Prologue-A Royal Abduction
A friendly breeze drifted through the room stirring Princess Gwaelin. She slowly opened her eyes and was greeted by a ray of sunlight protruding through a gap in the crimson curtains. Yawning, she used her arms to position herself upright on her bed. Her pale, baby soft legs stretched to meet her silk slippers, and she stood just as a handmaiden entered the room.
"Good morning, my lady!" the handmaiden cheerfully greeted as she walked to the window and drew the curtains. The individual ray of sunlight now merged with several rays, casting the room in daylight.
"Morning, Ellen," Princess Gwaelin replied, trying to sound just as cordial.
Ellen glanced at the princess, a look of concern etched on her face. "Still not sleeping, my lady?"
Must you remind me? Princess Gwaelin sighed. "I look rather frazzled, don't I?" It sounded more self-depreciating than she intended.
"I meant no offense..." Ellen began.
"I'm sorry, Ellen," Princess Gwaelin quickly interjected. "That was quite ill-mannered of me and I appreciate your concern. I managed to rest for a few hours last night, but I am still worried."
"About your father?" Ellen asked as she moved towards Gwaelin's wardrobe. Although her back was to Gwaelin, she felt her nod solemnly. Ellen recalled the day Gwaelin's mother, the queen, passed away. Although it was many years ago, the king still dwelled upon that day. Gwaelin knew her father was upset, but he never spoke of that day to anyone. It was as if he was hesitant to upset Gwaelin not realizing that his pensive silence was the cause of Gwaelin's distress.
Ellen selected an ivory long-sleeved gown amongst the numerous other dresses. "Would this outfit please you, my lady?" she asked, glancing up to judge Gwaelin's reaction.
Gwaelin was staring absentmindedly out the window. After a moment, she turned and smiled politely at Ellen. "It would Ellen, thank you."
Ellen beamed and drew the curtains again to provide Gwaelin some privacy. She turned to leave before stopping in her tracks. "Oh, I almost forgot. Sir Erik requests your presence in the gardens."
Gwaelin groaned before she could stop herself. "Of all the nerve! How many times must I tell him I am not interested?"
Gwaelin pictured Erik with his handsome stature that failed miserably to conceal his smug nature. Months ago she had one dinner with him, mistakenly thinking he would realize how incompatible the two of them were. What Gwaelin failed to take into account is that a self-centered person such as Erik cannot fathom any desires beyond his own. Her one evening with him had been as effective as dousing a fire by casting the spell of fireball. What had begun as mild interest on Erik's part advanced to professed love, which he alerted her of almost daily. Worst of all, her father approved of Erik! Erik happened to be the strongest of all of Tantegel's soldiers and thus it was difficult to encourage anyone, especially her father, to see beyond that evident power.
Ellen's face flushed. "I-I..." she stammered.
Oh dear, I've done it again! "Ellen, please do not take it personally. I'm just frustrated by a number of things at the moment." Gwaelin drew Ellen into a light embrace, and unsure whether she should return the embrace, Ellen simply remained stationary. By the time she finally lifted her arms, Gwaelin released her.
"Please do not speak of this to anyone," Gwaelin confided to Ellen.
Ellen nodded. "Of course, my lady."
"Thank you Ellen," Gwaelin said softly. "I am so blessed to have you as a friend."
Orsted lunged his weapon at the enemy, sidestepping as the enemy countered with an assault of its own. The enemy, not anticipating Orsted's sudden evasion, provided Orsted with the opportunity he needed. Seizing the moment, Orsted launched a final blow to the enemy, vanquishing it. Orsted paused a moment to wipe his brow, before stooping to retrieve his bamboo pole from the now puddled slime. The bamboo pole, having seen the last of its days, snapped as soon as Orsted contacted it. Orsted cursed to himself before flinging the useless stick to the woods before him. The pole emitted a crack as it impacted a tree before settling in some brush.
Glancing into the dark, ominous woods, Orsted pondered the sudden appearance of these creatures. Over the past few days he had encountered not only slimes, but ghosts and drakees in overwhelming abundance and power. A mercenary, Orsted had never envisioned himself fleeing from bats or believing in ghosts, but their aggression had no sympathy for lack of belief. Orsted sighed and sauntered back to his cabin. It was there that he encountered a soldier bearing a message that would forever change his life.
