Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Chapter Thirteen: Michael in Exile

Ever since he'd been banished from Arkovia for the assassination of his uncle King Edward, Prince Michael had been living in neighboring Carpathia, and he'd been keeping a relatively low profile.

If you call the slaughter of the pirates who'd come in from Aarbyville a low profile.

Carpathia's monarch was a beautiful princess called Veronika. However, Veronika was not a very likable woman. Haughty and vain, she seemed to only have time for herself.

While her subjects were starving due to the famine that had ravaged the land, Queen Veronika had herself a spectacular throne room built and decorated, along with what was widely regarded as the most elegant reception hall in the region. Bards regularly sung of her beauty and sculptors erected statues of her in the villages, even while she taxed peasants to exhaustion.

She treated her subjects as beneath her. When Sweeper Helewise asked for an ewe to replace hers which had died, Queen Veronika's curt response was, "The crown has no time for or interest in the affairs of mere livestock."

One day Prince Michael, who'd now risen to the captaincy of the royal guard in Carpathia, came calling on the queen. He made it a point to come after she'd heard her petitions for the day.

"You called, Sir Michael?" Queen Veronika asked. She then motioned for him to rise.

"A rose for my fair queen, Your Majesty."
"Such a charming manner, sir, thank you." He managed to force a smile out of the usually dour monarch.

Their whirlwind courtship was the talk of Carpathia. Veronika's subjects wondered why their queen would take up with this dashing Arkovian exile? However, within days they were betrothed.

After a mixup with time and place, they were wed.

Soon after their wedding, they delivered their first child, a daughter named Victoria.

While Victoria was asleep in the royal bedchamber, her parents, the exiled Prince Michael of Arkovia and Queen Veronika of Carpathia, went to the world map to strategize. "So, why did you leave Arkovia?" asked the queen to her husband.
Michael didn't tell his wife the entire truth. He told her he'd merely had a falling out with his uncle, who was king at the time.
"I'm working on an invasion of Aarbyville, the pirate kingdom," Queen Veronika muttered, "and I'm stumped by how we get over the mountains."
"You can't pass through Crafthole?" Prince Michael asked.
"No, it's neutral. Crafthole has simply refused to take sides in the conflict. They despise Tredony but they're not terribly keen of Aarbyville either."
"I see. We'll definitely have to pick an alternate route, then."
This banter went on for the majority of the night.

When they weren't engaging in heated policy discussions they were in each other's faces, head over heels in love.

A long day's evening turned to night. Michael had carved a new life for himself in Carpathia.

Chapter Twelve: Spiritual Warfare

The master wizard slowly rose from his slumber. "Ugh, my aching head!" he groaned. "I'm lucky to be alive but I'm no closer to stopping the sorcerer." He decided to look up Tobin's Spirit Guide in the archives. "I remember he was wearing a certain type of necklace..."

Taking a book from his massive shelves, Balin sat down at his desk.

Meanwhile, the sun hadn't even peeked over the horizon and the servant hadn't even arrived from the village when Alys got up to fix herself a bear stew. Today would be a crucial day in their fight against Malus, she decided. Either his army was going to enter Arkovia or her forces were going to find a way to hold them off.

She changed out of her regal raiments into an older walking dress, and merely fastened her hair back in a band while leaving the castle to meet with her spirit army.

She liked walking through Arkovia somewhat incognito, and openly wondered if her subjects would actually recognize her dressed this way.

After nearly an hour's walk from the castle she had crossed the Swift River Bridge between the castle and the adjacent village.

Another hour's walk and she had reached the fortified wall, and had been joined by Laurel, the royal physician.

She spotted her trusty build master, Jesse, who she had given command of this mission to. "Majesty," Jesse bowed.
"We have to hold off Malus' army at the river," she said, joining him and the rest of the troops on the other side of the fortified wall.
Alys' ambush of the spirit army went better than expected. Her forces were able to significantly slow down the forward progress of the army. "I hope Magus Balin has figured out a way to stop the sorcerer." she wondered.

Chapter Eleven: Malus' Spirit Army

Magus Balin was in his tower to the east of the royal castle, getting himself a midnight snack. Fighting black magic was bound to make anyone hungry, even a wizard.

