DeNadie assured him. While her words were spoken with vigor, the sadness in her eyes did not go unnoticed by the observant knight.
“Thou doth risk too much in thy coming here at such an hour,” Ryac said, tactfully changing the subject while also subtly reprimanding the princess.
“I had to know. Please, Sir Ryac. Have thou news for me?” There was the briefest flicker of hope in DeNadie’s eyes.
“I fear the news I bear will bring thee yet more heartache,” Ryac lamented.
“Then…?” Tears welled up in the princess’s eyes.
“After casting his spell upon thee to make thy subjects forget thee, the Dark Mage didst retreat to his tower on Arbor’s Peak. All this whilst you adjusted to thy new life,” Ryac said tactfully avoiding mentioning anything more about that new life.
Princess DeNadie had been reduced to a nameless servant within the castle of her birth. Now she served her mother, Queen Lorena, as a mere commoner. Only those present during the Dark Mage’s initial spell casting had remembered DeNadie’s true name and position. Then, just as those nobles, servants, and knights had finally worked their way into having an audience with the queen, the Dark Mage had struck again. The princess’ true name became lost, and all the nobles and servants began disappearing under mysterious circumstances until only Ryac had remained.
Upon overhearing a conversation from Queen Lorena to an advisor, Ryac learned an important missing noble had been taken to Arbor’s Peak, the known location of the Dark Mage’s lair. Not wasting a moment, he’d ignored the risk of becoming a captive himself and had journeyed to rescue those that had gone missing.
Alright, so Ryac was reckless, but what were the mysterious circumstances regarding the missing people? Matt wondered as he saw the story continued without addressing the only tidbit of fun magic Matt had seen thus far. He wondered what the Dark Mage’s motives were for making everyone forget the princess and if there was some sort of significant meaning to her name. More importantly, maybe she had been on the path to being a tyrant, or maybe she’d slighted the Dark Mage and he’d struck back. Regardless of the circumstances, how bad could being a servant really be if she was living inside a castle.
Matt hated stories like this. Ones where no one sympathized with the supposed villain. In order to keep things fair, sometimes that meant someone was the villain. Like with his own family. It wasn’t fair that Kyra and Kyrin got to spend time with his mother as they did their homework, but if Matt was there with them, his own mother would ignore him and help them. So, sometimes he had to do things to make her notice him. It was their fault he acted out so much and made things difficult for her. He didn’t want to cause trouble, but what was he supposed to do when he was invisible otherwise?
He found himself rooting for the Dark Mage rather than the knight. It wasn’t that Matt had anything against Ryac; it was just that it wasn’t fair of him and the princess to only look at the mage’s actions and not the circumstances that had prompted those actions.
Still, it bothered Matt that Kyrin hadn’t been more descriptive with those mysterious circumstances. That seemed like an important detail to know. Or was Ryac really that dense?
“Though I wish the rumors had been unfounded or Zor had proved swifter… Nay, I did not arrive in time,” Ryac confirmed. “I’m sorry, m’lady. Thy handmaiden and those precious few that yet served thee are dead.”
“And…and...” DeNadie paused as she fought to collect herself. She took a deep breath, and with a delicate gesture, she brushed her tears aside. A moment later, she had collected herself and her expression became unreadable. Her emotions under control, she continued, “Then, were the rumors at court true? The queen heard of her missing subjects, and she used her magic to search the land. She sayeth the Dark Mage had taken them and that he hath burned them.”
“Yet more truth, though I wish it were not so. The Dark Mage took them to his tower atop Arbor’s Peak, and though I rode to their aid, I caught sight of the pyres just as the rain began. I was still a day out from reaching the nearest port that I might journey to the isle of thine enemy. Had I but rode harder; nay, even then, I would have arrived too late.”
“But … the rain?” DeNadie asked, a faint glimmer of hope rising in her glossy eyes once more.
The knight shook his head slowly, as though the weight of the truth were too much to bear. As the princess closed her eyes, Ryac took a knee.
“To thou I hath sworn mine allegiance,” he began as he recalled his role as her sworn protector, a role he had been commanded to take upon her tenth birthday, as her former Lord Protector became a casualty at a jousting tournament due to senseless jealousy. Ryac had been knighted a week after his fourteenth birthday for the occasion, a full seven years ahead of schedule, for knights were often made such on their twenty-first year of life, and rarely sooner.
