The Jester's Child

DISCLAIMER: Knightmare is (c) Tim Child. This fanfiction has been written for entertainment purposes only and does not seek to make a profit. Permission to reproduce this specific material may be granted by the author so long as you email first. (c)2008 .

CHAPTER 1

The sun sank toward the horizon, and as it did so it reached out through the sparse clouds in luminescent tendils, as if unwilling to let this corner of the world go. The dying light illuminated the walls of Dunshelm, better known to many as Knightmare Castle, always fading, fading. Weaker still it lit parts of the dungeon below, filtering in through glass windows and roofs, and cracks in the rock. And down there, in a humble little cell that led from an unassuming corridor with an incongruous glass ceiling, the light did its last work for the day.

Motley picked Hennae up from the soft sheepskin rug where he'd been playing with her. Hennae, his daughter of only one month, loved to have her feet moved and to be sung to softly. That was easy for her father, Motley; the jester, the professional performer, the joker of Knightmare dungeon.

"That's right, isn't it, honeysuckle," he said to her conversationally, his voice lowered to a soothing yet lilting tone. "Your daddy's the best comic in these 'ere dungeons!" Hennae gurgled as he swayed a little to rock her. He smiled at the sight of her: a tiny, yet contented-looking, baby. He wasn't a bad father if he said so himself, even if she didn't understand that 'honeysuckle' was just a fancy term of thingummyjig.

He reached over and pushed aside the hemp sackcloth that made for a door to their cell. Beyond it he saw the corridor that led on to others' living quarters. He looked up into the glass roof of the corridor: the light was nearly gone. "Speaking o' which, I think I'd better make your dinner."

Putting her back on the rug where she couldn't roll over and fall, he walked the short distance away to his stove, where he began to prepare milk to feed her. After a few seconds he glanced around at her and his heart glowed with pride and love again.

KNIGHTMARE

Later, the light had faded completely and a handful of tallow candles stood flickering around the room, dispersing their animal-fat scent and crackling occasionally. The little brass bells on his working outfit - hung up on the wall for the night - reflected those tiny flames with an increased richness of colour.

Hennae had drunk her fill and Motley was now walking to and fro, encouraging her to burp. Soon enough she did, and he laid her to rest in the cloth-lined trough he used as a cot. Her legs went out at right angles to her body in the curious way infants' legs did and he couldn't help but laugh softly. He stroked her cheek. "You're a precious little thing, you know?" he whispered. "I'll make sure you do." Pulling her cotton bedcloth partially over her, he left her to go to sleep.

A thought came to him. He checked his calender, and his suspicions were confirmed: autumn, he already knew, had set in. Now it was September. That meant that for a short time, the dungeon would open to a plane that would allow contact with outsiders. For Motley, that meant that Treguard would accept requests from adolescents to challenge the dungeon. And, as Motley knew Treguard so well - in fact, he had worked for the dungeon master before entering the dungeon himself - that meant that Treguard would benefit from a helping hand from Motley. After all, survival in the dungeon often depended on your friends and allies, so who on earth wouldn't choose to help the dungeon master, of all people?

He opened a chest by his side and rummaged through until he had found what he was looking for: a metal emblem impregnated with transferring magic, as made for him by Merlin. He placed it on the tabletop and moved his hands over it as the wizard had once shown him, so invoking the magic. It connected with its twin that was held in the upper reaches of Dunshelm.

Within a minute a face had appeared above the metal disc. "Greetings," Treguard's familiar voice boomed. "And to whom can I attribute this visitation?"

"S'me, dungeon master," Motley replied quietly so as not to wake Hennae.

KNIGHTMARE

Treguard had not been best pleased by this interruption. He was in the middle of preparing for the new influx of dungeoneers, and he always found such preparation stressful. He liked a little company, but ultimately, he preferred to keep himself to himself. Had he the power to choose, he wouldn't have challengers here at all. But the dungeon, a thing of magic, needed to be fed with energy and outsiders came up to the task brilliantly - not that he would ever tell the visiting teams that.

