Originally published in the all-crunch multimedia fanzine Ouch! #19, from Neon RainBow Press. Based on characters and situations from the TV show Wizards and Warriors. Standard fanfic disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: these aren't my characters (except for the enlisted men in the northern army). I'm just borrowing them for, uh, typing practice. Yeah, that's it, typing practice. I will return them (relatively) unharmed and suitably bandaged to their original owners. No financial profit was made from the writing, publication, or posting of this story, behind improving my typing speed and my plotting ability.
The Princes of the North
Susan M. M.
originally published in Ouch! #19
Wizards & Warriors
"A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." Proverbs 17:17
No suit of armor protects its wearer perfectly. If it did, the knight within could neither see nor move.
Prince Dirk Blackpool, Overlord of the North, could afford the finest blacksmiths in Camarand to forge him armor made of burnished steel -- armor that was as much a work of art as a creation of warcraft. Bits of obsidian flakes had been melted into the steel, leaving the finished armor gleaming like a starless night. He had other suits of armor in his castle, inlaid with black enamel and gold tracery, set with rubies and diamonds, but those were purely for show. This was his best fighting armor. But it hadn't been enough to stop a southern arrow.
"Can you walk?" asked Prince Geoffrey Blackpool. He stared at the arrow sticking out of his older brother's knee.
"I'll have to, won't I?" Dirk growled. Wincing with the pain, he let his brother help him up. He leaned against a tree for support, his black leather gloves clutching the moss on the bark.
"We need to get you out of here, find you some shelter where we can tend to your wound properly," Geoffrey said.
Dirk merely grunted. The northern troops were scattered. His second best destrier had been shot dead beneath him. Baaldorf's men had them surrounded. Finding shelter would be next to impossible.
"Wait here. I'm going to fetch your knife."
Dirk clung to the tree as Geoffrey approached the dead archer, knelt beside the corpse, and pulled Dirk's dirk out of his body. Geoffrey wiped the blade on the archer's tabard and stuck it into his belt.
"Hiding an archer in the trees behind enemy lines – that's a trick I hadn't expected from Baaldorf," Dirk muttered.
Geoffrey nodded. "That sort of deviousness is usually more in your line."
"Flattery will get you no where, brother mine," Dirk retorted.
"No chance of using Vector's monocle to teleport to safety?" Geoffrey asked.
"My monocle," Dirk corrected. He'd stolen it from the Wizard Vector; it was his now. "No, I used its power too much in battle. It must recharge."
"C'mon, let's find somewhere safer." Geoffrey laid an arm around Dirk's shoulder and helped him limp along.
"Somewhere safe on a battlefield – that should be easy to find," Dirk muttered sarcastically. "What do you intend to do? Shove me into a bear-cave and hope the bear isn't home, or drag me up into a tree?"
It took several minutes, but eventually Geoffrey dragged Dirk to a small gully next to some juniper bushes. Geoffrey hacked at the juniper.
"Wh-what are you doing?" Dirk asked.
Geoffrey pointed to the gully. "We hide in there. Then I pull these – " He indicated the loose juniper branches. " – over us."
"Even Baaldorf's soldiers aren't going to be fooled by that," Dirk scoffed.
"It'll do at a distance. Let me help you down."
"So Baaldorf's men don't need to dig me a grave?"
"So I can tend that wound." Ignoring his brother's cursing, Geoffrey gently helped him into the gully. He used a pine branch to brush away their tracks laying the juniper branches atop the gully and wriggling in under them. Bits of sunlight peeked through the branches.
Geoffrey took his brother's blade from his belt and cut the arrow shaft. "This is going to hurt. Sorry."
"Do what you must," Dirk ordered.
"Should I push the arrow through, or pull it out?" Geoffrey asked.
"I want to be able to walk again." Dirk took a deep breath. "The southerners don't use barbed arrows. Better to pull it out."
Geoffrey unbuckled Dirk's greaves. He found a bit of wood and handed it to Dirk. "Bite down on this."
Dirk scowled, but obeyed. If he screamed, he'd give away their position. If Baaldorf's men managed to catch both of them at once, the war would be over. The north would be defeated.
Geoffrey grabbed hold of the arrow shaft and pulled. Dirk winced, but tried his best not to call out. Geoffrey pulled again. The shaft came out, but not the arrowhead. Geoffrey swore.
