To Die at Dawn
Universe: King's Quest Takes place during KQ4
Characters in this series are the property of Sierra On-line and Mrs. Roberta Williams. I hope she takes no offense
"The King will see you now."
The words made the young man's knees turn to water. Gods, those six words filled him with more emotions than he could name. It was frightening enough to have such a reversal of fortune. Not more than a fortnight before, he had been Gwydion, a slave doomed to be sacrificed this dawn - the dawn of his eighteenth year.
He found out the details of such a dreadful ritual, too. It was on a back page of the tome that Mannanan kept in his lab. It kept Mannanan healthy and stopped his aging. Arcane roots and powders, scale of dragon, philosopher's stone, and the main ingredient was the lifeblood of a boy at the dawn of manhood. It also explained why Mannanan had boasted of so many serving boys never reaching their eighteenth year. Of course, learning of the fate in store for him had led him to practice his book-learnt, untested magic in a desperate bid to escape.
The fact that it worked had been only the beginning of the shocking things he would learn and the beginning of a long and surreal journey that had ended with him rescuing a sister he had never before met, and coming to Daventry castle - revealed as their lost prince! Even the name they called him now - Alexander - felt alien and unfit for him. He had only known the name and life of a slave. He half-expected it to be a extraordinarily vivid dream, only to wake on the cross-shaped whipping post in Mannanan's garden, dying slowly as to give that dreaded wizard more years of life.
He felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned around. Queen Valanice looked on him with great concern.
"Please, Alexander. Please go to him. He needs you now."
She was as stately and beautiful as he had read of, and he had to admit that the resemblance was stunning. She looked tired and sad. Her noble husband lay dying in the next room, and Rosella was off on a quest that she may not return from.
Leaving a slave boy to rule…and ruin…this kingdom.
Alexander swallowed. "I should have been the one who left. Rosella needs to be here. I'm…I'm…"
"Our son," Valanice said firmly. "And please believe me when I say that he needs you now."
It was all he could do to nod. "Yes, mil-…yes, mother."
Stepping past the royal physician, Alexander walked into the bedchamber.
King Graham could feel his life slip away from him, and stubbornly held on to what was left with all he had. Struggling to stay conscious, he had first asked to see Valanice. If death were to meet him, he would not go before sharing a last moment with his beloved wife.
When he asked about Rosella, Valanice answered that she was struggling to find a way to save his life, and couldn't tell him more.
That left one person to speak to alone. There was so little time left, and so many things to say. There was also a boon that only this young man could grant - a boon that Graham fully knew was within Alexander's right to refuse.
The door closed behind Alexander as he stepped into the room. Valanice had granted him time to wash up, and gave him a plain tunic and hose that Graham no longer wore. The resemblance had been noticeable before, but it was now stunning. Valanice's fair features and kind eyes, with the slim build he'd sported as a young knight before age and adventuring made him more broad in the shoulders and muscular. Graham noticed that Alexander had braided his long hair. He knew that in Llewdor that it was the mark of a servant or slave, even if it held no meaning in Daventry. It also, quite by accident, accentuated his resemblance to Rosella.
"You asked to see me," Alexander said.
He gestured to the chair beside his bed. "Please, Alexander, sit down. There's not much time."
Alexander quickly crossed the room, sitting in the chair. "Please, save your strength, m'lord -"
He still cannot believe. Graham realized. The thought filled him with sadness. Well, what else was to be expected? The past dawn, he hadn't expected to see Rosella again, and he believed Alexander dead.
"Alexander," he said, willing himself to sit up. "A few hours won't matter."
Alexander quickly placed pillows behind Graham's neck and shoulders for him to lean back on. "Once again, Fate proves how cruel she is," he said bitterly. "Only hours ago, I found you. Now -" He couldn't say anything more, his dark eyes closing and tears leaking from them.
Graham put his hand on his son's shoulder to comfort the lad. Under the tunic, he could feel scars - old and deep, no doubt from many beatings. They crisscrossed Alexander's back in an obscene pattern, and Graham could feel his weakened heart sink with shame and guilt. With a shudder, he leaned back on the pillows. He didn't care about the tears that were now on his cheeks.
"Oh, Gods," he breathed, unable to say more.
He hadn't cried for his son's disappearance before, but he had spent many nights holding Valanice as she spent herself with weeping, chiding herself for a moment's looking away. He had to hold it in his heart for so long - the guilt and pain. He had the kingdom to manage, and Rosella remained - the last hope of Daventry. It didn't mean that he ever forgot Alexander, only that he had to stay strong and lock it all away for the sake of his family and realm.
Now, his body shook, and he had to close his eyes tight to hold back the tears.
"Let it go. I'll tell no one."
Graham might have been humiliated under other circumstances. Now, it was just a relief, holding his son for the first time since his infancy, as tears flowed freely from both of them.
Summoning command of his voice again, Graham was able to whisper, "Alexander, can you forgive me?"
He could feel Alexander stiffen as the young man lay him back on the bed. "Forgive you?" Alexander said it as if he hadn't understood the words.
"I left you to the wolves," Graham said. "Did you know I spent three years searching for you, but gave up? I returned this kingdom's greatest treasures, and rescued your mother from the captivity of an evil sorceress…but you, Alexander…you were the quest I failed."
"From what I understand, you had no reason to believe I was alive," Alexander said gently. "For all you know, I fell into the lake as an infant and drowned."
"My crime is believing that," Graham said. "There was no sign either way - not even Merlin's mirror could tell me of your fate. If there was even the slightest chance -"
"And if you'd died in the attempt? There was more than my life at stake. Daventry needed you. Val-" he corrected himself. "Mother and Rosella needed you. What matters is that I'm here with you now."
"Alexander," Graham reminded him. "If I perish, and Rosella does not return, you know what that means…"
He saw Alexander shudder, hanging his head.
"Your mother will help you. You needn't worry about that. If nothing else, your experience might aid you in understanding the less-fortunate, and that's a trait too many monarchs forget."
Alexander looked into the face of the man that should have been a stranger, but now found it impossible to regard him as such. An ancient proverb stated that the heart remembers what the mind forgets, and Alexander had never quite grasped its meaning until walking into this room.
"There might be a way to save you…it's dark sorcery, but it will work, and I know enough to cast it." Letting out a shuddering breath, he recited off the spell he had tried to escape from days earlier. "Philosopher's stone, dragon's scale…and the life's blood of a boy at the dawn of manhood."
"If it would save your life, I'll gladly trade my own."
"There are things worse than death, too. If Death wants me, he'll have me. I don't fear him."
"I understand," Alexander said, adjusting the bedclothes and taking a cloth to dry the last of his father's tears. "Now rest, Father. All is forgiven."
"If I awake, you'll still be here, Alexander?"
"If I don't, then you know what to do."
Graham nodded again, pulling a cord from the inside of his shirt and taking it off, passing it to Alexander. "Before I forget, this is yours."
With that, Graham fell into what could have been his last sleep.
Alexander opened his hand to see what had been passed to him. On a leather cord was a signet ring. A lion and unicorn engraved into the gold setting, a sunny topaz in the center.
ALEXANDER, PRINCE OF DAVENTRY said its inscription.
Dawn was starting to break across the hills. Only an hour later, a great cheering was heard as a worn-looking Rosella - Valanice and the court physician at her heels - burst in the room with the magic fruit that restored Graham to health.
Yet, there had been a death in the room that night. Gwydion of Llewdor had indeed perished with the dawn of his eighteenth birthday.
And no one but Alexander of Daventry could mourn his passing.