Is this the right thing to do? Maybe he’s feigning! What should I counter if I get this one in time?
His opponent’s sword screamed towards his chest, but Phillip’s sword moved ever so slowly as his brain tried to comprehend all the different counters he could make.
“Sluggish, boy! You dawdle about as Sir Oscardo whips his sword mercifully about, pretending that you are blocking him!” Geoffrey, Phillip’s father, shouted from outside the fighting arena.
Phillip, an exceptionally tall but thin young man, sighed and dropped his guard, pulling off his hot leather helmet.
Oscardo put the tip of his blade in the ground and walked to the side of the arena where Geoffrey sat on a large chair. “King Geoffrey, I believe he’s improving, perhaps you just can’t see it yet.”
“No, he’s not, and whose fault is that? You’re supposed to be teaching him, aren’t you?” Geoffrey scowled, “You failed, I don’t expect to see you tomorrow, and don’t expect to get rewarded!” Geoffrey said.
Oscardo looked down, exasperated.
Phillip, stringy brown hair hanging down around his face, walked over, still breathing heavily. “I’m sorry, Father. I just can’t do it.”
“You’re right,” Geoffrey frowned, twisting his ring. “You can’t fight, you can’t do anything. What a disappointment you are!”
Phillip swallowed, putting a hand on top of his head and plunging his sword into the soft ground.
Geoffrey softened, “Look, you are very close to becoming a knight. Just defeat that boar tonight, son. Then I’ll have something to be proud of.” Geoffrey patted him on the shoulder.
Phillip nodded and turned away with sigh.
The arena was a cobblestone area on the ground with a fence around it and a platform on one end from which nobility usually sat and watched.
Phillip left the arena and walked towards the hill that obscured the view of the city.
“Phillip!” Oscardo hurried to catch up with him, and as soon as they were out in the open field and out of hearing of Geoffrey, he spoke again. “I’m sorry I failed you. You have potential! You just need to figure out how to tap into it. Swordsmanship is more than just a learned skill. It’s an art and that can’t come from overthinking. Get out of your head and let your instinct and imagination take control.”
Phillip smiled, “It’s not your fault. Thanks for everything. I regret you won’t be working here anymore.”
Oscardo smiled back and shook his hand. “I have full faith that you will turn out to be a distinguished man someday. Thank you for allowing me to train you.”
Phillip looked down and released the handshake, not replying.
Then they parted ways: the trainer to the town and Phillip to the castle, a short walk away over the hill, down the steps to the courtyard. He walked over the bridge and through the open wooden gate.
A handful of small buildings and the fortified tower, or keep, comprised the courtyard.
“Hey, Phillip!” a page boy called out as he was walking from one two-story house to the other. “How was training today?”
Phillip smiled, “Oh, fine. I hope you will like training better than I do though.”
The page laughed and hurried on to his duties.
Phillip entered the large manor, treading on the new marble floor they had just put in.
Five ladies were all talking together while embroidering, and a muscled young man was sharpening his blade by the light of a narrow slit of a window.
“Why Phillip, you look positively exhausted!” Lady Dionisia, Phillip’s mother, called out, causing all the ladies’ eyes to turn upon him.
Phillip stood uncomfortably, not knowing what to say.
The young man looked up from his blade, “Of course, he is, Mother! He’d be exhausted fighting a butterfly, much less anything else!”
The group of ladies laughed.
Phillip’s jaw clenched.
“Oh, do leave him alone, Richard. Aren’t you tired after a long day of training?” Dionisia queried, her needle poised above the canvas.
Richard grinned, “Yes, but his training is child’s play compared to mine.”
“Let me off; just let me off!” Phillip shouted, blood creeping into his face.
“We’ve let you off so many times, and you’ve proved that you’re not one of us. You’re weak,” Richard spat.
Dionisia moaned, putting a hand to her forehead, “Tell them to stop.”
“Hush up or take it outside, boys,” Dionisia’s chief handmaiden said sternly.
Richard stood. “Well?”
Phillip turned away and walked coolly up the stairs, anger boiling.
Once to his room, he ripped off the leather armor and flung himself on the bed. It was cool in the keep, with only a slit of light streaming in the window with a breath of fresh air.
I must show them that I belong. I can be a warrior, I can fight and—and kill and defeat.
A song burst from a tree outside his room, and he hurried up to peer through the crack at the little springtime bird.
Phillip glanced around his simple room. His eyes lit up as they came to rest on a beautiful leather-bound book.
Grabbing the book and a few other items, he stepped out of his room into the narrow hallway where all of the bedchambers branched off of.
