A/N: This story tells the end of "King's Quest III" through the beginning of "King's Quest IV." So, obviously, spoiler warnings if you don't know the story. I recommend viewing Dilandau3000's play-throughs of the "King's Quest" series on YouTube if you're interested in seeing them before (or after) reading this.
More Than You Think – Part 1
A Family Torn
Princess Rosella of Daventry sat alone on a lounge chair in the hall of the castle, turning the pages of a small book she was reading. To an unknowing observer, the young woman looked the picture of serenity, her face placid and her breathing at rest. But Rosella's mind was pondering the depths to which minds journey when pushed by catastrophe.
She wanted to be alone just now. Seeing the dark despair in her parents' faces seemed too much to bear. She had spent an uneasy night with her grieving mother and father, the three of them in a little sitting room, drifting in and out of dozing on couches not meant for a night's rest. Day finally came, as bright and clear as ever, but there was a silence over the castle of Daventry. Words seemed to fail most of the castle's inhabitants that morning.
"Nobility is the art of putting others before oneself," the open page on Rosella's book read. She mused on the words. The book contained several such sayings, compiled to promote attitudes and behavior befitting the princess of Daventry. It had been a birthday gift some years ago from her tutor. Rosella hadn't given it much thought at the time, but the little book was now proving itself to be inspiring.
Rosella shed a few tears at the thought of her birthday, which was tomorrow—a day she would not see. If she reached eighteen years of age, she would not be considered the young maiden the dragon wanted. The three-headed monster would be furious, and would take its anger out on some poor citizen—if any citizens still remained in the countryside. Rosella did not know the state of the people of Daventry. She had been forbidden to leave the castle grounds ever since the dragon arrived and had demanded a yearly sacrifice of a young maiden. That had been five years ago. King Graham and Queen Valanice had hoped to keep from the dragon the knowledge that they had a daughter, but somehow, the dragon had found out and insisted on having Rosella before she came of age.
The words on the page commanded Rosella's attention again as she thought of the "others" whose welfare she must now resolve to put before her own. She pictured her tutor's 10-year-old daughter, and the castle cook's little girls, who were four and eight. Rosella wished she could do something to spare them from the fate she now faced.
"Courage is knowing when to defy and when to accept," read another saying in the book. Rosella glanced out a window to judge the time. The sun was at midmorning. She knew she didn't have much longer. Rosella had made peace with her death, as much as she was able to. She had dressed in a simple white gown and pale blue slippers. She wore her blue bead necklace—a gift from her parents—and let her long, wavy golden hair hang free.
What distressed Rosella the most was the suffering of her parents. She could only begin to imagine the anguish she knew they must feel. Rosella had had a twin brother, Alexander, who mysteriously vanished when he was about a year old. It was said he had been stolen, but there was no evidence with which to accuse anyone of the deed, and Alexander was never found or heard of in Daventry. Now, Graham and Valanice were losing their one remaining child, breaking their hearts and leaving no heirs to the kingdom.
"Princess Rosella?" a soft voice came from her right. Rosella turned and saw one of her father's knights, carrying a black bag. "You should see the king and queen now, and then…" he paused, "you and I shall leave."
Rosella looked at the knight, but said nothing.
"They are in the throne room," he went on.
Rosella gave a small sigh and looked again at her book. "Heroism starts with believing you can do more than you think," the page's words spoke to her. She wondered what more she could possibly do. There was only one thing she could think of—she could try to convince the dragon to leave Daventry. But all she had were her words, and she was sure they would not be enough.
"I am terribly sorry, my lady," the knight said sadly, "but our time is running short."
Rosella left her book on the lounge chair, stood up and walked quietly to visit with her parents for the last time. The knight followed behind her until she reached the doors to the throne room.
"I shall wait for you here," he said quietly.
Rosella glanced at him, but still said nothing. She dreaded facing her mother and father, yet she knew she had to make the best of a situation that appeared to have nothing good in it.
The doors were partially open. Rosella slipped through and walked the red-carpeted path toward the king and queen, who rose upon seeing her. They looked at each other for a few fleeting moments. What words were any use at a time like this?
Finally, Graham spoke in a breaking voice. "Rosella, whatever else you may be thinking right now, please know that we love you—so very much."
"I never doubted that," Rosella replied, more evenly than she had expected to. "And I never will. I love you both very much, too."
Then words seemed to fail as Graham embraced his wife and daughter for a long moment. Rosella could hear—and feel—both of her parents quietly crying. Some dreadful seconds passed like this.
Then Rosella pulled away and began speaking, hoping to bring them some small measure of comfort. "I am going to try to persuade the dragon to leave Daventry." But even as she spoke, she felt her plan was futile.
"How?" Valanice whispered. "How can you do that?"
"I—well—" Rosella tried to quickly think through her idea. "It may be that I can convince it that there'll be nothing left here for it after—after today."
"Oh, Rosella," Valanice groaned. "But that doesn't save you."
"If my soldiers couldn't persuade it to leave, I don't know what else could," Graham said bitterly. "A creature like that can't be reasoned with."