"You look ravishing, my lady," Erik said as he reached for Gwaelin's hand and brought it to his lips.
"Thanks," Gwaelin replied curtly. "Now what did you wish to speak with me about, Sir Erik?"
Erik smiled coyly and reached for her other hand. Gwaelin, however, pulled away. "Sir Erik, if this meeting concerns what I think it does I've already told you I'm not-"
"That's quite alright," Erik interrupted. "I have other matters to discuss with you this fine morning."
Well then out with it already! "Please enlighten me," Gwaelin replied.
"The King has requested a favor of me..." Erik paused as if contemplating his words, but Gwaelin was not deceived by his melodramatics. She knew Erik did not consider the impact his words or actions had on others.
Erik reached for a pink rose that budded in the bush before him. With a swift motion he plucked his newfound treasure and brought it before her. "This rose is symbolic of our relationship. It has barely begun to-"
"Sir Erik!" Gwaelin interrupted, seeing where this was going, "I have already told you I am not interested in-"
"Let me finish," Erik interrupted again.
"Let me finish," he firmly repeated.
Gwaelin sighed and glanced momentarily at the various flora and herbs that surrounded her. Tantegel's garden was renowned for its beauty and travelers would often come seeking the rare herbs and flora. Gwaelin noticed the garden's exit that had been blockaded since that fateful day the DragonLord stole the Ball of Light and monsters returned to the world of Alefgard. None had been able to recover the Ball of Light from the DragonLord, and his power continued to grow. It would not be long until the world she had known and would one day rule would be overrun by monsters.
Oh poor father! I know how stressed he has been since that day. If only I were his son instead of his daughter. Maybe then I could help retrieve the Ball of Light. Gwaelin thought.
She glanced longingly again at the exit. If only... she thought again, although this time more in relation to her present circumstance.
"Go ahead," she surrendered to Erik.
"The rose has barely begun to bud and will unfortunately never bud now that I've plucked it. Such is the fact of life..." he said so somberly that if Gwaelin hadn't known him she would have been tempted to reach out and comfort him. "But there is hope!" he exclaimed and dropped the unblossomed rose.
"Your father has asked me to embark on a quest to retrieve the Ball of Light. Do not be disheartened, my lady, for I will travel with several other of the most skilled guards, though none as skilled as I," he scoffed.
"Be prepared, for when I return our relationship shall begin a new course such as represented by this!" He removed a seed from his pocket and offered it to her. "Plant this, my beloved Gwaelin, and fear not for I shall return when it has grown."
Gwaelin pondered for a moment before reaching to Erik's hand as if to accept the seed. He beamed, flashing a set of perfectly aligned teeth, a rare commodity in Alefgard. Gwaelin's delicate hand met his, and she closed Erik's fingers around the seed. He gazed at her perplexedly.
"Forgive me for being frank, Sir Erik, but if you hoped to effectively represent our relationship, you might have tried a thorn," Gwaelin spoke soberly.
Erik smirked. "Well if you prefer imagining me as the gardener who will remove the thorns from our yet to bud relationship then..."
I would rather lay in a thousand thorns then to ever go near you or your seed. "No," Gwaelin interrupted. "I prefer not to imagine us having a relationship," she matter of factly said and then turned to leave.
Erik suddenly clutched her arm. His face was flushed and Gwaelin knew she had spoken too freely. "Your father also said I am like the son he never had. You would do best to remember that I always get what I desire."
Erik released her arm, and there were red imprints where his fingers had gripped. The imprints quickly began to vanish, but Gwaelin rubbed her arm once where they had been before fleeing the gardens. As she left, she felt his smug grin branding her back.
Orsted dipped a ladle into the well and offered it to the parched soldier. The soldier gulped eagerly for he had traveled across Alefgard. A drop dribbled down his chin, which he wiped with a coarse hand caked with dirt. A streak of dirt appeared on his face, but the soldier didn't seem to notice or care. He rested his spear against the well and turned to face Orsted.
"How may I help you?" Orsted questioned.
The soldier met Orsted's gaze. "My lord, you are Orsted, descendant of Erdrick?"