He had turned to the vista that the talisman opened up irritably, but on seeing that it was Motley had forced cheerfulness into his face and voice. Motley had once been a servant of his - as a groom and later as a joker - and had since found a place for himself in the dungeon making a living by entertaining the other folk there. Often, Treguard found Motley's manner and jokes irritating. He knew all of the jokes and the younger man's energy virtually brimmed over, which wasn't to Treguard's taste. However, Motley's recent loss was something for which he could do nothing but sympathise. Treguard knew the details and he suspected that looking after a baby alone must be quite a challenge, especially for a first-time father. Motley had initially been shattered by Mellisandre's death, and Treguard could not find it in his heart to blame the man. However, Motley's duty to his newborn daughter had rallied him with surprising speed, and Treguard found himself admiring the jester's resilience.

The only way is onward, went the Knightmare tenet, there is no turning back, and Motley had lived up to this admirably.

"D'you want any 'elp with the quests this year, dungeon master?" Motley enquired. Treguard had been expecting this question: Motley was always keen to assist. He nodded.

"Yes, Motley. I'm not sure of the shape level one will take this year, but I'd like you to spend as much time there as you can and offer the dungeoneers any clues or passwords you happen to know."

Motley made a happy, devil-may-care gesture and said, "Easy-peasy!"

"Thank you, Motley," Treguard replied and dispelled the visionary field.

KNIGHTMARE

Treguard paced to and fro in front of the fire, his hands clasped masterfully behind his back. It was the day of the first set of challengers and he was ready to receive them. His boots padded confidently but quietly over the fireside rug, and he listened intently for signs of life. Soon enough he heard footsteps scuffing the flagstones down the hallway, footsteps that came closer and moved at the speed of a not-yet-fully-grown human. He turned to receive the challenger.

"Enter, stranger!" he boomed.

A youngster held the tapestry out of the way and ducked under it. A boy, perhaps 12 years old, gazed at him dozily.

"Greetings, young stranger!" Treguard announced. "And who is the first to challenge my dungeon?"

"Ben," the lad replied, slightly sheepishly, Treguard thought.

"Well, young Ben, it is time for you to summon your advisors." Treguard felt inclined to sweep an arm expansively over to the three seats behind him, but he knew the general nature of challengers well and already suspected that neither Ben, nor his team, would be terribly responsive to even the most forced enthusiasm from him.

"Simon. Laura. James." With a rush of magic, the simple incantation brought the three guides into the room. They had already turned to look at Treguard and watched him just as sleepily as Ben had. Hmm, yes, Treguard mused sourly, though his expression of knightly pride remained resolutely in place. If the dungeon manages to find much energy in you lot I'll be surprised. He took a breath to stretch his lungs and try to force a little more enthusiasm into the proceedings.

"Welcome," he said. He began to prepare Ben for entry to the dungeon.

KNIGHTMARE

Motley agonised as he paced to and fro across the clean-swept floor. He was taking a big risk being here, but not for himself. It was Hennae - she'd disappeared in the night. She was far too tiny and helpless to escape by herself, which meant that she must have been stolen. But who'd steal a baby, and for what? The first answers to that question chilled Motley to the bone; shuddered and rubbed his temples, and thought over his choice of response again.

He had no idea who had taken her so he didn't know where she was either. Every fibre in his body told him to run out through any one of these four doors and sprint, pell-mell, through the dungeon in search of her. Even now his muscles kept twitching as if to send him on that run.

But rashness was deadly in the dungeons, and he'd forced himself to think through his choices again. There was little point in him going anywhere without clues, and several pairs of eyes were always better than one. Earlier this morning when he'd first begun to formulate a plan to get her back, he'd desperately thought through the current inhabitants of the dungeon. Who could help him return her? Velda? She'd once assisted Treguard in Anwin Wood, but he doubted she could help even if he knew how to find her. The wall monsters? He wondered - they were as good for gossip as the proverbial fly on the wall, and perhaps they'd know something. And if they didn't know what had happened to Hennae, then the Oracle of Confusion might have something useful to say. That meant that Motley could get valuable clues about levels one and two. That just left level three.

Motley usually didn't dare go to level three. In fact, neither did most of the dungeon folk - it was just too dangerous. Not to mention dark, damp and dirty. But the dungeoneers and their advisors would cover the entire dungeon - hopefully - and if they did, they might well find her, or at least learn where she had been taken to.

He glanced urgently at the entrance to this room and thought, Hurry up. Please, hurry up!

KNIGHTMARE

Treguard watched over the guides' shoulders as Ben entered a new room. He entered the four-doored room that had been the place of deciding in the first season. He was pleased to see that Motley was present, but something immediately struck him as not quite right about the jester. Motley was pacing and looked as tense as a tiger in a cage, and even from this distance Treguard could tell he was unshaven. Treguard furrowed his brow, but decided to let the team speak first.

