Originally published in Compadres #26, from Neon RainBow Press
Standard fanfic disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: these aren't my characters, I'm just borrowing them for, um, typing practice. That's it, typing practice. I'll return them to their actual owners (relatively) undamaged. This is an amateur work of fiction; no profit beyond pleasure was derived from the writing. The prologue and epilogue are by Stanford Sherman. The story is based on characters and situations created by Stanford Sherman and George Lucas.
by Susan M.
This it was given me to know: that many worlds have been enslaved by the Beast, and his army, the Slayers. And this, too, was given me to know: that the Beast would come to our world, the world of Krull, and his Black Fortress would be seen in the land, that the smoke of burning villages would darken the sky, and the cries of the dying echo through deserted valleys. But one thing I cannot know: whether the prophecy be true, that a girl of ancient name shall become queen, that she shall choose a king, and that together they shall rule our world. And that their son shall rule the galaxy.
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The Dark Lord of the Sith swore loudly as he paced through the chambers of his family palace. "Where did my brother die? How?"
"A minor world named Krull, lord, one of the primitive planets it amused him to conquer," Penak replied. An old and trusted retainer, he had served the Sithlord all his life, as had his family for five generations. Already his sons and daughters had entered the Dark Lord's service, and someday, Penak knew, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren would serve him, too. "We tried to notify you sooner, lord, but. . ."
The Sithlord dismissed the apology with a wave of his black-scaled hand. He had been so busy lately with politics. The Republic was on the verge of crumbling; it would only take a slight push at the right time to destroy it utterly. And then, an intelligent, ambitious creature such as himself could easily pick up the pieces. But his brother had been too impatient to wait for the fall of the Republic, too heavy-handed to gently assist its decline. Instead, he chose to raid and plunder planets beyond the Republic's reach, backward spheres that were generations from indoor plumbing, let alone space flight.
It had seemed a harmless hobby, and the Sithlord had indulged his brother, who had been, after all, a mere child of three centuries. There was time to let him mature of his own accord and turn his attention to more serious schemes . . . or so the Sithlord had thought. As if he didn't have enough to do. Although the Jedi Knights were dwindling, it was not possible to ignore them yet. Still, family was family, and honor demanded he avenge his brother's death. He'd had such hopes for the boy!
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It was all the Lord Marshall could do to keep from laughing in his king's face. The Court Wizard glanced at the Marshall, sharing a knowing smile and a wink.
Oblivious to them, Colwyn paced anxiously around the garden, hovering over his pregnant wife. To the bards he was Colwyn Glaivemaster, Colwyn Beastslayer, Warrior-King of Turold-Eirig. To the other kings of Krull he was Colwyn the Young, but only behind his back; when he spoke in council, they listened. To his wife he was getting to be a nuisance.
His shadow fell over her, blocking her light. Putting down her embroidery, Queen Lyssa turned to the Court Wizard and demanded, "Turn him into something, Ergo, before he turns me into a nervous wreck!"
Torquil could hold it in no longer. The ex-bandit chief burst out laughing. "Good gods, Colwyn, it's not like it's your first time."
The handsome young king glanced at the far end of the castle garden. Four-year-old Princess Ynyra frolicked in a spirited game of tag with her sister, Princess Ardath, almost two, and Rell, Ergo's three-year-old son. Young Sir Oswyn and several of the queen's ladies-in-waiting kept a watchful eye on the children.
"No, it's not the first time," Colwyn acknowledged, laying a gentle hand on his queen's swollen belly, "but this one is so late. And Titch–"
"Titch thinks it'll be a boy," Ergo interrupted. "Oh, so that's it."
Torquil grinned broadly.
Lyssa tsked disapprovingly as she viciously stabbed Colwyn's shirt with the needle. "So a son's worth fretting over more than a daughter?"
"No, of course not," the bearded king assured her awkwardly.
"He fussed just as much over Ynyra and Ardath," Ergo reminded her, brushing a wisp of black hair out of one eye. The shapeshifting sorcerer was a scion of the Hill People, and smaller and darker than the natives of Turold- Eirig.