He snuck through the quiet halls down the stairs, through the servant’s corridors, the family quarters, and out the front door into the fresh morning air without being seen by his mother, brother or any of the ladies-in-waiting.
Going out behind the castle to the small garden area between the stables and the outer wall, he hurried to an old tree whose branches stretched out into the sky.
Sitting down, he opened the soft leather book and ran a hand over the rough parchment pages sewn together with brown thread. He got out the ink and the quill pen and began scrawling out letters onto the page, telling of the horrible time he had this afternoon.
A soft smile appeared on his face. Writing was something that brought him solace. None of his family knew how to write or read, and even though his brothers often teased him about it, he secretly felt happy that he could do something they could not. He greatly admired Archbishop Silas and smiled at the memory of sitting beside him, copying letters and learning what they meant.
Hours passed under the old oak, the wind blowing through his brown hair, while he penned out black characters on page after page.
Just then he heard a noise behind him. He looked up and glanced to both sides. Suddenly from behind the tree, his oldest brother, Goram, appeared.
“Mind you, why do you always have to be so stealthy?” Phillip said, wishing to snap his book closed, but knowing not only that the letters must dry first, but that his brother couldn’t read.
Goram rolled his eyes, “Why must you always be out here drawing gibberish in your little book at dinner time? Mum wants you to eat before your big test tonight.”
Phillip blew on the page and then frowned as he closed the book and wrapped the strips of leather back around the book. “Fine!”
They walked to the great hall, a small building built along the inside of the wall towards the front of the keep and beside the stables.
As they entered the hall, all the nobles hushed their conversations to a whisper.
When the feast was at last over, Phillip escaped up to his room until nightfall had come.
That evening, as the sun was setting over the treetops of Callishrim, large torches were being set ablaze and huge bonfire lined the edge of the arena.
A crowd of onlookers shouted and laughed excitedly while the chiefs and nobles sat on a raised platform to one side.
“He’ll never defeat it,” one knight whispered confidentially to another.
The king sat uncomfortably in his chair, a frown extinguishing his face, though half hidden under his mustache. Lady Dionisia sat beside him wearing a bright red dress with gold embroidery and a white veiled hat covering her head.
“Oh, I never cared for them, but if my Phillip wins, I want to see it happen!” She declared to three ladies standing beside her.
The smell of burnt charcoal proceeded from the metal fire rings while the odor of filthy boar drifted from somewhere nearby.
Two servants forced their way through the crowd carrying a wooden crate with wild grunts and squeals coming from inside it. They stepped through the gate and placed the crate in the center of the cobblestone ground and then quickly hurried away.
Sitting on the edge of the platform were Phillip’s two strong, powerful and warrior-like brothers, Richard and Goram.
“I wish Mother hadn’t of come, she hates to see people get mauled by wild beasts,” Richard said in a low tone.
Goram laughed, “Yeah, our poor little brother will probably never make it out alive, much less victorious!”
Beside the platform a man in a white robe and partly bald head stood with his hands folded. Around his neck hung a large silver cross.
“I don’t know why you bothered to come,” a well-known friar in the area said behind him.
The bishop turned slightly, “Who knows, Thomas, he may be the next young man on whom to perform the knighting ceremony. You know how he took to writing and exceeded greatly in music after borrowing my cittern. Perhaps he has improved in this warfare business, however unlikely that seems.”
From behind a tree looking towards the arena, Phillip peered uncomfortably, looking towards the arena.
I just need to force it back into the cage…no, I should sit on his back and cut off his supply of air by choking him. I wouldn’t be able to stay on long though. Perhaps I should pick it up and throw it a few times…how am I going to do this without any weapons? Oh, come on, all it should take is a couple of well-placed fingers in his eyes. If I just trust myself to reasonable maneuvers, I can’t go wrong.
Phillip gulped and slowly walked towards the arena.
The crowd hushed and an awkward silence ensued.
“Ah, there he is! Let the test begin!” Geoffrey said loudly.
Phillip gulped as he saw the wooden crate with the squealing beast inside. He stepped over the fence and slowly walked towards the crate.
Two men on either side of the king’s platform put their trumpets to their lips and blast out the beginning notes.
A squire stood to the side of the wooden box, getting ready to pull the closure off. A few whispers came from the crowd.
“Now!” Geoffrey cried.
The lid came off, the squire ran, and an enraged wild boar raced out of the box.
Phillip, armed with his two hands and armored with only his tunic and pants, licked his lips.
Here he comes! All right, let’s go!
