An Original Story by Jennifer Anker
Long ago in a time before the world lost its virtue and hope, lived a ragged and worn knight. He lived many years fighting for King and country as well as for this own ideals and morals. This story is not one of his youthful quests and adventures this is the tale of his last quest.
Thomas heaved as he lifted his old worn bones to don his last armor he’ll ever wear. This haunting thought was rattling around in the old knight’s weary mind. He groaned as he belted his chest plate securely on. The pain, a reminder of days gone by telling of his great adventures and romantic memories. The gauntlets of steel and leather firmly in place he reaches for his greaves placing each metal plate to his shins finally he dons his leather boots fit for his journey. The final groan complaining of his old pains left his lips as he sat his helmet upon his head. No longer focusing on the pain he wills his body to comply and he starts his decisive battle, his great death.
The mission seemed simple. Just three effortless steps:
Save the distressed damsel
Kill the dragon
Deliver the girl to the King
Even though each step was painfully calculated and each road memorized, the feeling of dread never left the Knight’s bones. It sent shivers of ice water into his veins. Thomas tightened down the last belt on the saddle bags and mounted his faithful stead, Socrates.
Thomas reached the King’s castle and felt his heart flutter and his blood run cold. The castle was in great disrepair. It’s once formidable walls lay in crumbled heaps around the one standing tower the Kings main room and Throne room. Gingerly Thomas moved across the aging wooden bridge to the castle gate. The old structure groaned and sagged under the weight of horse and rider. Threatening to give way with every step waring of rot and decay eating at this Kingdom.
The decay of this Kingdom was not only reserved for its structures of stone and mortar, the people of the Kingdom have been transformed. The decay of the Kingdom has set in the heart of its people making them hollow and empty. The “ghost” residents walked idly by as our knight rode steadily through the town to the overlooking castle. The inhabitants neither acknowledged or interacted with our hero as he ventured through the sea of dead. With each movement forward Thomas felt the icy breath of death threatening to devour him. The cold chill was quickly vanquished as he entered the foreboding castle doors. Thomas sadly looked back at all the “ghosts” aimlessly milling about without a sign of sight, or understanding, they walk on hopeless.
Thomas shook off the grip of death looming outside the castle gates and entered an enormous room empty except for5 one long table and chairs of the finest oak. Stained with age and misuse the table stood alone. In the far back of the room loomed the King’s throne tarnished and no longer a gleaming vessel of hope and power. Upon the thrown was the King, His body slumped unnaturally forward his head dangling upon his weary shoulder. The King’s hair lay limply upon his head shielding any view of the Emperor’s face. Thomas moved wearily closer keeping his eyes locked on the King for fear of death, or worse.
As Thomas passed the massive oak table he saw a feast left to rot and decay. The once palatal meal now consisted of mold covered bread, mushed rotted fruit turning to piles of gelatinous goo, the exotic and expensive meats and cheese moved with the life of maggots and other crawling creatures. The smell sweet and acrid like the smell of death filled the chamber. Rotted food turning to compost smelled not only of rot and soiled food but of wet moist earth choked out the fresh air of the outside world. The vision of the abandoned feast was nothing compared to what he saw a he reached the King.
The King once a robust and confident man sat slumped and unnaturally hanging from his thrown. The King emanated with the stench of death and sweat. The pungent musky smelled wafted with each breath of the King. The sour sent displeased the Knight and wrinkled his nose as he moved ever closer to the King.
The Knight stood at attention helmet in hand and sword on his back ready to fight for his King. Thomas stopped took a deep breath and addressed the King.
“Great King of Andaris, I have come to seek the bounty to slay the
Dragon Vigo, and claim the maiden for your Majesty.”
The words clear and concise echoed through the mostly empty room. His voice was low and raspy, from years of pipe smoking and battle roars, it’s sound was confident and demanded attention.
The rasping quiet cadence of the King’s breath stopped short for what seemed like an eternity, finally the King spoke.
“Bring me the girl”
The sound was faint and pained, Thomas could swear he heard fear in the old man’s voice. The girl was the quest, the Holy Grail, that would set him free. The King’s hand moved quick and deadly as he threw down a bag of gold coins at our hero’s feet. He then gurgled a laugh and a last command.
“Keep her alive and pure.”
The King said no more and did not move as our Knight walked confidently to the castle gate. He knew this would be the last time he or the King walked among the living. The gate slammed behind Thomas as he looked ahead at the sea of dead before him and the Dying King behind him.
The road would be long and treacherous so Thomas stopped for supplies and one last night in a real bed with a full belly of ale. The Drunken Angler, was the last Tavern before civilization ended and the road becomes an adventure. Thomas sat at a table in the back of the bar near the warmth of the fire. Sipping a warm mug of mead and emptying his mind. His cheeks warm from the drink his old bones warming by the fires flames he let his mind wander to thoughts of deceit and a future far from here.
“I could run now take the gold and live simply away from Quests for glory and Adventures of fortune.
As quickly as those thoughts arose the reality of things settled in and Thomas knew he had no choice fate had destined for this to be the unfortunate ending. Thomas raised one more mug of mead into the air, a defiant gesture to no one in particular, and toasted to his last drink before he leaves this world. SALUTE.