"It's only natural, lass," Torquil told her familiarly – perhaps a trifle over-familiarly. "A man wants a son to heir him."
Lyssa's eyes flashed blue fire. "My father managed with only a daughter."
Torquil bit his lip, remembering too late that the flame-haired queen was Colwyn's co-ruler rather than merely his consort. She had been sole heiress to the throne of Eirig before her marriage to Colwyn of Turold had united the two kingdoms.
"I think Oswyn needs rescuing," Ergo interrupted.
Torquil smiled gratefully at the sorcerer for the distraction before turning his head to peer at the far end of the garden. Sure enough, some of the ladies-in-waiting were paying the young knight more attention than they were the children.
"Should we go rescue him, Colwyn, or should we let the lad fend for himself?" The Lord Marshall chuckled, the peasant's braids he wore in defiance of court fashion swaying as he laughed. The survivors of Colwyn's quest were regarded as highly eligible by the ladies of the court. Ergo had found himself married to a widowed baroness four months after the destruction of the Black Fortress. Torquil'd had to stay on his toes to avoid the altar.
"Perhaps we should. Those fair flowers can be as persistent and cunning as the Beast's Slayers."
"Shall I tell Harra you said that, Ergo?" Lyssa teased mischievously. "Gods, no!"
"What is it? Are you all right, my love?" Colwyn was at her side immediately. "I– I think it's time," the queen gasped.
Colwyn and Ergo gently helped her to her feet. Torquil whistled. "Oswyn! Fetch the midwives!"
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"The scout captain has returned, lord," the steward of the Sithlord's yacht announced.
"That's Major Elaara," the gray-skinned humanoid corrected. He'd held a commission in the Galactic Republic's Space Marines, until he'd been dishonorably discharged.
"Peace, Joce Elaara. He only meant that you are leader of my scouts." The Dark Lord of the Sith dismissed the steward. He waited as Elaara made an elaborate show of playing with one of the tentacles that hung down his back and carefully draping it about his neck. "I don't have time to listen to my servants squabble."
Major Elaara frowned. He was a mercenary, a hired warrior and no creature's servant. Still, he knew better than to argue with his employer. "My scouts have confirmed that this is the correct planet, sir. The locals call it Krull. They referred to your brother as 'the Beast.' They were unable to pronounce his true name."
"Why was he here? How did he die? Who killed him?"
"He came because of a prophecy," Elaara informed him.
"The world consists of thousands of small kingdoms. Several of the royal families have a genetic tendency toward Force-sensitivities," Elaara began.
The Sithlord clicked his mandibles. On primitive planets Force-wielders were either hailed as kings or burned as witches. Precognitive gifts among such could well be genuine.
"According to the prophecy, a native woman was to become queen of the planet and founder of a galactic dynasty."
"What does this pitiful sphere know of galactic affairs?" the Dark Lord sneered.
"They don't have spaceflight, sir, and won't for centuries by my guess, but they do know other worlds exist and have sentient life. Your brother attacked off-and-on for two hundred years; perhaps they learned from him," the tentacle-headed mercenary suggested.
"Get to the point, Major. How did my brother die?"
"He captured a woman he thought fulfilled the prophecy. He wanted her to choose him as co-ruler of Krull and father of a galactic emperor."
"The Lords of the Sith do not wait to be chosen. We take."
"Thus ran the prophecy, sir," Elaara said nervously. "'A girl of ancient name' – that is, from one of the ancient ruling families – 'shall become queen, that she shall choose a king, and that together they shall rule our world. And that their son shall rule the galaxy.' At least, that's the best translation I've been able to get.
"Your brother captured Princess Lyssa of Eirig at her wedding, killing her father and most of the guests. Her betrothed survived, gathered a small guerrilla band, and attacked your brother's ship, which the natives called 'the Black Fortress.' He rescued Lyssa, killed your brother, and destroyed his ship and troops."
"Name me his name," the Sithlord demanded.
"Colwyn, King of Turold-Eirig. Like Queen Lyssa, he is a Force-sensitive."
"Does he rule this paltry planet? Has he a son?"