That’s all oddly specific, Matt thought. So what if Ryac was fourteen when DeNadie was ten? And so what if he was knighted earlier? Besides, his orphaned cousin had probably gotten it all wrong, anyway. If Kyrin was right about when knights were knighted, or whatever it was called, that was kinda cool, Matt supposed. But were knights supposed to get jealous? In a way, jealousy also made sense. Hadn’t there been trouble with King Arthur and his knights? Matt shrugged and kept reading his amateur cousin’s crappy story.
“Nay, truth be told, I hath been thy protector since thy birth.”
“When thou were but four?” DeNadie teased gently, and her face blushed at the thought of a young boy, not yet a squire, vowing to protect her under his breath so the adults wouldn’t hear and berate him.
Sir Ryac cleared his throat and continued. “’Twas only natural, my father being Lord Protector to thy mother,” he said a bit defensively.
“Though I was as of yet unknighted,” Ryac continued in a deeper, more solemn voice, “I swore a quiet oath to serve thee. I ask now to be released of the spoken vow that binds me to the Kingdom of Wismooria, that I might be freer to fulfill that original oath.” Sir Ryac, still kneeling, bowed his head.
“I so release you, Sir Ryac and Lord Protector, of thine oath to serve the Kingdom of Wismooria until such a time as I reclaim my birthright,” Princess DeNadie said with solemn eyes as she placed her right hand upon the crown of his head. Her cheeks retained their rosy warmth as she regarded her Lord Protector.
Sir Ryac gazed up at her, fully knowing that Princess DeNadie had potentially crossed a line in freeing him from such an oath. He could only hope his queen would understand that her daughter needed her Lord Protector more than Wismooria needed a Knight-Errant, a title he’d been reduced to thanks to the Dark Mage removing all memories of DeNadie from the people of Wismooria.
“I swear to thee, I shall journey to Arbor Peak and find a way to force the Dark Mage to undo the curse that doth cloud the memory of thine subjects. Thou shalt be remembered, and by thy true name and the rank of thy birth! This now I swear: To all thine enemies, destruction and ruin!” Although he had spoken the litany aloud often since the mysterious appearance of the Dark Mage, this was his first time sharing it with her.
“Sir Ryac,” DeNadie began, her eyes still wetly gleaming. She blinked rapidly to clear them as she fought to regain her composure for the second time that night. Steely-eyed and stony-faced, she continued, “Arise Sir Ryac, my champion and my Protector.” As she spoke, the princess reached inside a hidden pocket within her cloak, a pocket close to her heart. “To thee, I giveth this token, a precious gift from my beloved handmaiden that thou tried so valiantly to save. If this is the path thou hast chosen, then knoweth this: I cannot aid thee any further than this, for alas, I have not the skill with sword or bow nor magical prowess to lend you aid. Though I wish I could do more,” she said, holding out her hand, “this is as much as I can do.”
Without thinking, Ryac cupped his hand as he moved to accept the token. As he opened his hand, he saw an ornate ring. He had never seen it up close before, but the unmistakable red-gold band with its three golden flowers that sported an emerald for the central flower and black diamonds for the side flowers was unmistakable.
Matt’s eyes began to gloss over as the story dragged on and on with details about the ring and what it looked like. Then it jumped to suddenly talking about the torchlight inside the barn and all the details inside before moving onto a detailed description of Sir Ryac’s clothes, hair, and his eyes as he looked at DeNadie. After that came her description. Finally, the boring part ended, rather abruptly, on DeNadie’s hand and how the light from those painfully-described torches illuminated the stones of the ring.
Just how much of an amateur writer was his cousin, anyway? Matt wondered. By the time the story got back to the ring and its significance, four pages had gone by. The only reason he had kept going was so he could find out more about the mysterious Dark Mage. He had a faint suspicion the mage had something to do with him, but when he found where the story picked up again, the suspicion faded as he became caught up in the story once more.
In all the Kingdom of Wismooria, there was only one ring it could be.
“Nay! I cannot!”