With greasy long hair and two white tusks pointed at Phillip, the boar ran straight into him, sending him flying to the muddy cobblestone ground with a cry.
Phillip hit the ground with a thud. The faint pain coming from the gash in his leg was quickly overcome with the urge to fight for his life.
Phillip pushed the grunting boar off of him, trying to hold it back as he rolled to a kneeling position.
The crowd cheered.
The boar came at him again. Phillip grabbed it by a tusk, pushing the squirming beast away and getting his feet under him.
It squealed and slipping out of his hold, rushed forward, opened its mouth and bit his finger with sharp yellow teeth.
Phillip gritted his teeth as he leaned over the animal, who was trying to get around him, and grabbed the beast around the waist, but he was far too heavy to pick up.
Instead, the boar took off running with Phillip on his back.
Phillip could hear the crowd laughing and he gulped as he caught a glance at his father’s frowning face when they zoomed past.
Finally, the boar threw him off his back, and Phillip flew several feet in the air and hit the ground with a thud and a crack! His eyes widened and he struggled for breath, pain wracking his body.
He’s going to maul me to death…I’m going to die. He’ll tear me to pieces in front of all the city. You must get up, Phillip! He thought, grasping for cohesive thoughts, staring up at the dark, starless sky with yellow spots flashing across his eyes.
The crowd gasped, Dionisia screamed, and Geoffrey stood up, watching as the boar charged towards Phillip, with its head lowered.
Phillip rolled out of the way just as the beast came crashing by him. After a few more minutes of feebly wrestling with it, he was exhausted and bleeding all over, his face a mess.
The boar backed up for a running stab, and Phillip shakily began crawling away, his clothing torn with red splotches on it.
“Oh, my precious boy! He’ll die! Do something, Geoffrey!” Dionisia screamed, wide-eyed.
Geoffrey waved his hand in the direction of his two other sons and Goram and Richard leapt up, hurdling the fence and charging the boar. They grabbed it just as it reached Phillip and wrangled it back into the cage, slapping the lid back on.
Phillip collapsed on the cold stone, mud on his face and open wounds all over his body.
Harrowing silence broke as the townspeople all began talking at once, Geoffrey turned away and left the site and Dionisia, white and shaky, also left with the help of her servants. The crowd slowly dispersed.
The boar was taken away by soldiers, and soon Phillip was left alone on the cobblestone ground.
The pain became more real as the flush of the fight wore off. Phillip moaned in pain, too weak to move. His vision blurred from his swollen face.
The torches burned low and the darkness increased.
Blood trickled from his cheek into his mouth, and cold emanated from the ground.
I failed. I’m a disgrace. I will never become a knight and after all my years of hard work, I finally proved everyone right. I don’t belong in the Chevolta family.
Phillip, hearing footsteps rustle through the soft grass, lifted his head. “Who’s there?” he said in a weak voice.
“Just me, Phillip,” came the young voice of the page boy, Hiram. “Here’s some water for you.”
He knelt down and helped Phillip lift his head high enough to drink.
The refreshing water cooled his swollen lips.
“Also, Queen Dionisia gave me some clean clothes for you. Here!” he handed the clothes to Phillip.
“Thank you, Hiram.” Phillip slowly sat up.
Just then a second set of footsteps was heard coming through the grass and both boys turned to look in that direction.
“King Geoffrey sent for you,” came a low voice.
Phillip peered into the darkness as a man stepped into the dim light.
“Pardon me, Sir Darren,” he said recognizing his father’s right-hand man, “But would you give me hand?”
Darren gave no smile but extended his large hand towards the young prince.
Phillip grabbed it and stood up, suppressing the pain.
Hiram followed them quietly as they slowly walked back up the hill into the courtyard of the castle, and through the gate in the wooden wall.
Lights came from the ground level in the keep, lighting the way for the short but awkward walk.
When they walked in the door, Geoffrey was talking in a low tone to an elderly man. They were sitting in the same sitting room the ladies had occupied that afternoon. Geoffrey looked up as they entered. “There he is, fresh out of his defeat.”
Phillip looked down and drug his feet on the marble floor, sitting down on a bench opposite his father and the visitor.
The greying man looked Phillip up and down. “I—I see. I’m not exactly sure he would be much of an aid to Olivere.”
Phillip didn’t speak.
Father’s sending me away. Uncle Olivere is kind though…It wouldn’t be the worst place. But Olivere won’t want me after what happened today. What aid is he speaking of?
Geoffrey shook his head, “Never mind that, a real battle will do Phillip good.” He turned to his son, “My brother is having difficulties with a group of bandits and lawless men that continue to attack his region. When we go to Boarland for the summer, you will be going up there to help him out and, of course, to overcome your current state of disgrace.”