"Colwyn united his kingdom with his wife's and rules the two as one nation. And he's been responsible for several alliance treaties. He may lay the groundwork for eventually uniting the whole planet, but I doubt that will happen in his lifetime." Elaara assumed that Colwyn's life was to be measured in days rather than decades. Nonetheless, he did not expect Krull to unify for generations.
"Colwyn shall die," the Sithlord promised. "But what of this foretold princeling? Has Colwyn sired a son?"
"Yes, sir. The boy was born less than a tenday ago." Elaara hesitated, afraid to tell the rest, but aware his employer needed to know. "There'll be a perfect opportunity to attack in two tendays, if you're willing to wait."
"King Colwyn is hosting a great feast. Every Krullian king and lord is invited. Between their primitive security and almost nonexistent technology, it would be easy to infiltrate simply by claiming to be a prince from more than a few days' travel away. You could kill not only Colwyn and Lyssa, but also several of the planetary leaders."
"I taste your fear," the Dark Lord informed Elaara. "What is it you shrink from telling me?"
"The feast has several purposes, sir. The actual reason is to allow some unobtrusive political negotiation. Gifts will be exchanged – officially mutual tokens of respect and esteem, but I suspect actually tribute."
"You're stalling, Joce Elaara."
"Officially, the feast is a joint celebration – to honor the birth of Colwyn's son and heir, and to– to commemorate the anniversary of his destroying the Beast." The mercenary cringed, anticipating an angry outburst.
Instead, the Sithlord fell silent. Elaara stood before him, waiting. He dared not leave without being dismissed, yet he had no wish to call himself to the Dark Lord's attention by requesting permission to go. So, he waited.
It was a full three minutes before his employer spoke. "Does your scout team include a xenologist?"
"Yes, sir, a xeno-sociologist." Elaara didn't bother explaining that she had been tossed out of the university and stripped of her academic credentials after being caught running an artifact smuggling ring on a backward planet she was supposed to have been studying.
"Tell her I will need a full report on Krullian culture, or whatever passes for culture on this primitive ball of mud."
"She's already working on it, sir."
"You dare anticipate my orders?"
"Merely standard procedure on a planet with this low of a socio-technological level," Elaara explained calmly, more comfortable to be back on familiar territory. "A mistake on a primitive planet can be fatal."
The Sithlord clicked his mandibles. "I will need this report before Colwyn's feast 'commemorating' my brother's death."
"You'll have it, sir."
"Very well. Dismissed, Major."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"Is this absolutely necessary?" Torquil demanded.
"It's part of the Lord Marshall's job." Colwyn's eyes twinkled cobalt blue, as amused by his friend's discomfiture as Torquil had been by the king's paternal fretting three weeks ago.
"Couldn't someone else do it?" the ex-bandit pleaded. "Ergo, he likes all this court pageantry. I've no skill at such things."
"Ergo's not the Lord Marshall," Colwyn replied cheerfully. Torquil offered to resign.
"No," the king refused his resignation, still disgustingly cheerful. "It's only a ceremony. You're not being tied to a post and used as a target for archery practice."
"That'd be easier to handle," Torquil muttered.
Titch came running into the antechamber. "Colwyn, Lyssa, are you ready? Everyone's waiting. There must be two hundred people here."
"Did you need to tell me that?" Torquil groaned.
Queen Lyssa laughed. "Just don't drop the baby." She reached down and plucked her son out of his cradle, then carefully handed him to Torquil.
Gingerly, the ex-bandit took the infant. Hands more accustomed to wielding a broadsword were surprisingly gentle in nestling the young prince.
"Colwyn?" He turned to his king one last time, not bothering to hide the discomfort and desperation he felt, nor the pleading look in his eyes.
The king's face lost its amused expression, and his voice, though gentle, held the firmness of command. "I can ask you to go out there, or I can order you, but you are going out there."
"Yes, m'lord." Colwyn didn't pull rank often, but when he did, Torquil knew better than to argue.
"Relax, you'll be fine." Lyssa turned around slowly, her silken skirts rustling. "How do I look?"