Dirk spit out the stick. "What is it?"
"I'm going to have to cut out the arrowhead." His normally pale complexion took on a slight greenish tinge. "Unless you want me to just bandage it, and wait until we can get you to a healer?"
"I wish we dared." Dirk reached for his stick. "Do you have any wine?"
Geoffrey shook his head. "No."
"Get it over with," Dirk ordered.
Geoffrey reached beneath his chain mail and cut a strip of cloth from his gray silk tunic. Then he took the knife and widened the wound. Sweat glistened on his face and hands, but he kept his hands steady as he worked to dig the arrowhead out.
Dirk did his best to remain still as his own dirk dug into his flesh like a plow tilling a field. He was a knight, a warrior, a royal prince. He could bear pain without complaining. Then he saw something. It was small. It was brown. And by all the gods, it had eight legs. Dirk tried to scream through the stick. His first instinct was to freeze; every muscle in his body stiffened. His second instinct was to escape. Then he felt a deep, sharp pain, nearly as painful physically as the sight of the spider was to his soul.
Geoffrey swore. "Hold still. You joggled my hand." He looked at the wound in dismay, now deeper and wider than he had intended. On the other hand, it made it easier to reach the arrowhead. Geoffrey pried it out and began bandaging the wound. "Hold still," he ordered again. After a minute, he sighed. "Done."
As soon as his brother was finished, Dirk took the stick out of his mouth. He stared at the spider. He reached toward it, stick in hand. Then he froze. He couldn't do it. He couldn't make himself move toward the fell beast. But to be trapped in the gully with it …. Gathering all his courage, Dirk forced himself to swing. He attacked the spider with all his might. And he missed. The spider scurried away. Dirk breathed a sigh of relief, grateful the creature was leaving. But he would have felt a lot better if he'd known it was safely dead.
"What are you doing? Do you want them to find us?" Geoffrey demanded in an angry whisper. Then he saw the spider scurrying away. "You don't still have that thing about spiders, do you? I thought you'd outgrown that years ago."
"Of course I outgrew it," Dirk lied. "I thought it was a brown recluse."
"Naw, just a harmless garden crawler. You never could tell a black widow from a daddy longlegs." He took his water flask from his belt and handed it to Dirk. "Here, drink this."
Dirk grabbed the flask and drained it. "Have I lost a lot of blood?"
"Some," Geoffrey hedged. "We need to get you to a battle-chirugeon, or Vector, as soon as it's safe to move you."
"Of the two, I'd trust a chirugeon more," Geoffrey advised.
Dirk merely nodded again. The wizard was a dangerous ally, far from trustworthy. "Perhaps I could ask Bethel if she knows any healing spells."
"You really going to marry that witch?" Geoffrey asked.
"I've pledged that she shall be my queen after we conquer the south," Dirk replied. He thought of the beautiful blonde spellcaster, and smiled. He closed his eyes, the better to visualize her, and slipped into a weary sleep.
Dirk awoke with a start. He felt something at his sore knee.
"Easy, easy, it's just me," Geoffrey whispered.
Dirk relaxed. "Did I take a nap?"
"Yep. Good thing you don't snore; Baaldorf's men came near here twice while you were out," Geoffrey told him.
"What are you doing?" He could feel something cool and damp and heavy on the back of his leg.
"You bled through the bandage. I had to get something to try to stop the bleeding." Geoffrey continued packing moss over the wound.
"Have I been out long?"
Geoffrey didn't answer right away. "For a bit." He handed the water flask to Dirk. "Drink."
Dirk had downed half the flask before he remembered something. "I thought I emptied this."
"You did. I snuck out to the stream and refilled it."
"Why are you doing this, Geoff? You could just leave me to die. Then you would be king, once – once –"
Once Father dies, he could not bring himself to say.
"Don't want the job. Too much paperwork," Geoffrey replied, only half joking.
"Is it just me, or is it getting cooler?" Dirk asked.
"It is a little chilly," Geoffrey lied. "Rest. You need to regain your strength before we try to make it back to our lines."
"Why didn't you just leave me to die? Why didn't you save yourself?"