"Where am I?" Ben asked.

The team stayed silent for a moment as if waiting for some cue. Then Laura haltingly began to reply. "...Um. You're in a room... and there are four doors, two nearer..." Laura pointed at the visual field with her pen, as if she wished she could just point at the room to show Ben what was there. "...two further away... and there's a sort of joker, erm, pacing back and forth."

Treguard continued to watch Motley, who did indeed appear distressed. The younger man continued to ignore the dungeoneer a few seconds longer, as went the culture of the dungeon regarding these alien visitors. Finally he turned to Ben.

"'Ello. What's your name, then?" he asked - rather straight to the point, Treguard thought. Ben didn't answer, apparently waiting for word from his team on whether to reply or not. As Treguard continued to observe, he noted that Motley's muscles were straining, as if impatient for Ben to reply. "What's your name?" the jester repeated. That in itself was unusual - usually Motley was very patient with dungeoneers.

"Tell him your name, Ben," Simon instructed the dungeoneer.

"Ben," came the bland reply.

"Well, 'ello Ben. My name is Motley. Your quest is for the chalice, but you can't drink from-"

Treguard's frown deepened. He opened up a voice portal to the room Ben and Motley stood in. "Wait a moment, team. This isn't the kind of reception we would usually expect from the dungeon jester. Motley, what is the matter?"

At this, Motley looked up in the general direction of the voice-transferring charm and Treguard saw the look in Motley's eyes. Now he knew for certain something was wrong. He leaned forward to listen more closely. "It's Hennae, Treguard," Motley said, and Treguard straightened as the horror of Motley's situation dawned on him. "She's gone missin'. I dunno where she is and I dunno how to get her back!" So saying, he began to pace again, rubbing his upper arms as if to encourage his circulation. The bells on his costume rang out gently and merrily, but Motley looked anything but gentle and merry.

"Motley, I hardly know what to say." He half-wondered whether Ben and the team would respond to this, but while he waited for them to do so, he thought briskly through the available ways he might help. He came to a decision. "Well, team, it looks like we have our quest: to find and rescue Hennae."

Motley looked relieved, and then virtually pounced on Ben, making the young adolescent jump. "Can you do that for me, Ben? Can you find her?"

Ben didn't respond. "Say yes, Ben," said James.

"Yes," replied Ben automatically. Motley nodded his head.

"Okay, then. All I can tell you is that she's a month old, and she needs to be kept warm. I haven't checked all of level one yet, Ben, so take your pick of doors and I'll choose another one. Go on." He stood back, giving Ben plenty of room to maneuver.

In front of Treguard, the team whispered to eachother for several seconds. Eventually, mindfull of Motley's desperation, he prompted them: "Well, come on, team, life force energy is fading. You have your quest and a choice of paths. Now you must choose one."

"Um... okay Ben," Simon said haltingly. "Take three steps forward... Turn to your left. No, the other left... No, hang on, that is left..."

Not for the last time this season, Treguard found himself biting his tongue.

KNIGHTMARE

Down in the depths of level three there was a cave, one that had been conjured into an alchemic laboratory by its sinister tenant. The walls had been moulded by sorcery so that shelves struck out from them, and hooks curled down from the high ceiling. The shelves held glass bottles and beakers and vials, filled with ingredients required by a high wizard: henbane juice, lizard blood, ivy tincture, goblin spittle and all manner of other unsavoury products. One hook held the partial dried body of a baby dragon, its tail reduced to a stump from repeated use of its magically-endowed flesh; another hook held a bunch of poisonous herbs. Other shelves housed books, their spines creased and weathered, held upright by evil-looking bookends fashioned from jet.

At the centre of this grim setting stood Mogdred. The pale man held the jester's baby in his arms, and watched her rub her nose with the knuckle of one hand and yawn while she dozed. Yes, he thought, she will be perfect. "Well, youngster," he drawled, "I think we should begin, don't you?"

He walked over to the marble-topped table at the centre of the cave and placed her on it, then turned his back on her. She whimpered as the cold marble filtered through her swaddling and chilled her skin. He ignored her and continued to gather his reference book and spell ingredients; soon, she would be happier with cold temperatures in any case.

TO BE CONTINUED...