Plight of a Knight
The chains jangled on my legs and wrists like bells. They had blindfolded me, but a musty scent told me wherever I was going was grimy and cold. The guide beside me kept a firm grip on my arm as I inched along, as my body moved me forward in spite of myself. Before I was taken, my captor was a grey Shoryu, but I was not certain the same woman who had bound me was leading me away. I was a Shoryu too, but I was striped, and my eyes reflected fear instead of arrogance. I dreaded wherever my captor would take me, but I feared even more that my comrades would be hurt trying to rescue me.
It was ignorance and folly that had brought me from my comrades’ sides at battle to some dank dungeon in who-knows-where. As the scene played over and over in my head, I knew there must have been something different I could have done. I could have protected Sir Hayden, somehow, without giving myself up. Any other knight in Brightvale would have been braver, or smarter, or stronger than me if they were in my position. It was written in the stars- inscribed in the sky like the constellations I would study in my leisure. I chose my course of action against Sir Hayden‘s wishes. He was braver than me, and would make a better prisoner than me, but I couldn’t have him taken along with the knowledge inside of him. I was just little Percy, even if I was a knight, and I could only pretend to know half of what Sir Hayden did. I didn’t know if I made the right choice, but that choice couldn't be changed by will alone. The consequences couldn’t be undone.
The world swam around me even in blinding darkness. My blood pulsed loudly. It was frightening to be a prisoner. I vaguely knew what my captors had in their arsenal: wicked blades and poisons, and concoctions that devastated the brain. I was not certain about the specifics because the second phase of the investigation had barely begun before my capture. Even from the start, we knew this splinter sect favored less subtle methods than the rest of the Sway. Whatever they tried against me, I aimed to withstand it like a knight. I wouldn’t have them shatter me.
As I walked I pondered what they would do to me. I was veritably helpless, as I couldn’t have any significant counter-strike from my position. They had my sword and shield; as we had negotiated. They could interrogate me, and try to find out what had led the Brightvale Guard to try to take them in. If they didn’t want information, if they had stolen our secrets already, they could put me up for ransom, or just throw me away and forget my existence. I couldn’t know, and it tormented me. My guide dragged me through a labyrinth of corridors until we came to a certain room. At this point, my captor promptly undid the blindfold. I could see the new surroundings, though there wasn’t too much to see. The face of my captor was still concealed by shadows, and his or her form was hidden by loose robes.
The room was very dark and small, with the only illumination being a nest of candles in the middle of a square table. There were also two wooden seats in poor condition. Everything else was stone, except the door, which was formed of metal bars. The guide motioned for me to sit down. My heart raced, but I obliged. The figure followed suit and took the last chair. After an anxious moment of silence, my captor spoke.
“Your name?” the voice demanded, harsh but indistinct.
“Well, Sir Percy,” I said. I reached knighthood only recently. The title felt foreign.
“Sir. ‘A knight, then. So, hero-boy, what brings you into our little home?”
I was uncertain how to respond to the mocking question. I dropped my gaze into the dark hood, trying to discern anything about how to respond. It didn’t seem like a “little” place by the time it took to enter this cell. Didn’t the entire splinter sect know this already?
“Yes... I’m a knight.” I murmured, abandoning my efforts to make eye contact, “My squad was defeated in the forest, by your folks. One of you asked for the chief of the operation. I surrendered myself to save my comrades. Yours accepted.”
Think like a leader, yes, I must think and speak like Sir Hayden. I spoke boldly, my voice emulating my lost companion, laced with iron. “If whoever is in charge of here disbands this organization, I will seek clemency for the past crimes of those involved. You have no need to do this.”
A wicked laugh escaped from under the hood, with more resemblance to a monster than a ‘pet. “You are in no position to bargain with me, hero-boy. I want you to answer honestly, or you will pay the price. What do you know of the Phrase?”
“I know of the Phrase; I do not know the Phrase. I believe I was close to knowing it.”
