The Evil Squire
Her beauty was like no other. The way she walked was as the slow dancing of a swan. The rich golden garment fell across her body so that scarcely a man child would not steal a look. She glided up the castle steps and took her place beside her father, the king. The knights lined the courtyard, lances held high. The squires in their brightly colored tunics stood by, holding the horses.
"I will have her," said Jamie.
The other squires gasped, then giggled, pointing. Jamie was going to get the beating of his life. Indeed, his master Sir Ulman had heard him. The knight looked at his squire. His messy blond hair and fat cheeks belied the sly cunning hiding beneath. The knight watched as Jamie stared at the royal persons. Ulman had seen that look before. It was the stare of a marauder, waiting to plunder a village. The stare of a guard dog, held back by a chain. Something had to be done.
That night, Jamie set the dinner table. His master had been drinking and was oddly silent, but brooding. Sir Ulman called for another dram. Jamie went to get the whiskey jug. His mind raced with thoughts of the princess, but how could he score such a dame? The jug slipped from his hands. The crash brought the knight to the cupboard. All of the knightly virtues were gone. Bits of mutton stuck to his beard. Grease and booze stained his undershirt. In his hand he held a wooden spoon.
"No!" shouted Jamie. "Not again!"
The knight circled around the dinner table. Jamie fought back, but as usual, it made no difference. Bruised and bloodied, Jamie moaned as the knight dragged him to the door by the hair. The beaten squire hit the snow bank hard. The knight yelled something incomprehensible and hurled a sack out the house containing all of the squire's belongings.
The cold wind blew, leeching all hope from the air. Jamie stood and took a deep breath, feeling the burning in his lungs. Then something in the snow caught his eye, his father's dagger -- the only thing the coward ever gave him. He gathered up his things and made his way to the castle.
"I'm going to make you love me!" screamed Jamie at the tower above.
The evil squire pulled his dagger and stared at the inscription carved in the wood of the handle, a prayer to the demon Tremoda he had made in his childhood. He offered his soul in exchange for eternal life. Such was his fear of the gods' final judgment. Anger burned in Jamie's heart. He would have the princess and burn to the ground anything that got in the way.
"I know a way to win her," said a voice.
Jamie turned to see a man in a black robe, wearing the mask of a goat's skull. The squire let his arm fall, hiding the dagger behind his leg.
"Speak, stranger," spit Jamie.
The man removed a vial of clear liquid from his robes and Jamie jumped upon him. The mad squire jammed his knife twice into the man's liver, causing him to drop the vial. The mask fell away. Jamie looked into the man's face and the smile fell from his lips.
"I credited you with more guile, as a thrall of Tremoda," said the dark spirit.
Jamie's arm burned like fire as the demon took him by the wrist and drew out the dagger, now glowing red. "You need more than cheap tricks to succeed. Now pick up that glass!"
Holding his sore wrist, Jamie sank to his knees. The creature wore the fierce smile of a castle gargoyle. It seemed his evil prayers had finally been answered, but how could he trust these spirits of the underworld? They controlled the night, the wild beasts, and all the forces of nature. He looked down at the vial, already covered in a dusting of snow, and grabbed it up.
"Rise," said the creature, "knight of Tremoda."
A knight, thought Jamie. He never imagined himself reaching that noble rank. He had been a squire first class for three years. He was growing older as none of the old knights dropped dead, leaving him a seat at the royal table. Jamie stood, staring once again into the face of the monster.
"You will need a new, evil name," said the demon. "What shall it be?"
Lighting flashed across the sky with a loud crack. "Thunders," said Jamie.
"So be it, Sir Jamie Thunders," said the creature. "Come, we have much to discuss. For, knight of darkness or squire first class, the princess will have neither." The demon winked.
The wind blew cold across the jousting lanes where the knights gathered. In the high tower, Jamie could see the princess watching. He stood by his master's horse, rolling the empty glass vial back and forth in his hand. It was time. The other squires had strapped the fat old knight into his armor. Now Jamie led the horse to the end of the jousting track.
"For the honor of Princess Twinkle!" proclaimed Sir Ulman, taking his lance from Jamie.
Jamie ran back and took his place among the other squires. The knights held their lances high as the king took his seat next to his daughter. He raised his hand and the champions lowered their lances. The king gave his signal and the horses shot forward. The crowd went wild and the squires jumped up and down in excitement.