Orsted was taken aback that this lone guard knew his identity. He nodded in confirmation hoping his questions would be answered soon.
"My lord, you must accompany me to Tantegel Castle! Alefgard is in danger. You may have noticed," he glanced at a spot of slime on Orsted's pants, "but monsters are prominent in the lands. This is because the Ball of Light, the light Erdrick used to defeat the DragonLord centuries ago, has been reclaimed by the DragonLord. Without this light, monsters will reappear and Alefgard will be overrun by darkness and demons!" the guard spoke with such urgency in his voice that it took Orsted a moment to catch it all.
"Listen...you must be mistaken. I am Orsted, but I am not-"
"Please sir!" the soldier interrupted. "The DragonLord's power grows by the minute!"
"I am sorry to hear that, but you must understand...I am just a mercenary. I know little of battling monsters," he said recalling his battle with the slime.
The guard's brows raised, displaying his appall. "How can you deny your duty?"
Orsted spoke without thinking. "My duty is for me to decide!"
The guard nodded and ran a hand through his gray hair. All was silent except for the occasional rustle of the brush or chirp of a bird. The silence lasted for many moments before anyone spoke.
"Sir Orsted, you are right. It was wrong of me to try to guilt you into action or assuming you don't have plans for your life already. Forgive me for my insolence. I only ask that you consider this matter I am bringing to you. Is that something you are willing to do?"
How can I say no now? "Okay..." Orsted replied.
"Besides your ancestry you share a common bond with Erdrick. Each of his descendants has the ability to develop great power. You say you know nothing of battling monsters, but this link you have to Erdrick will permit you to wield his weapons and armor. Foreseeing potential danger in the future, it is rumored that Erdrick placed a seal on his weapons and armor that permit only his descendants to use them. He wanted to be certain the key to vanquishing the DragonLord would not fall into the wrong hands. If that were so, all hope would be lost. While there is a small hope that one can restore peace, it is still a hope we live for, the only one we have. The decision is yours, whether or not you will bear the burden of being that hope."
Well, since you put it that way... "No, I am sorry. That is a responsibility I cannot bear. I would not wish for you or Tantegel to waste funds or support on me. Your support would rest better on someone more skilled than I. My place is here, and my duty is to support the creatures and nature of this forest. I am sorry that you traveled this great distance to locate me. You are free to spend the night if you wish, but that is my answer," Orsted spoke confidently.
The guard nodded and smiled bitter-sweetly. "Very well. I respect your decision even if earning my respect was not a concern of yours. Should you happen to change your mind, Tantegel is located in the south. Follow the grass fields...you cannot miss it. I will be departing now, but I thank you for the hospitality you extended."
Orsted smiled politely. "Farewell."
"Fare thee well, Sir Orsted."
With that, the guard turned and backtracked across the grassy plains. Orsted watched him until he was no longer in sight. Then, returning to his work, he wondered if he made the right decision despite his prior confidence.
Gwaelin sat on the floor, secluded in one of the castle corridors. She hugged her knees to her chest and shuddered as she reflected on her encounter with Erik. Why had he been so crude? Her thought was abandoned as she heard a scream. Alert, she stood and immediately heard another petrified scream. She ran to investigate, and as she turned the corner, had no time to add a scream of her own to the terrifying symphony. She was clapped on the head and swiftly carried away by a group of monsters.
King Lorik tried desperately to escape the confines of his chambers. "Release me! I need to find Gwaelin!" he commanded the sentries barricading him in his room.
"I am sorry, my liege," one of them replied, "but there are monsters inside the castle and we must defend you."
As much as he badgered the guards, threatening to deprive them of their jobs, they would not relent. King Lorik was not freed from his room until the monsters retreated. As soon as he had news of the retreat, he fled his chambers searching and interrogating everyone on Gwaelin's whereabouts. None knew, and it wasn't until the king approached the healer's room that he happened upon a guard who had seen Gwaelin. The guard had suffered a severe wound to his abdomen, and his survival did not seem likely. Nevertheless, the king demanded to know everything the guard knew despite his condition.
"She...was...cap-cap-captured...by...mon-...sters," the guard gasped. "They...to-to-took...her...thro-thro-through..." by now his voice was merely a whisper.
"Yes?" the king urged him to continue.