After eating, he decided to try an astral projection spell to make sure of the nature of the attack on Arkovia. His body transported to a distant tower where a wizard was scrying. His results confirmed his suspicion: Malus was using a spirit army to poison the minds of Arkovians. He had to warn Alys.

Meanwhile, at the castle, Queen Alys was using one of her few spare moments these days catching up on some reading. It was a rare lone moment for her, with the castle being the busiest place in the entire kingdom.
Balin had never felt comfortable in the castle. No one knew where he'd come from or how long he'd been in Arkovia. He'd seen at least four Arkovian rulers, all the way back to Alys' great-grandfather, who'd granted him use of the tower. Yet of all those monarchs, he felt a special connection to Alys, because he'd taught her wisdom and magic when she was a girl, and she returned the favor with her trust in him above all her other advisers. When Balin said there was trouble on the horizon, she had to listen to him.

Now Balin was stood in her doorway. "Come in," Alys said, "you know you are always welcome here, anytime, day or night."

"Thank you, Your Majesty."
"You know you don't have to call me that."
"Yes, I do. You are the Queen, and as such I must grant you your respect."

Balin took a deep breath. "Malus is launching a spirit army against us."
"How do you know?" gasped Alys.
"I did an astral projection. Remember our lessons about those?"
Alys laughed. "The last time I tried one, I passed out for two hours."
"I tell you what. Tell the troops you gathered to try to stall them, as they are inching closer to Arkovia. I'll try to use my mental powers to do the same."


Magus Balin left the castle underneath a shroud of fog and secrecy. A wizard's life was a lonely one, especially one of his considerable abilities. He would return to his tower to conduct mental warfare against Malus' spirit army.

Meanwhile Queen Alys had taken King Frgo up to her personal dining area, where they both took in a draught of ale. "You are aware of the situation with Malus, am I correct?"
"Very disturbing," Frgo said. "In fact, he is the one who turned me into a frog."

"He is?" Alys shook her head. "Malus' spirit army is advancing towards Arkovia and may well be here by morning. Gather the rest of the troops and try to stall them."

Back at the wizard's tower, Balin's attempt at mental warfare failed miserably, and he crumpled to his own floor. Malus' magic was much too powerful, for now. Balin would have to try something else later, when he came to.

Chapter Ten: Sir Gawain

Alys left the castle in order to take a walk around Arkovia. She did this from time to time in order to clear her head. While walking she ran into King Frgo, the former frog prince she and her court physician, Laurel, had freed from his reptile cage.
"Whither your Majesty," Frgo said, flashing a smile Alys' way.
"What is your real name anyway?" Alys laughed. "It certainly isn't Frgo."
"It's Gawain." He certainly didn't croak like a frog. His voice was a deep, rich baritone. He had long, straight blond hair that he kept tied in a low ponytail and dark blue eyes. Alys had to admit he was handsome. "Would you mind taking a walk?"

Alys and Gawain walked the winding pathways through the township toward the castle. "Where are your parents?" Gawain asked.
"They're dead." Alys answered in a matter-of-fact way. "My mother died the day I was born. I never knew her."
"That had to be hard."
"All I heard growing up were stories about how much of a proper lady she was, the kind of woman I'll never be."
"Oh, stop it," Gawain laughed, "you are woman enough for me." Alys blushed a deep crimson, the color of her cheeks contrasting with her pale face.

"Gawain," Alys began, "I -- I need your help."
"Hmm?" Gawain perked up. "In what way?"
"Remember the sorceror Malus, the one who'd kidnapped my wizard preceptor?"
Gawain nodded.
"He's back. I need to recruit Sims to fight him."
Gawain courteously bowed. "I am at your service, my lady."

Gawain carried the queen the rest of the way toward the castle.

Chapter Nine: Briana Learns the Truth

Alys knew exactly who Malus was. He was the sorcerer who'd kidnapped Balin and held him hostage when she was a girl. Eventually, Balin, Alys, and two of her friends had been able to seal off Malus's dark magic, but their 'fix' was temporary. "How do you know he's back?" asked Alys inquisitively.
Balin again hung his head. "I've seen signs," he answered. "A man entered my tower speaking gibberish."
"Balin, we have to do something," Alys said, "but what?"
"Your Majesty, we're talking about black magic here. Very, very dangerous black magic."
"You told me he is a shape shifter and can never be completely defeated," she replied, "but merely sealing off the magic is not enough. He is much too powerful for that."
"You're right," sighed a resigned Balin. "I know that I don't generally advocate military action," he said, "but I don't think my magic is enough to defeat him this time. I think we need to employ our mightiest weapons. He's entering the minds of his victims, so that's what we have to do."
So Alys stood at her table, the one she used when she wanted to think long and hard about something, pondering what to do about Malus.