"I'm blind!" shouted Jamie's master. The riders passed each other without contact. The old knight slid off the horse and thudded against the ground. The foreign knight wheeled around and raised his lance, upon which trailed the banner of Trumulia. Jamie strode slowly onto the field, his eyes always on the Trumulian knight. He knelt to speak into his master's ear.
"Fear not master," said Jamie, "I will avenge your death."
"My death?" Suddenly, the old knight coughed up a small fountain of blood.
Jamie jumped upon the horse and turned to the tower. "My master has been poisoned by this Trumulian scum. I demand satisfaction and the right to defend the princess's honor!" he shouted.
"Bow your head," shouted the king. "What is thy name?"
"Thunders!" yelled Jamie.
"Rise, Sir Thunders," said the king, "and fight as a knight."
Another squire ran toward Jamie, lance in hand. The boy's eyes flashed with excitement. Jamie could barely remember his name. Rabbit, the other squires called him, as he would jump at any loud noise. As the squire reached the horse, Jamie reached down and took the lance, saying, "Thank you Rabbit, your loyalty will be rewarded."
The Trumulian watched and waited as the drama unfolded. Jamie looked at him and smiled. He must think I'm insane, thought Jamie, an unarmored squire against a practiced lancer. He pitched the vial down beside his dead master, held his fists together, and quietly chanted. Rabbit watched in awe as the end of Jamie's lance began to glow red hot. "Watch this," said Jamie. Rabbit stood, dumbstruck.
At the signal, the riders charged. Jamie had never known such freedom. As he aimed his lance he forgot about the crowds and the other squires. He almost forgot about the princess. The power was in his hands. The Trumulian came on, bright ribbons flowing behind him. At the last minute an invisible force pushed away the foreigner‘s spear and guided Jamie's lance into his chest.
The crowd cheered as the triumphant knight wheeled around on his charger. Rabbit ran to his side and handed him the wooden crown of the winter champion. Trumpets sounded and Jamie dismounted and walked to the base of the castle steps where the king waited. Jamie dropped to one knee and the king took the crown from his hand.
"What is your right name, knight?" asked the king.
"Jamie Thunders, milord," said Jamie, smiling widely as he stared at the king's golden slippers.
"Then, Sir Jamie Thunders," said the king, "I name you Winter's Champion."
Sir Thunders turned to the roaring crowd, blowing kisses to the lovely maidens.
"You may take your place at my daughter's side at the Winter's Ball if you so wish," said the king.
"I wish it."
Squires ran back and forth between the tables, bringing food and drink to the nobles and their concubines. Thunders stood next to Princess Twinkle, waiting to be announced. Rabbit stood behind, holding Thunders's coattails. A page called Thunders's name and the knights applauded. Thunders took his seat beside the king. After the first round of mead and chicken, the king bent to Thunders's ear.
"Do you think the Trumulians are responsible for death of your former master?" asked the king.
"Who else could be?" grinned Thunders as he reclined in his chair.
The squires took quick, jealous glances at the new champion. Rabbit stood before the knight's table, smiling at his master in the seat on honor. Someone across the room summoned Rabbit for a drink. Thunders smiled, taking in the festival from the seat of honor. At the knight's table sat a huge man staring directly at Thunders. His unblinking gaze was fierce, but tempered with some dark resolve. It was Sir Bernard Blackwood, the Butcher of Barnsfield. Long had Bernard served the king, and no one could best him in single combat. A shiver went down Thunders's spine. He stood up immediately when the call came for the dance.
The princess yelped with surprise when Thunders pulled her from her seat. She could feel the scoundrel's eyes crawling over her. Thunders held her tight to him and put his head on her shoulder, better to spit obscenities in her ear. He caught the king watching out of the corner of his eye, and backed off abruptly, smiling widely as he spun the princess around. She was clearly disgusted.
After a night of heavy drinking, the knights retired to their quarters. Thunders waited in the darkness until Rabbit appeared in the doorway. He gave the signal. The coast was clear. Thunders left his room and made his way to the tower. Soon he was at Princess Twinkle's door. He knocked, ever so softly.
"Who is there?" asked the young woman.
"It is I," said the villain, "Sir Thunders."
"Be gone, rogue," said Twinkle. "You have ruined the Winter's Ball. That is enough."
"But I am here to make amends," said Thunders. "I bring a gift."
The door unlatched and Thunders barged in.
"Where is this gift you speak of?" asked the princess.
Thunders opened his arms wide. "It is here, my princess!"