"I'll find out," Rosella replied, feeling more and more detached as she accepted her fate. But now, at least, she had one last effort to make. She wondered, with a shudder, if any of the dragon's previous victims had tried reasoning with it. She knew her father had tried to fight it off. Three times in the past, Graham had taken soldiers out to drive the dragon away, but each attempt had been a crushing failure. So many men had been lost. Graham had survived only because Daventry's magic shield had protected him. Eventually, he had counted the cost, and decided that this battle was unwinnable. The dragon seemed resistant to every attack Graham could think of.
Would Rosella's words have any effect? She didn't know, but there was nothing else she could do.
Valanice took her daughter's hand and looked into her eyes. "My child," she began, with fresh tears falling, "know that my heart will stay with you forever. I truly hope whatever awaits you beyond this life is better than the grief we have known. If—if you meet your brother, tell him we have loved him all this time. Stay together, and I promise—we will find you."
Rosella gave her mother one last embrace. "I love you, Mother," she said softly. Then she turned to her father.
"Rosella," Graham said, "there is nothing—nothing—within me that finds this tolerable. I don't—I don't have the words for—for how sorry I am for having failed both of my children—" He paused as emotion threatened to overtake him, but Rosella could sense he was not finished speaking. "Even if you can find it in your heart to forgive me, I may never forgive myself."
"I do forgive you, Father," Rosella said earnestly, feeling desperate to comfort him. "You haven't failed anyone—"
"Yes, yes I have," Graham insisted. "I have tried everything I can think of to drive this dragon out of my land, but I can do nothing to stop it from destroying my people. I have exhausted every option available to me to—to prevent this day from happening."
Rosella knew no well-meant platitudes would serve her father now. She simply wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly. "I love you, Father—regardless of everything else," she said, and she truly meant it.
At last, Rosella knew she must leave. She addressed both of her parents with as much forced pleasantness as she could: "I love you both very much, and I know you love me." She paused, gave the king and queen a small smile, and said, "We will all do what we can."
Then she turned, walked the length of the hall through the doorway, pulled the doors shut behind her, and then stood still, shuddering at the terrible darkness she was leaving behind. Rosella did not want to contemplate this any longer. She quickly turned to her father's knight, who still stood by.
"Let's go," she said to him.
The man wordlessly led the way to the main gate, carrying his bag, with Rosella marching mechanically along through the courtyard. The gate was raised, and the pair stepped out onto the drawbridge. Rosella looked around with grim interest in the land from which she had been forbidden for so long. She had had far-off views of the countryside from the castle's tower windows, but to see the land up close was a very different experience.
The stones of the castle were crumbling, and the banners hanging on the outer walls were dirty and torn. The moat had been drained. Tattered flags waved in the breeze above the walls. The castle's miserable state of disrepair was a demoralizing sight from which Rosella soon turned her eyes.
There was still much green foliage covering the area, but it seemed to her that almost every other bush, shrub, or tree had been charred—burnt black and dead. Some trees and other plants had been reduced to messes of ash on the ground. Although Rosella was sure she could remember wildflowers decorating the countryside, she could see none now.
She knew the land of Daventry had once been very beautiful. To see it now ravaged by the dragon's damage caused Rosella to feel frustration and sadness as she began to understand what her father must have felt for the last several years.
Rosella did not want to think of her parents. She looked to her left, past her escort at a little ramshackle house that caught her attention. It appeared to tilt rather sharply to one side—so much so that Rosella wondered if it was safe to live in. She was about to ask the knight if he knew who lived there when she caught sight of the inhabitant—an old little gnome—standing on his front porch.
The gnome seemed to know exactly what was happening. He stared at the two travelers with his mouth slightly open, shaking his head in dismay as Rosella glanced at him.
"I'm not giving up hope," she heard the gnome say. Rosella watched him sit down in his rocking chair. His words made her feel more sorrowful.
After several minutes walking southward, the base of the mountain range appeared. They approached it until they were almost among the mountains, with fallen boulders all around them. Then the knight spoke.
"We must climb a passageway inside," he said, motioning toward a dark opening in the rock. "It is not the difficult climb it once was; a stairway has been placed there."
The opening led into what looked like a cave, but the remains of a stone arched doorway were visible around it. With a grimace, Rosella thought of the girls who had entered the passage before her.
She stepped into the entrance, with the knight following just behind. No light needed to be lit, for she could see two sets of stairs with a landing in between, and the exit at the top of the stairs—the climb didn't appear to be terribly long.
It was long enough, however, for Rosella to feel relieved that it was over as they rested for a few seconds at the top of the crumbly stone steps. But her relief faded quickly as she smelled smoke.
"We are here," the knight said in a voice so grave that it seemed the end of the world was coming.
He and Rosella stepped out into the bright, burnt land of Daventry again. They stood on a ledge, ending—several yards off—in a cliff drop to the northwest. The ledge had plenty of room for several people; in another time, it might have made a good picnicking spot, if the ground hadn't been scorched. But it was small enough that the edge could be seen in all directions.
The air was a bit thinner, and in spite of the way the smell of smoke made one think it was hot, there was a fresh, cloudy mist that felt cool.