A while later, Queen Alys and Fair Maiden Briana waited at the upstairs table in her personal dining area for Knight-Captain Morgan. Before she heard the terrible news about Malus, she had given Morgan an ultimatum: either she was going to tell Briana her true identity -- or she, Alys, would.

"You said you had something to tell me, about the joust?" asked Fair Maiden Briana.
Alys let out a deep sigh.
"Yes, I do..." Alys' voice trailed off.
Suddenly appeared Knight-Captain Morgan in all her glory. "Why don't we hear the truth from Morgan herself?" suggested Alys as Briana's eyes moved from Alys to Morgan.
Morgan cleared her throat. "Briana -- remember our dance at the tournament?"
"Briana, remember I fought for your honor?"
"Was it you?"
"Yes. Briana, my name is Morgan, I'm captain of the royal knights here in Arkovia -- and I'm a woman."

"What?" Briana asked Alys and Morgan at the same time. "You're what? A woman? Bu -- bu -- it can't be!"
"Yes, it is," confirmed Alys. "Morgan is employed by me as captain of the royal guards. And as captain of the royal guards, she was therefore Arkovia's champion at the games."
"I don't know any female knights," Briana protested. "You beat all those male fencers at the games!"
Morgan told Briana the story of how she'd arrived in Arkovia at the age of thirteen, disguised as a boy and intending to become a knight.
"I still cannot believe that you are a woman!" exclaimed Briana.
Thought Morgan, I cannot believe it either.

Chapter Eight: Evil Afoot

Magus Balin walked as fast as he could to the royal castle to warn his pupil about the impending danger that he'd seen in his crystal. Though he was an aged man, his strides were purposeful.

Meanwhile, Knight-Captain Morgan had arrived at the castle. "Morgan," Alys said with resolute certainty, "either you tell Briana the truth -- or I will."

Just as Alys had finished conversing with Morgan, Balin appeared. And the sober man looked even more so than usual. "What is the matter, Balin?" she asked.

"It's Malus," Balin replied, casting his eyes toward the floor. "He's back."

Chapter Seven: A Summons from the Queen


Queen Alys hastily scrawled two separate royal summons - one for Fair Maiden Briana and the other for Knight-Captain Morgan. In her mind, the truth needed to be out, once and for all.

The next morning, Alys walked out to her Messenger Post and sent her favorite pigeons with the separate messages.

Now, though, she had to wait.

Meanwhile, Knight-Captain Morgan had just come from a hunt in the forest, and was none the worse for wear.

She limped toward Laurel's clinic to be treated for her wounds.

"What is it this time?" Laurel laughed.
Muttered Morgan, "A bear in the forest."
Shaking her head, Laurel mused, "The bears must know you quite well."

"Now hold still while I prepare you for surgery."

As Laurel lowered Morgan onto the apparatus, she grabbed a bowl of heated herbs to gently put Morgan to sleep.

An hour later, Morgan had gone under Laurel's knife to repair wounds given to her by bears in the forest.


The royal summons arrived as soon as Morgan emerged from surgery. It fell right into Laurel's messenger post box. "Her Royal Majesty Queen Alys of Arkovia hereby summons you to court," it read.

"What does she want now?" Morgan asked as she crossed the bridge heading toward the castle. Now that she was captain of the royal knights, she was bound by duty to protect the kingdom of Arkovia and its queen, Alys de Montfort.

Meanwhile, over in the wizard's tower, Balin was troubled by the latest vision in his crystal ball. "Arkovia is under attack by dark magic!" he cried. "I must warn Alys."

A strange man speaking a stranger tongue entered his tower. "Halt!" he shouted. "Who enters this tower without my express permission?"
The strange man speaking the stranger tongue said something unintelligible.
"Well, then, I shall cast Magic Arrow on you and force it out of you!" So he stepped back and cast his spell on the poor hapless man.

A second Magic Arrow forced the man to admit that he was underneath the spell of a sorcerer. "I must tell Alys immediately."