The evil knight took her in his arms but she pushed him away. Thunders grunted, annoyed, and grabbed her again. He kissed her hard on the mouth then cried out in pain. The princess raked her fingernails across his face, drawing much blood.
"I will never be with you!" screamed the princess.
Thunders pulled the dagger from his boot.
"I will make you love me!"
A sound came from the door. Thunders put the dagger in his belt and walk calmly out the door. It slammed behind him. He turned to see Sir Bernard Blackwood staring down at him.
"Did your girlfriend give you a little scratch?" asked Blackwood.
The knight punched Thunders in the stomach, doubling him over.
"I'll teach you not to bother the royal princess," said Blackwood, "Winter's Champion." The knight spit on the floor at Thunders's feet.
As Bernard approached, Thunders drew his dagger. Silently, he began to pray to the dark god Tremoda. He could feel the blade burning in his hand.
"What are you going to do with that poker, boy?" asked Bernard. "I'll show you what it's like to be one of my squires."
In a flash, Thunders leapt up and plunged his dagger into Blackwood's belly. The knight jerked back and Thunders jammed the knife in again. The color drained from Blackwood's face. He sank to the ground and Thunders saw Rabbit watching. Thunders put his finger to his lips. The sound of boots on stone echoed down from stairs.
As the king and his guard arrived, Thunders knelt by body.
"What happened here?" asked the king.
"I followed Sir Blackwood to the princess's chamber," said Thunders, "and when he tried to break in, I killed him with his own dagger."
The king took the blade. "The sign of Tremoda. We have been betrayed."
The next morning the king held court. The knights stood, flanking the throne, while Thunders knelt before the king. The princess stood next to her father, her face white with hate. Thunders prayed to the dark gods for deliverance. Just one more chance, he thought, and the princess will be mine.
"These are dark days," said the king. "poisoned knights, demon blades, murder. The princess wants your head, but we have lost too many knights already. In any case, the truth will be known when Sir Blackwood awakes."
Blackwood lives! Thunders mind raced. He must act quickly.
"Now," said the king, "we need every knight on the border with Trumulia. Prince Trum is a cunning foe. It is not like him to use the dark arts, but we cannot show weakness. Yet, I tell you, do not provoke them. We cannot afford a costly war."
Thunders stood and made his way to the barracks. At last, he thought, I can prove myself to this doddering old king. Rabbit strapped him into his armor. As he mounted his horse, he bent to his squire.
"There is an hourglass in my chamber," said Thunders. "I want you shatter it, take the bits of broken glass, and bake them into the dinner of Sir Blackwood. Understand?"
Rabbit began to cry. "Do it!" screamed Thunders and struck the squire across the top of the head.
From a wooded hill, Thunders watched as a lightly guarded caravan wound its way along the lonely trail. Thunders smiled, for one of the carriages bore the royal sign of Trumulia. Thunders's dirty mercenary band itched at the chance for easy loot. The king could not deny him after this. He would be made heir apparent and Princess Twinkle would have no choice but to marry him. She would walk behind him.
When the wagon train passed before the hill, Thunders gave the order to attack. Fifty arrows took flight at once, falling onto the caravan and knocking the guards from their horses. Thunders rode down to meet the royal carriage. Inside were a couple, dressed in gold and finery. Thunders's thugs pulled out the young man and held him before Thunders's blade.
"Bow your head," said Thunders.
The boy was stricken with terror.
"I said bow your head!" yelled Thunders.
The Trumulian bent his head down and Thunders struck it off. The goons piled torches around the carriage and burned it with those inside. Pleased, Thunders ordered his men back to the castle. He would be a prince!
The throne room seemed larger with all the knights out on patrol. Only the king and his bodyguard were in attendance. Thunders wondered where the princess could be.
"Why have you returned?" asked the king.
"I have struck the enemy a heavy blow, milord!" exclaimed Thunders.
"A... heavy blow?" said the king. "Tell me, what have you done?"
"I killed Prince Trum's son and his woman!" said Thunders.
The king stood and walked to a window. "What have you done?" he muttered.
"How will I be rewarded sire?" asked Thunders, grinning from ear to ear.
"Rewarded?" growled the king. "You will marry the princess. It has all been arranged. Take that squire if you like. I know he is dear to you."
