The Dethronement Cabal: Part Two
An army of bandits was charging toward Brightvale castle. My grip tightened around my bow.
"The throne will not be yours, Kaherdin," I vowed quietly.
I concentrated... took careful aim... nothing existed but for me and that Skeith... I released my bowstring... and the arrow disappeared into the writhing mass of bodies as Kaherdin burst into the castle, his force of thugs behind him.
There was no time to be lost. At top speed I flew back into the castle, through corridors and across landings until I neared the balcony overlooking the throne room. I seized a shield from a proximate suit of armour, crept up to the banister, and peered down into the throne room.
Already Kaherdin stood in the center of the room, smiling at the Green Skeith on the throne, his army of bandits behind him. The throne room guards were strewn about the room, having been no match for their overwhelming opponents.
"Kaherdin?" observed King Hagan, regarding the intruder with a mildly interested but bored expression. This latter emotion, I thought, was feigned. "I thought you were in the dungeon."
"My," said the Purple Skeith, "I had nearly forgotten my poor twin brother. Rather a fool, he is, but he was quite happy to prove his worth by taking my place and leave me free to plan a more careful attack against you."
"Ah! How resourceful."
"And now, Your Highness, you will kindly hand over that crown and remove yourself from my throne."
King Hagan flicked a speck of dust off his sleeve. "No... no, I do not think so."
Kaherdin took a step forward. "You will surrender the throne that rightfully belongs to my family."
"As delusional as ever, I see. I need not heed the ravings of a lunatic such as yourself."
Kaherdin was seething with fury. Hagan was refusing his enemy the satisfaction of seeing the King of Brightvale reduced to submission and fear. Hagan would remain stubborn to the end.
"Seize him!" roared the former knight.
That, I decided, was as good a time as any to make my appearance. I leapt deftly over the banister and fluttered to the ground before Kaherdin, and sent him staggering backward with a swift kick.
"Show some respect for your King!" I cried. I drew my bow and sent a volley of arrows, three at a time, into the knot of bandits. A barrage of throwing knives whizzed toward me in reply, which I dodged or deflected with my shield.
Kaherdin was purple with rage--wait, never mind, he was already Purple. "Attack!" he bellowed.
The bandits rushed forth. I shot arrows at their feet, causing the front line to stumble, and the second to trip over them. The situation was dire, but I could not help but laugh at the comical scene; these were no professional soldiers, only robbers who took advantage of untrained peasants.
I felt suddenly a heavy hand upon my shoulder. I turned, and a pair of Skeith eyes gazed down into mine. They were grave, but as I looked, they twinkled.
"Though the pen is mightier than the sword," said King Hagan, "in this instance, I think we may safely applicate the utensil better suited for physical combat. Lead onward, squire."
I nodded and obeyed, giving no thought to the impropriety of a squire leading a king into battle. With a cry of, "For Brightvale!" I ran forward to meet the enemy, slinging arrows and parrying knives.
And so the battle really began. Dagger in one hand, shield strapped to my forearm, bow in the other, I met my opponents. I lunged, dodged, shot, parried, rolled, flipped, twirled, calling upon every muscle in my body and every lesson Sir Korinesta had ever taught me. Exhaustion and hunger forgotten, I had only one thought in my mind: to defend my beloved Brightvale.
A short Kougra, wrapped heavily in cloth, darted forward. I reared back on my hind legs and his knife only grazed my underbelly, glancing off my exoskeleton; I brought my forelegs swiftly down upon the bandit, flooring him, before turning to block a flail with my shield. I responded with a swift arrow before turning to meet a sword with my knife. I kicked the swordsman away just in time to dodge a wildly swinging club. Its head collided with another bandit.
Hagan and I were fighting valiantly, but for each thief felled, two more appeared. Our position seemed hopeless; I could not even see the King.
As I searched for a glint of gold among the sea of filthy bandits, I let a foe slip past my defenses. The nimble Hissi slipped under me and twisted around my legs, upsetting my balance. I toppled to the floor--a terrible place to be in the midst of a battle.
The Hissi let out a sudden cry of pain. It released my legs, which I used to kick it and three other thugs aside. I danced to my feet, weapons bouncing off the shield I held over my head. Looking down, I saw Skewer beside me; in a moment I realized it was she who had saved me from the Hissi. I grabbed her and rolled across the floor to protect her from the feet of a stomping Grarrl, and jumped once more to my feet. I helped the Pyon to my wing case in the space of a moment before flinging an arrow at an approaching bandit.
It was at that moment I spotted King Hagan. He and Kaherdin were engaged in a one-on-one sword fight before the throne. The two Skeiths battled with surprising deftness and speed, blades flashing, teeth gnashing. Each fought with the ferocity of a hundred knights; it was an epic contest to decide who was truly worthy of sitting upon the Brightvale throne.
Hagan was winning; no, Kaherdin was winning now; no, Hagan; no, Kaherdin. It was an amazing fight to witness, but I had my own enemies to deal with.