The guard spat up blood and lift his head to meet the king's gaze. "The garden."
The guard's head fell onto the pillow and his eyes rolled back as he breathed his last. The king was so grief stricken that it took him days to remember to follow-up and ensure the guard had a proper burial. King Lorik organized a search party headed by Erik before retiring to his chambers. He did not emerge for days, and when he finally did, he spoke of his grief to no one.
Gwaelin awoke in a dim room. Her eyes focused and as she lifted her head to glance around, she was startled by a sudden ache. She let her head return to its prior position and observed the room as best she could. Above her was a canopy with thick curtains tied on the edges. To her left were two torches, barely lighting the room. In front of her was a painting with the grotesque face of a goblin. The goblin was of short stature and held a scepter in one hand. As much as she tried to avert her eyes, she found it difficult for she always caught a glimpse of it. Suddenly, the goblin moved, or so she thought. Was she going crazy? She stared at the goblin and gasped as he blinked. She was sure of it now!
"I see you are awake," a voice spoke. The goblin?
"Who...who are you?" Gwaelin's voice tremored.
A laugh. "I am the one in front of you of course." The goblin closed the space between them and suddenly she found herself gazing onto the face of not a goblin, but the DragonLord! She gasped and sat upright, forgetting her pain.
The DragonLord grinned, revealing a set of jagged teeth. Each tooth was triangular and seemed adept at single-handedly tearing a man to pieces. Gwaelin opened her mouth.
"Go ahead, scream," the DragonLord said, reading her mind. Gwaelin paused, her mouth gaping. "None will hear you from behind these walls."
Gwaelin stood and hustled to the door. She opened it, surprised to find it unlocked, but had her answer after a few steps. There before her was an enormous dragon! The dragon turned its head and prepared to snap at her. Slamming the door, Gwaelin immediately returned to the room and found the DragonLord chuckling. Infuriated, she felt her eyes moistening and she could do little to prevent the hysterical tears from emerging. Quickly, she lowered her head, not wanting him to see her so vulnerable.
"My dear, there is a way out," the DragonLord's deep voice sounded surprisingly soothing.
Gwaelin glanced up apprehensively. "How?"
"Be my queen."
Gwaelin could not prevent her gasp. "Never!" she spoke more courageously than she felt.
"I thought you would say that," he said matter of factly, "which is why I am leaving you here. Give it some thought. You will find I am very patient, but you would do best not to test that for too long."
With a glow of his scepter, he vanished, leaving Gwaelin to her thoughts. She immediately plunged on the bed and buried her face in her pillow, sobbing.
Six months later
Ever since the guard's visit, Orsted had taken an interest in training. He visited the town of Garinham regularly and studied the guards' postures and stances as they sparred outside. He began imitating those stances when he encountered monsters and found in doing so that he slayed them with greater ease. However, despite his growing confidence, monsters were still prominent and in seemingly greater numbers than before. Mercenary work, also, was infrequent and Orsted feared he would soon be completely out of a job.
What would be the harm in just taking a look at Tantegel? They would pay for some of my funds and support me as I trained.
No, those were purely selfish reasons. If he were to be Alefgard's last hope, it would have to be for truly altruistic purposes. Satisfied with that notion, he exited Garinham and continued to his cabin. Suddenly, he paused sensing something was amiss. Standing in place, he used each of his senses to investigate. The meadow was serene, and every so often a critter would emerge from the woods to graze, but fled as soon as Orsted moved. Every one of his senses verified that there was no threat, but something did not feel right. He resumed walking, picking up his pace until he was nearing a sprint. As he approached his cabin, he saw smoke.
A campfire? No, that's too much smoke. What then?
Soon he was upon his cabin and what he feared was true. His cabin was ablaze! He sprinted across the meadow, but by the time he reached his cabin, it was too late. It soon collapsed into a pile of smoking debris. Enraged, Orsted clenched his fists, scrutinizing the meadow for the source of this destruction. As if the source were also seeking him, his eyes met with those of a magician's. The magician grunted and hurled a fireball at Orsted. Orsted barely leaped out of the way. He took a moment to glance at the spot he had just stood and found it completely charred! He had never encountered a magician before, and always intended to run if he did. Before he could experience another moment of hesitation, Orsted charged, weaponless, towards the magician. He released all of his rage on the magician, but it was not nearly enough. The magician launched an assault of his own, easily rendering Orsted's feeble attacks. Orsted's pain was abolished by the welcome lull of unconsciousness.