The knight ventured forward past a few more charred trees until he came to about the middle of the ledge, where a wooden post had been planted. Then he turned to Rosella.
"I despise myself for this thing," he said. "I am going to bind you to this post. Stand here."
Rosella stood with her back to the post and waited while the knight produced rope from the bag he had been carrying.
"All Nature, Magic and Mystery, forgive me," she heard him say softly. She did not look at him as she felt the ropes tying her securely to the post. He did not look at her, either. It was a dreadful few moments.
After the knight was done, he spoke. "I cannot ask for your forgiveness, but I intend to stay and defend you while I can."
Rosella's eyes widened. "Oh, no," she said. "Your intention is appreciated, but…" She knew there would be no chance of his survival, and she could tell by the darkness in his face that he knew it, too. So she just said it. "That is very noble of you, but this loss of life must stop."
"Lady, my life is forfeit for what I have done today," he said.
"How can it be?" Rosella asked. "You have followed the orders you were given."
"That is true," he replied. "But I cannot live with myself, knowing I have done what I have done," he said despairingly.
"But Daventry will need protection and help," Rosella reasoned. "I am going to try to persuade the dragon to leave us after today."
"Many have tried to persuade it to leave, without success," the knight said. "But I will stay here with you, unless you earnestly desire me to go."
"I do desire that you go," Rosella said adamantly, staring into his eyes. "You have all my forgiveness and goodwill. It seems a waste to throw your life away when there is no hope of saving mine."
"I will unwillingly honor your last request, but you sentence me to a life of darkness," he replied with sorrow. "Let me at least leave you with this last advice: If you can overcome your fear in your mind, you will not suffer quite as much. It is difficult to do, but if you can manage it, it will help you."
Rosella nodded. "I think I understand," she said. "I'll try. And don't give in to darkness; you may be able to offer help to someone else."
The knight looked at her for one more moment, and Rosella thought she could see tears in his eyes. Then he turned back to the dark stone stairway and vanished through it.
Rosella was all alone. She tried to remain calm, but already she could feel fear creeping up into her mind. She wondered how soon the dragon would arrive. Would she have to wait a long time?
She slumped against the ropes, but found that painful and quickly stood up straight again. She closed her eyes and silently called on Nature, Magic and Mystery for courage and guidance. Rosella soon found that looking around at the mountains was less frightening than shutting her eyes. She tried to think of what she would say to the dragon when it came.
She didn't have to wait very long. It must have been fewer than ten minutes after the knight left her that Rosella was aware of the dragon's presence approaching. She heard its beating wings as it slowed and alighted on the scorched earth of the ledge where she was.
Rosella was awed at the size of it, as she had never seen the dragon before. She had expected it to be large, but this was a huge beast with six piercing eyes on three heads—a green, scaly monster out of a child's nightmare. Flames shot from its three faces as it breathed, and Rosella felt the heat coming from them.
All three heads turned on their long, twisty necks to gaze at her. She could feel herself shiver with horror at the mere sight of the dragon, but she knew if she didn't speak now, she wouldn't have another chance.
Throwing caution to the wind and summoning all the courage she had, she addressed the dragon.
"Dragon, listen to me," she raised her voice firmly. She thought the dragon looked surprised at being commanded in such a way, but she didn't wait for further reaction. Feeling more rash than she ever had in life, she continued, "After today, leave Daventry. You have laid waste to this land, and there is nothing left here for you."
Then the dragon spoke. "You are in no position to command me," its three voices said together, each one similar to the others, but each slightly different. It was a horrifying sound. "You will not deny me the pleasure of charring living things."
Rosella shuddered, but she was determined to engage. "You know I am the princess of Daventry," she declared. "You have killed the other maidens of this land. I am your greatest conquest and your final victory. There is nothing left here for you," she repeated.
The dragon seemed to laugh at this. "That is false," the three voices said. "There are small ones I will still wait for."
Rosella was furious. "Never have I known such despicable wickedness," she hurled her words at the monster before her. "You will be judged harshly by all Nature, Magic and Mystery when it is your time."
"I have no fear of those things, Princess of Daventry," the dragon's three voices boasted. "I rule nature. I am confounded by no mystery. And there is no one in this land with the magic to come against me."
Rosella could think of nothing further to say. She found herself shaking with horror as she saw her last words have no effect. The dragon leered at her with its baleful glare, and she knew the final seconds of her life were counting down.
She thought of how hard her father had fought to keep this from happening. She thought of how grievous it was to her parents to lose both of their children. She thought of how all the people of Daventry shut themselves in their homes or fled the land in fear, and how the lovely countryside was burned. This would be the end of her family, and probably the end of Daventry as anyone knew it.
She thought of every girl who had died here before her, and what awaited them afterward. She wondered if her brother looked anything like she did, and if she would know him if she saw him.
Rosella found tears falling from her eyes, and even as she remembered the last words of her father's knight before he left, she could feel every kind of terror, dismay and sorrow ready to strike at her and undo her.
Crying quietly, she shut her eyes, stood rigid and waited.