The battle raged on; more and more bandits fell, but my muscles were beginning to ache, and I could not even be sure that Kaherdin's entire force was in the throne room. Each parry was a strain, each lunge or shot a struggle. I had accumulated more than one wound during the battle, and now I received new lesions with terrifying frequency.
But I was not afraid. So I would fall; I had expected no less. I was not worried what became of me. All I wanted was to protect my kingdom, a purpose that leant energy to my muscles. However strong, however great in number were Kaherdin's forces, I had at least one advantage: I had a noble purpose worth fighting for.
I continued knocking aside blows to deal my own until suddenly I heard a cry behind me. Kicking aside a Techo, I turned to see Hagan on the floor, shield lying uselessly out of his reach, Kaherdin standing over him. The Purple Skeith raised his sword above his head, a wild look in his eyes.
Everything went silent around me. Even as a huge Chia charged at me, I ignored everything; nothing existed but for me and my target: Kaherdin. I nocked my arrow... closed one eye... took careful aim... released the bowstring... the arrow flew through the air, streaking toward its target. I cried in triumph, Kaherdin in pain; he dropped his sword. In an instant Hagan was back on his feet, sword pressed against his foe's neck.
The victory was short-lived. Out of the corner of my eye I saw an enormous, razor-sharp axe raised above my head; I threw Skewer off my elytra to save her, at least. I allowed my shield, useless against the strong thews of the Chia and the blade in his grasp, to hang limply at my side. I was ready to accept my fate.
An arrow flew suddenly out of nowhere--the Chia grunted and crumpled.
I turned. There, standing in the threshold, stood Sir Korinesta, bow still held aloft. Behind him stood the rest of the Brightvale troop that had set out to defend the kingdom against Meridell.
"This game is at an end, Kaherdin." I heard the King's growl as if from far away. "The cavalry has arrived. You lose."
And then, I slumped to the ground, overcome my exhaustion, pain, and relief, as the throne room broke into chaos. Bandits ran, fled, and even attacked. My mind was dulling, my eyes blurring. But my heart soared. We had won!
Korinesta kneeled suddenly beside me. "Mikaruni? Mikaruni, are you--you're not--no, you're breathing! Thank goodness! Can you hear me?" I nodded weakly. "Good. I just want to say that I am deeply sorry. I cannot express how I regret ignoring your warnings. But everything is fine now--thanks to you. Hagan is safe--you are safe--Brightvale is safe. Now do as I have told you so many times today and get some rest. But remember this: I am still your mentor, however inadequate I may be. Now do as I have bidden you so many times today: get some rest."
* * *
My eyes opened, hours later, to see Korinesta still standing above me. But rather than the hard floor of the throne room, I felt an unusually soft bed beneath me.
"She awakens!" he greeted softly. "For nigh on twenty hours you have slept. How impatiently King Hagan has waited for you to awaken!"
I blinked. With a tongue numbed from sleep I said, "The King--waiting for me? Why?"
I saw in the Krawk's eyes that familiar sparkle. "Can you not guess?" He added, "If you feel up to it, the King is prepared--and eager--to see you now."
Far was it from me to keep the King of Brightvale waiting. I rose. My muscles still ached, and I wore so many bandages I looked like a Halloween Ruki, but on the whole I felt much better for the long rest. I wobbled unsteadily upon my feet, and Korinesta grabbed my arm to steady me. Supporting me with his shoulder, he led me to the throne room, the scene of the recent battle, though you wouldn't have known it to look at it.
"Ah, young squire!" greeted King Hagan jovially. "At last you arrive! I have been eager to speak with you, but I respected your need for sleep. Are you feeling better?"
"Much, Your Majesty," was all I could say. I kneeled down before him, partially out of respect, partially because I could hardly stand.
"Good, good. I should hope so, after all that rest. But I digress. I suppose you wonder what has become of Kaherdin and his renegades. He and his twin brother are now in the dungeon, along what outlaws we managed to capture before they fled."
"And Nimrev?" I asked suddenly, not moving.
The King shrugged. "He, too, escaped. But I do not think we will have much trouble from him any time soon--nor any of Kaherdin's bandits, not after seeing what Brightvale's capable of." He laughed. I just remained there on the floor, listening. "But on to more important matters! There is a ceremony to perform!"
I raised my head. The King beamed at me; he nodded to confirm my conjecture. My mind was a whirl of emotions--astonishment, excitement, appreciation, pride--as I stood, teetered, steadied myself, and marched up to stand before the throne.
"Kneel!" I obeyed as King Hagan continued, "Squire Mikaruni, in honor of your astounding valiance, your undying fidelity, and your overwhelming skill in battle, I dub thee"--he touched the flat of his sword to each of my shoulders in turn--"Dame Mikaruni, Knight of Brightvale, First Class! May you serve your kingdom as well as you have proven yourself capable."