There was a pause. My answer was not satisfactory, it seemed. I was determined not to tell them anything their spies hadn’t figured out yet, but I didn’t want to learn the price of silence.
“The Phrase is too powerful an incantation, too dangerous, and too costly. The faerie-tales seem to be more than tales.”
“Does anyone among your guard know it?”
I shut my eyes closed and pretended to be deep in thought. Sir Hayden knew the phrase, and had kept it well hidden. He was going to share the spell’s burden with me on my anniversary of knighthood.
“Nobody has it yet,” I shrugged.
“I see. Remain where you are.” The hooded individual promptly rose and left the room, a single candle from the table in hand, the rest of the candles snuffed out. The bars slammed shut, locking me into a dark cell.
After a moment passed, I ignored the order and rose from my chair. With the shackles, it was a bit of a challenge to maneuver, but I began to inspect the walls of the old cell, looking for a part of weak integrity or a secret passage. A few of the rocks seemed promising, but when I nudged my elbows into them, they didn’t budge. I threw my shoulder into the bars at the entrance, but had similar luck. The room was too small to fit my long wingspan, so there was no chance to investigate with some off-balance flying. Until the door opened again, there was no way in or out of the cell. As I was looking for a way out, I heard footsteps began to sound far less distance. I stepped swiftly back to the chair, and paused where I stood. A familiar silhouette framed by candle light shown through the entrance.
“What were you doing?” The familiar voice said, accusingly.
“Staying right here. I was only stretching my legs.”
I was greatly confused and tentatively relieved as my captor produced a key and undid my shackles. I rubbed my wrists where it had chafed a little.
“You must wear this and surrender your uniform.”
The Sway had interest in using my guard’s uniform for some ill endeavour, I inferred. The hooded individual tossed me a few threadbare garments, slacks and a tunic like my own, in the sterile paleness of a Neohospital gown.
The bars of the cell clanked shut, and I was alone again. I reluctantly changed into the prisoner’s garb, leaving my knight uniform in a careful pile on my lap. I kept the faded yellow ribbon, the one that kept my long white hair out of my eyes during combat, on my ponytail. That wasn’t standard-issue.The tabard I wore was so important, so that it felt like the loss of something much greater. It was a symbol of my allegiance to Brightvale and all that was good, the battles that I had fought side by side with my companions, and the core of my identity. I had given so much of myself into earning the right to wear that tabard. The chainmail shirt was heavy, but the absence of its weight-- and protection-- felt heavier.
My captor returned, carrying, by the looks of its glint, a sizable metal kit of sorts. Despite the derelict conditions of almost everything else I had observed, this didn’t smell like rust. Whatever was in the box was well-cared for. I could not tell what was in the box, but as curious as I usually am, I felt very little desire to know.
I started daydreaming about the stars, distancing my scholar’s mind from my knights body. Weren’t those bumps of stone on the ceiling in the pattern of the Dreamer? the Protector? No- the First to Rise. I was tracing out the Wave in my head, and the Dancer. The stars from Brightvale observatories were like gemstones dotting rich dark fabric, or the warmth of bonfires on a brisk summer night. I was under different sky now, no stone ceilings, anywhere else but here.
When my screams began to dissolve my daydreams, I couldn’t blanket myself in sky any longer. When I came to consciousness again, it felt like I had just been through the longest day of training with Sir Hayden, that I had ever known. Everything hurt. I felt like I was going to pass out any minute. My fellow knight! If only he hadn’t been in peril...If only I could have been stronger then… If only. Only…
There wasn’t anything I could do but try to stay strong. I already saw there were no viable escape routes. Even if there was, it would have been of little aid. When I tried to shift my weight, I realized I was presently stuck to the chair.
“Are you going to tell us the truth now?”
I shook my head. I then shut my eyes. I couldn’t bear to see what happened next.
Instead of feeling another strong sensation, I heard the hooded individual turn around and leave the cell. I stared wide-eyed at the bars of my cell, my skin prickling with terror. This was going to by my absolute ruin. I wasn’t going to make it through this wretched day, was I?