"You're my brother. Couldn't let Baaldorf catch you, or kill you." He reached down and felt Dirk's forehead. Despite the chill Dirk had complained of, his head was warm. Geoffrey readjusted his cloak over him like a blanket.
"It's cold; you'll need that," Dirk protested.
"No, I need you healthy. If you weaken, who'll take care of me?" Dirk asked pragmatically.
Geoffrey smiled. That sounded more like his brother. "Y'know, this whole war would have been over long ago if you'd simply arranged a treaty-marriage between me and Princess Ariel."
Dirk snorted. "A bit difficult to arrange, considering she's been betrothed to Erik Greystone since they were both in their cradles."
His voice was weaker than Geoffrey liked, and he seemed about to fall asleep again. Geoffrey decided to keep him talking, to try to keep him awake. "Maybe we could have a double wedding, me and Ariel, you and Bethel?"
Dirk harrumphed. "Bethel doesn't like sharing the stage with anyone."
Personally, Geoffrey thought marrying Bethel would be more dangerous than a black widow spider, but he didn't want to upset his brother by saying so. "After we win the war, what sort of wedding will you two have? Just a quiet little exchange of vows in the castle chapel, or twenty bridesmaids and miles of lace, or what?"
"After we conquer the south," Dirk coughed, then continued, "we'll hold the wedding at Castle Baaldorf. My new castle."
"Will Bethel wear a traditional wedding gown, or she going to continue running around half-naked once she's queen?"
"I like her half-naked," Dirk chuckled. Then the chuckle turned into a cough.
Geoffrey put his hand over Dirk's mouth. "Quiet. Someone's coming."
"The squirrels said they saw someone hiding over here."
"How reliable are squirrels as sources of information?"
Geoffrey and Dirk recognized those voices. The first belonged to Marko, vassal to Prince Erik Greystone, nephew to the Wizard Traquil. The second voice belonged to Erik Greystone himself.
"Well, I admit they like to gossip." Marko's uncle had gifted him with the ability to talk to animals. "But they're honest."
"Not a move. Not a sound," Geoffrey whispered.
"We should have taken an escort, Your Highness," Marko scolded.
"I want to get Dirk Blackpool myself," Prince Erik declared.
"And I feel the same way about you, old friend," Dirk muttered under his breath.
"Some of Blackpool's troops are still in the woods," Marko reminded his master. "You'd be safer with an escort."
"Look at that. You ever see juniper grow that way?" Erik asked.
Footsteps approached the gully. Dirk heard the sound of a sword being drawn from its scabbard.
"Dirk, that you down there?" he heard Erik call out. "You might as well come out and face me like a man. You can't escape."
"Stay quiet," Geoffrey whispered. "I'll go out and lead them away."
Then they heard more footsteps, the sound of several men approaching.
"Look, that's Greystone!" one voice called out.
Dirk blessed the gods, for the voice spoke in a northern accent.
"Get him!" another yelled. "He'll be worth a fat ransom."
"Let's get them," Erik told Marko. "There's only six of them."
"One of these days you're going to have to learn to do arithmetic," Marko complained. "There are only two of us."
Then Dirk couldn't tell what he heard. Footsteps running, brush being pushed aside. Was Erik rushing to fight his men? Was Marko pulling his master to safety? "Men of the north," he called out. His voice was faint, and he didn't know if they could hear him.
"Men of the north," Geoffrey repeated, "to me! Your prince needs you!"
Geoffrey threw off the covering juniper. Dirk blinked at the sudden burst of sunlight. The next thing Dirk knew, six of his troopers stood over him, looking down.
"It's the prince!"
"It's both princes," another corrected.
"Wh- who's in charge?" Dirk asked weakly.
"That'd be me, sir. Your Highness," a strapping warrior with corn-colored hair corrected himself. "Corporal Matthias Cooper."
"Well, Sergeant Cooper, do you think you can escort my brother and me back to our lines?" Dirk asked.
Cooper's eyes widened at the sudden promotion. "Yes, Your Highness!"
"My brother is wounded. Make a travois," Geoffrey ordered.
"You heard him. A travois for the prince," Sergeant Cooper told his men.
"I can walk," Dirk protested.
"No, you can't." Geoffrey smiled down at his brother.
Dirk closed his eyes, too weary and pain-ridden to protest.
Geoffrey turned to supervise the building of the travois.
"Thank you, little brother."