The dawn of the end puts Thomas deep in the swamp just outside of the Drunken Angler. Creeping beneath Thomas’s leather boots is a living floor; Snakes, centipedes, insects and lizards gave the forest floor a living cadence. Each creature looking for warmth, food and a home. Thomas trudges on walking his Socrates through the living floor to the ‘Razor’s Edge’. The volcanic rock and sharp protruding rocks of this region gave it its loving name of ‘Razor’s Edge’. Not to mention the sheer drop off on either side of this land bridge leads to a pit of jagged rocks and deadly molten lava. The active volcano laying in his path to the ‘Girl’, churns and threatens to erupt and claim our Knight and his stead. Thomas moves on ever forward to his first night’s sleep in a ‘safe zone’ far away from the molten rock and jagged cliffs of ‘Razor’s Edge’. As Thomas lead Socrates through the blistering heat, the ‘Razor’s Edge’ claimed his stead as the walls crumbled under the mount’s weight. Into the molten lava pool Socrates disappeared leaving Thomas once again alone to face death.
Alone and weary our knight travels alone into the dead forest. Thomas is relieved from the heat of ‘Razor’s Edge’ as he walked into the forests cool and damp umbrella. The dewy clutches of the dead forest wrapped around Thomas’s heart reminding him of his mournful isolation. Thomas’s exhaustion was too overwhelming he fell face first onto the lush forest floor with a quit thud he closed his eyes for a much-needed respite.
Thomas opens the meager supplies he absconded from his dying stead. He eats the hard bread and salted meat with his bladder of wine made by the matron of the ’Drunken Angler’. This might be Thomas’s last meal so he savors every mouthful, He takes out his last hunk of aged cheddar and smiles as he enjoys the savory treat.
The night in the dead forest was very much alive. The forested floor quaked with the moans of the dead that are lost in these woods. The howls awoke Thomas and shook his old bones. Thomas knew he must leave before the moans he was hearing became his own. Our knight collected his belongings and despairingly moved forward. Thomas casts one last look to the tormented and lost souls of the forest as he moves on their cries unanswered, Thomas moves toward the End.
The Dead forest ended and opened to the “Hollow Valley” a solemn place where witches live and serve the town just north. The town of survivors and fearful souls lay quietly ahead. Finally, beyond the town is the Dragon’s Lair the beginning of the Culmination of Thomas’s life.
The town accommodated only one night’s stay in the town’s stable, including a hot meal in the local house of ill repute. Luna Sol, served the Knight a platter of beans and hard bread. Best Damned meal he ever had. Thomas hungrily mopped up the last morsels with the bread and swashed it with the pint of Ale. Satisfied he smacks his lips and prepares to die before tomorrow sees another dusk.
Sunrises and Thomas says his good-byes to comfort and leisure and readies for battle. He sharpens his sword to gleaming perfection. Thomas kneels and says his decisive battle prayer to his god
“Great God, give me a swift steep and a mighty hand to slay mine enemies.
Great God, give me a warrior’s death in the clutches of my enemy or at his death throws. Grant me freedom and forgiveness, That I may see your face in my departure. Amen.”
His armor is tightly secured and his mind is ready to embrace finality.
The cave smelled of rotted meat and wet hair. Thomas choked and th4en stood taller his weakness met he marched on. The caves became moist and the temperatur rose to unbearable levels. The dragon’s breathing has caused the caves to be an agonizing tomb. Thomas’s body began to betray him as the heat suffocated his breathing. Little by little the knight peeled off his armor only leaving him in a chain mail shirt, leather breaches, and boots. Sword in hand and helmet thrown off to free Thomas’s view. Free of the constraints of armor Thomas faces his fate.
The moment Thomas saw the beast his blood stopped cold in his veins. Dread and hopelessness loomed over our hero distracting and destroying. Suddenly the Knight felt the blood run hot and his eyes narrowed he barely moved in time to dodge the Dragon’s advances.
Thomas lunged forward to strike the beasts gaping mouth narrowly missing the fearsome jaws closing in around him. The Dragon let out a pained shriek that knocked out hero back. Stumbling and clutching his head Thomas drops his weapon and it disappears into a crevice hidden in the cave.
Thomas stumble back he saw the ‘girl’ a ragged youth no other than 11 years old. Her white gown and flowing golden locks gave her an ethereal look. Reaching for her had to lead her to safety Thomas moves towards her. He caught her arm and stumbled down, rolling and tumbling to the cave floor.
As Thomas struggled to get to his feet after the fall he realized his feet and legs were betraying him. He couldn’t stand to his feet. Puzzled Thomas look down and realized his core was aching and complaining with each breath. Looking down Thomas realized he was covered in blood. He looked at his hands then up at the Girl fearful she might be injured. When his eyes focused upon the girl, his final quest, she held his sword between blood soaked hands. The look upon her face was calm and collected as Thomas lay dying before her. Blood stained her white gown, Thomas’s dead eyes beheld his blood soaking into her silken folds of her dress. His Holy Grail, killed him. He laughed with a gurgle as he realized that the Great Old Knight slain by a damsel in distress.
The child slowly backed away from Thomas, leaving his view altogether. the awaiting Dragon swiftly stuck finishing off the Maiden’s kill. Thomas’s last sight of the approaching dawn were interrupted with a gnashing of teeth and a deafening snap as his body broke in half under the weight of the Dragon’s jaws.