There was a procession into the cell, three hooded people entered with candles, while at least a dozen lined the nearest corridor.
“Join us,” the nearest one said.
The command, or the ultimatum, was loaded. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be, but yet it was: a perfect, painful paradox. It was almost surreal that my enemies had the guts try to get me to betray everyone who I trusted, and everyone who trusted in me.
“I will not,” I gasped. It felt like the weight of world threatening to turn me to dust, “I cannot.”
They began to speak in turn.
“You are serving the wrong cause.”
“No, no I-”
“Your guard is ineffective.”
“The Sway has more power.”
“We can do more good than you can dream.”
“That’s not the truth!”
“We’ve kept villains in check you’ve never heard of.”
“The Sway solves problems. Your guard merely delays them.”
“We solve problems the smart way.”
“Now, you are nothing more than a steel-swinging brute.”
“If you join us, you can use that brain of yours for good.”
“You should consider yourself lucky for this offer.”
Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. The thundering of a dozen voices continued, speaking with conviction. I saw the Sway member nearest to me holding up a tube of peculiar mist, the cap off, pointed in my direction. Something began to change in my head, artificially, potently, and not from my own volition. Mind control mixture, like the Duchess was suspected of--
No, the King had been lying to me all this time, no, the Guard was a bunch of Baabaas waving swords around- No, no, I had only been used. Wait! None of these were my own thoughts. They were? I couldn’t tell. My mind was...compromised. But to whose side? Whom was I supposed to trust?
I tried to stand up, and it worked this time, barely. I was tired down to my bones. I looked around at the crowd who surrounded me: the Sway, my brothers and sisters. It felt a little wrong to think that, but possibly correct. I had to trust them.
“Now. Can you remember who you were before you saw reason?”
“Yes.” I replied quietly. My past was resurfacing in my mind, breaking slowly through a dense fog.
“You can go back where you came from, and we’ll write to you. Keep an eye out, and remember who your friends are, alright? Otherwise, we guarantee your enemies will not be very happy about your mistakes. ”
I took a hand one of the faceless extended, carefully, and exited the cell with the rest of the Sway.
Time spun dizzily away from me. The next minute, I was resting on a boulder outside a remote stone building. Three Sway carrying weapons were standing protectively by me. There were four bruised up figures in knight garb, standing stiffly in front of a cluster of the Sway. From their forms, it was probably Hayden, Cassidy, Louise, and Nathan. There were a lot more of my old companions in the guard than were there, and the four had all their weapons sheathed. Where were the others?
Hayden was looking at me with utmost concern. He seemed to be negotiating with a hooded Skeith lady, who was standing a few steps closer to him than was usually acceptable. From what I gathered, the Sway was pretending I was their hostage and instead of their spy. She was demanding of him a painful, but not impossible ransom.
The four guards appeared dismayed at this arrangement, but began to empty their pockets into a neat pile to manage the sum. I pulled my knees into my chest, and watched the scene like I was just a bystander. Once the Sway had their payment, they gave me prolonged glances before they returned into the building. It was just me and the guards now. It didn’t feel like I was going back home.
“I don’t think Hagan is going to like this.” I forced a weak grin, struggling to pull myself from the rock.
Sir Hayden gingerly wrapped an arm around my waist, and helped me up to my feet. He was shaking a bit, too.
“You are too important for me to care about what he thinks right now. He’ll understand.”
“I’m so sorry, Sir.” My gaze wandered to my hands.
“Percy, friend, you look worse for wear. Good we got you out of there when we did.”
“But the others!”
“The others will be alright. The Sway are masters of ambush tactics, but they’re healing up back at base. C’mon, let’s go back to them. You’re safe now. ”
I didn’t resist as he took me into his arms, tears escaping from both our eyes, and I understood that the poor Zafara could never know why this reunion made me weep more heavily. Oh Fyora, was it hard to be strong like this, and I had enough of being strong to last me a lifetime.