Her husband smiled at her. "Ravishing."
The queen looked like a bride, resplendent in a gown of cream-colored silk. The sapphires at her throat and ears were pale echoes of her shining eyes.
Colwyn reached over to adjust the lace coif beneath her coronet, then took her arm. "Let's go."
Titch picked up the train of Lyssa's gown. Normally the boy divided his time between being Ergo's apprentice and one of Torquil's squires, but today he was serving as the queen's page.
"You know what to do," Colwyn said.
"Aye," Torquil agreed reluctantly. He preceded the royal party out of the antechamber and hurried down the stone corridor. He turned right, they turned left.
A moment later Torquil heard cheers echoing through the castle walls and he knew Colwyn and Lyssa must have entered the throne room. He knew the choreography for the ceremony better than he did that of the dances for the ball Lyssa'd planned for tonight. The king and queen were to enter the throne room from the back of the hall, from opposite sides. They would walk toward each other, meeting in the middle in front of their thrones. Torquil couldn't hear anything as he approached the main door to the throne room; Colwyn must be making his welcoming speech.
He nodded to the guards on duty, then waited outside the door. After a moment the muffled sound of applause marked the end of Colwyn's speech. He ordered the guards to open the door, then stepped forward. And froze. He couldn't move. Torquil simply couldn't move. "Sir?" one of the guards whispered.
"Just trying to make an entrance," Torquil lied. He thought about what Colwyn would do to him if he chickened out now, bit his lip, and marched into the throne room.
"Behold the Crown Prince of Turold-Eirig," he bellowed. "Behold the son and heir of King Colwyn and Queen Lyssa." Holding the child aloft for everyone to see, he repeated the announcement over and over as he made a circuit of the room. At last he approached the dais.
An elderly man stepped forward. "How do we know this babe is who you claim?" he demanded.
"I swear by my honor as Lord Marshall that– that–"
"That this is the child Queen Lyssa bore," the old man prompted quietly.
"That this is the child Queen Lyssa bore," Torquil repeated, flashing a quick, grateful smile at the elderly king of Lugprush, "for I witnessed his birth, as I witnessed his sisters' births. I swear by my honor that this is the true-born son of King Colwyn, and rightful heir to the throne of Turold-Eirig. Any man who denies this I challenge to prove his– his–"
"False and foul," came the whisper.
"His false and foul words, or face my wrath in combat," he concluded.
Dronar of Lugprush replied, "The honor of Sir Torquil is unquestionable. This is, indeed, Colwyn and Lyssa's son, and rightful heir to the throne. All hail the prince."
A ragged chorus of cheers broke out.
Torquil handed the baby to Lyssa and gritted his teeth for the next part of the ceremony. He knelt and swore fealty to the infant prince.
Once Torquil had finished, the monarchs of the neighboring kingdoms came forward to greet the proud parents, offer christening gifts, and pledge peace and friendship with Turold-Eirig. Then the nobles came forward, renewing their fealty to Colwyn and Lyssa and swearing their allegiance to the prince.
Three hours later, after the oaths and gifts had been offered and accepted, Colwyn stood to address the crowd.
"My friends, five years and a few days ago, Lyssa and I met beneath this roof to unite our fathers' kingdoms with a marriage alliance. But this castle was attacked, the wedding interrupted before the vows could be completed," Colwyn began.
"Five years ago today, Lyssa and I were wed, not for a political alliance, but for love. Together we destroyed the Beast." He clasped his wife's hand. "Together Lyssa and I are stronger than we are apart. The kingdom of Turold- Eirig is stronger than either of our fathers' kingdoms were. Our trade and friendship alliances have strengthened the many nations of Krull."
"Damn it, Colwyn, don't make a speech," Torquil muttered. "Bad enough I had to dress up and make a fool of myself in public without listening to another one of your speeches."
"Five years ago, Lyssa and I married each other. The Beast was the sole witness to our vows. Today, we ask all of you to be our witnesses as we renew our vows."