The royal marriage was to take place in the grove of the enchanted forest. Thunders spent a good portion of the morning sitting in a chair as Rabbit applied his makeup and wig. Thunders stood and looked in the mirror wondering if his old master could see him from the underworld. Yes, he owed much to the land of darkness. He felt his belt and wondered where his lucky dagger had gone.
As they made their way through the thick brush, Sir Thunders laughed as his squire floundered in the thorny bushes. The hulking bodyguards followed behind like the certain force of doom. Thunders kicked the boy, skipping after him, heckling as he went. They reached a clearing in the center of which was a huge, freshly dug pit.
Rabbit's cry was cut short as a gauntlet clapped over his mouth. Thunders struggled as an arm shot across his neck. Pain upon pain as the knives drove into his back. His lungs filled with fluid as he choked on his own blood. His legs buckled but still the killer held him up, towing him to the edge of the pit. He looked over to see Rabbit leaking like a wine barrel after being struck by a hatchet. He was already dead. Thunders landed in the pit next to his squire. The executioners tossed in a bloody dagger. It bore the mark of Tremoda. As he died, Thunders cursed the day he laid eyes on Princess Twinkle.
One of the story's principle elements is the squire's unhealthy fixation on Princess Twinkle. There was an etiquette around how she should be treated, and the squires became jealous when Sir Thunders looked like he was having some success. Aside from her noble birth, there was a notion of her beauty, which has been discussed in entity terms elsewhere. The evil squire shouted "love" declarations at times and exhibited various foul behaviors but also managed to control himself once when the king was watching.
Whatever the occasion was at the beginning of the story, the squires were dressed up, the knights saluted and were lined up -- there was a definite ritual/protocol/set of expectations there. A violation of etiquette here causes some to giggle and another to beat the squire and kick him out of his residence, depending on their own positions in the society. The punishments weren't official, but they were serious nonetheless.
There was a large event, which included jousting, the festival banquet, a ball and more drinking. Squires helped and cheered, there was an excited crowd, signals and salutes, and a notion of the princess's honor. The meal itself had helpful squires again, and the nobles brought their concubines, though we have no particulars there. There were notions of a seat of honor and the announcement of attendees. The meal was also complicated enough to have multiple rounds. After the dance, the princess was able to look over the happenings at the event and consider it "ruined" for her.
There's a notion here of a seasonal champion. This would involve taking the upcoming champion appointment and allowing it to be associated to festivals as they are created in history, and so on. In general, positions could arise from historical events, with associated titles and the granting of new name. There was also the notion of being rewarded with a dance with the princess here.
The jousting event is aborted when the knight protests that he is blind, so there's some notion of emergencies changing the course of the matter and being able to cope (even if he swerved out of position somehow before passing his opponent rather than having the opponent understand what was going on). A substitute is selected -- how much of that had to do with established protocol or the will of the king isn't clear, but both methods are viable.
There are several killings in the story, and each had its own motivations beyond the simple killings that occur in the game now. Bernard was assassinated to keep him quiet, if Rabbit pulled through on that one. The evil squire killed his master to take his place and ultimately to put him in a position to associate with the princess. The couple in the carriage was killed in an attempt to elevate the squire's position. The evil squire was *not* executed the first time because of a manpower shortage and executed the second time because he was such a dangerous scoundrel. His execution also included the motivator of a fake reward (the wedding) which created a circumstance where he didn't have any opportunity to defend himself. He was also killed with his own weapon, which had a role in previous events.
There was a whispered consulation during the meal (between the king and the evil squire) -- during public activities there's still a notion of private/somewhat sensitive communication. The evil squire also manages to access the princess's room by lying about a gift. There is an infiltration scene where a helper checks if the coast is clear. The huge knight also seems to be suspicious of the squire early on and knows enough about his movements to protect the princess.
We had another motivation for prayers to demons here, though in this story, there was no actual exchange (the evil squire's prayer was originally for eternal life, but later he settled for the princess and got nothing). It seems the demons had their own unknown motivations (war with Trumulia? a figurehead on the throne? the squire's soul? the death of any of those that died?), and the evil squire was simply manipulated while receiving only a chance at his prize (which he might have attained but he spoiled the chance for himself). For all we know, the squire's incompetence and general scoundrel nature spoiled the demons' plans as well. In any case, the demons helped the squire at crucial times by aiding him in combat, providing him with poison and giving him a plan of action. It's also possible that the loss of the dagger stopped the demons from helping him further.
Visible breath in the cold has come up before, and here we had the burning sensation for lungs in the cold air.