"What news do you bring of my daughter?" King Lork asked Erik. The King's eyes shone with what Erik recognized was his last ray of hope. Despite his narcissistic character, Erik still felt a twinge of guilt for the news he was about to reveal.
"My liege, we searched and questioned all of Alefgard and have turned up nothing more than a few leads. Every lead was unreliable and many who followed those leads never returned." Erik spoke, defeated.
"I see..." the King said distantly. The spark of hope in his eyes was replaced with the sunken hollowness that only despair can bring.
"My liege," Erik began, "I wish I had more to offer you, but alas all of my men are exhausted and disheartened. We do not have any more to spare. I am sorry..."
The King shook his head. "No Erik, you have served me well. I thank you for all of your efforts. Please rest for as long as you need."
"Very well, my liege." Erik bowed and exited the throne room.
The King retired to his chambers as a lone tear slid down his cheek.
The DragonLord made his weekly appearance in the room. "It has been six months...will you stand by my side as my queen?"
"No..." Gwaelin tried to found forceful, but it came out as a croak. Can he sense my weakening resolve?
To an observer, Gwaelin's resolve appeared as strong as ever, but only she knew better. At first, refusing had been easy because she held unto the hope that she would be rescued. With each passing day, Gwaelin's hope dwindled, and now all she had was her ever diminishing willpower. How much longer could she refuse?
The DragonLord was pacing. "Princess, I don't understand. I have offered you power, wealth, freedom and yet you still refuse. I cannot fathom what it is that is responsible for this resistance. Surely not rescue, for none is strong enough to overcome my dragon. Tell me, my dear, what is it?"
Gwaelin remained silent.
"Fine, do not tell me. Soon you will realize how tempting my offer is. Once I find what it is that is preventing your acceptance, I will make it so you can resist anything but temptation."
Gwaelin feared that time would come soon.
Orsted regained consciousness to find a pair of concerned sapphire eyes gazing at him. The person jumped back in alarm as Orsted regarded him.
"You're alive! I assumed the worst when I saw you lying out here," a masculine voice spoke.
Orsted, struggling to keep his arms stiff, finally propped himself to a seated position. How long have I been out?
"Careful, sir! I cast a healing spell as soon as I saw you, but that was the extent of my magical abilities. I fear it may not be enough."
Orsted nod his head and slowly arose. "I thank you kindly..."
"It was no trouble," the man reached a hand to steady him. "Was that your house?"
"Yes, it was..." Orsted said, more to convince himself than the stranger.
"That's such a shame. I lost my house and family to a group of monsters," he paused. "I was distraught and contemplated suicide every day, but I pressed on."
Orsted turned again to gaze at the man in wonder. "If you don't mind my asking, what encouragement did you find in that?" He motioned to the pile of debris.
"Hope." Orsted almost grimaced at the predictable answer before the man continued. "But moreso that I might live to see the day when peace was restored. My family and I always mused on that thinking how wonderful it would be. I myself can do little in the way of battle, but even saving a life," he looked meaningfully at Orsted, "is worth pressing on for. I believe that if everyone were to sacrifice and contribute as much as they could, peace may not be such a pipe dream. Nevertheless, I decided it was selfish that I shouldn't live on with the small hope that our family dream may be achieved. Even if it is just a pipe dream, I fear I could not face my family in the afterlife without having tried."
Orsted began walking. "Thank you again for your kindness."
"Where are you going?" the man called after him.
"To Tantegel," Orsted replied.
"But that's a four day walk!" the man objected.
"Then I can run it in half that time!" With that, Orsted sprinted south.
"My liege, you have a visitor," a servant addressed the king.
The king, eyes downcast, shook his head. "Please leave me be. I wish to see no one today."
"But your majesty," the servant persisted, "this is Orsted, descendant of Erdrick!"
The king's head shot up. "Show him in!"
And thus the quest begins...
A/N: The hero has no official name that I could find, so I named him Orsted because it's an old English name and I felt it suits him well.