Wordlessly, Ergo handed Colwyn a torch. Colwyn held it aloft a moment, then plunged it into a bronze urn of water. "I give fireto water. It will not return, except in the hand of the woman I choose as my wife."
Lyssa dipped a be-ringed hand into the urn. "I take firefrom water. I give it only to the man I choose as my husband." She opened her fist and displayed flame dancing harmlessly on her palm.
Colwyn reached out and took her hand. The fireengulfed their clasped hands, enveloping but not consuming. He thrust their joined hands up in a triumphant gesture, and the crowd cheered. "Celebrate with us, my friends. Rejoice with us. Let us feast and be marry."
At the announcement that the feasting was about to begin, everyone cheered again, even louder.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Colwyn looked to see who was shouting at him and missed his step in the dance.
"I demand justice, King Colwyn." The tall man who strode across the ballroom was no one Colwyn recognized. He was dressed as befitted a nobleman, or perhaps even a king himself.
"Justice is freely given to all within my court," Colwyn replied after the stranger had come close enough that he didn't have to yell. He gestured toward the bench next to the twin thrones, where Torquil sat watching the baby. "Let us go where we won't disturb the dance."
"My justice demands witnesses," the stranger declared loudly.
One by one, the dancers stopped to stare, curious what the commotion was.
Chagrined, Colwyn bowed and apologized to his queen for the interruption. "What law has been broken? What harm has been done to you?"
"My brother was killed. I demand retribution. I want his murderers to suffer as I have suffered, to know the pain that I have felt."
Lyssa turned to him, a sympathetic expression on her face. "Do you know who killed him?"
"He was slain by the woman who was to have been his bride, and her lover."
"How horrible!" she exclaimed.
"They took from me my brother, my baby brother who was scarcely more than a child. He was my only family, my sole heir. I demand their heir as weregild."
The crowd gasped. Weregild was an ancient custom, seldom invoked. Usually it involved a forfeit of some prized possession, or a sum of money to provide for the family of the deceased. To demand the killers' heir was unheard of.
"You seek a harsh judgment," Colwyn replied, "and one I can not grant. I can not give you an innocent child to slaughter for the crimes of its parents."
"Nor may you seize a child as a bond-slave," Lyssa interjected. "All in Turold-Eirig are freeborn."
"If you will not give me justice, then I will take it." He reached out his arm. The infant prince started crying. He floated out of his cradle. A startled Torquil tried to grab the flying baby.
The stranger gestured, and Torquil fell back as though someone had pushed him. Ergo and Titch tried to weave spells to save the prince. They, too, fell backward, overwhelmed by a magic too powerful for them to understand.
"My brother was he whom you called the Beast," the Sithlord announced. He dropped the illusion of human appearance that cloaked his true form. Several of the ladies of the court (and more than a few of the lords) screamed. Some fainted at the hideous sight.
Colwyn reached for the jeweled dagger hanging at his belt. Suddenly, he found himself forced to his knees, gasping for breath.
"Fiend!" Lyssa concentrated with all her might. By sheer force of will, she summoned a fireball and threw it at him. It bounced against him harmlessly. A moment later she, too, was on her knees, struggling for air.
"You slew my brother. My baby brother, and you killed him. You insignificant insects should have been honored that he condescended to conquer your paltry planet, yet you dared to raise your hand against him." The squalling infant floated to the Sithlord. None too gently, he grabbed the babe. "This brat shall be my brother's revenge. I shall raise him as my heir, and my brother's replacement. Know that, and mourn." He strode out of the ballroom, the princeling in his arms. The few who dared to try to stop him died.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
When the Sithlord returned to his ship, he turned the frightened, crying child over to his servants. "Have it reared as befits an heir of the Sith. When it is older I myself shall instruct it in the use of the Dark Side of the Force."
"Yes, lord. How is the child to be called?"
He thought a moment, and then remembered the word for "weregild" in an ancient dialect the Sith had once used, millennia ago. "Palpatine. His name is Prince Palpatine."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
But one thing I cannot know: whether the prophecy be true, that a girl of ancient name shall become queen, that she shall choose a king, and that together they shall rule our world. And that their son shall rule the galaxy.
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