Phillip glanced up, questions in his eyes and a deep sense of betrayal and desertion in his heart, knowing this was as good as being shunned. He slowly nodded and lowered his head in shame and heartbreak.
Geoffrey waved him away and Phillip stood up and slowly walked out of the room.
Will I ever be welcomed back by the family?
He groped for the door handle of his room in the dark hallway.
How can they…after today?
He opened the door and, after kicking off his shoes, crashed on his bed, his thoughts whirling around and around until he drifted off to sleep.
Thousands of miles from Irithria and Boarland, over a large body of saltwater, in the kingdom of Krataria, a formidable stone castle was lying in a valley off the coast. Red flags featuring dragons decorated the walls of the inner courtyard, while rawhide drums with paintings of the same serpent-like creature hung from the towering ramparts.
A tall, middle-aged man stood at the window as he flipped his curly black hair and turned to face an elderly gentleman.
“I’m glad you finally came to your senses and joined my side,” the first man said, the handle of his broadsword rubbing against his dark leather armor as he placed his hand on its hilt.
The shrewd elderly man stroked his silver beard and responded, “And when shall this take place, Lord Sᴓren?”
The large courtroom on the fourth floor of the keep stood nearly empty, only the silent murmurers occupying it as they spoke in low tones.
The bright red sash across Sᴓren’s middle sagged under the weight of the sword pulling it down.
“Tomorrow,” the black-haired man, Sᴓren said, glancing behind him.
Just then the door flew open.
Sᴓren whirled around, hand moving to the sword by his side as a third man, muscular but with an old and wrinkled face, entered. “Father?” Sᴓren said, uncertainty clouding his face. He glanced at the shrewd lord.
“Is it true, my son? Is it true that you would have swept me off my throne, tomorrow even, to crown yourself king?” The Kratarian King Theobald’s heavy eyebrows bent low in anger, furs and leathers hung about his shoulders and a crown of silver adorned silver locks of hair.
“Calm down, who has been telling you these lies? I am more loyal to you than any of your subjects!” Sᴓren declared, eyebrows raised.
Theobald looked over at the greying man with whom Sᴓren had been speaking.
“It’s just as I suspected, my King,” the elderly lord said in a low tone to Sᴓren’s father.
Theobald’s frown turned to one of intense sorrow as he slowly turned back to Sᴓren, “How could you turn them all against me? How could you do this to me?”
Sᴓren’s lips parted into a demeaning smirk, “Oh, Father, you’re getting too old to rule this kingdom. It’s time someone with younger, with…fresher brains is in charge…see, I won’t be thoroughly replacing you, only taking over those pesky duties of yours so you can—can spend more time on the things you enjoy!”
Theobald’s expression turned to rage as he stepped closer to his son, “I will hear no more! You must be punished, and severely at that, for your actions!”
“You wouldn’t—” Sᴓren began.
“Oh, I would! You are banished! I never want to see your face in this castle, not in this town, not in this kingdom! Not ever!” Theobald’s eyes flashed as he raised his hand and pointed out the door.
Sᴓren’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open, “Think about what you’re doing!”
“And, if you ever do come back,” Theobald’s eyes darkened, “you will surely die.”
Sᴓren gritted his teeth, “And who will enforce these laws? Who isn’t on my side now, old man?”
“I will.” Theobald’s hand tightened around the hilt of his sword. “I expect you gone by sundown.”
Sᴓren glanced at his father’s angry hand and slowly turned around, walking from the room. He slammed the door and headed down the stairs at a furious pace.
When he reached the nobles chambers, he stalked into his room.
A lovely woman was sitting on a bench, painting a drum. She looked up when Sᴓren came in.
“We’re leaving, Haldis. Pack your things.” Sᴓren said. Without looking up he grabbed his cape.
“My love, what are you talking about?” she demanded, setting the paint brush down.
Just then a young man entered.
“You heard me! Father has banished me, and you and the boys are coming with!” Sᴓren replied, beginning to get red in the face.
The boy in the doorway dropped his armload of firewood with an open mouth.
“Stop standing there, Derik, go get your brother!”
He hurried out the door.
“What have you done!” Haldis said in indignant tone. “You wouldn’t dare ruin the boy’s chance for the throne!”
“I’ll conquer some fine piece of land, Haldis. We’ll be king and queen and our boys can be princes.”
Haldis picked up her paintbrush and began stroking again at the red curve. “Ah, my sweet, that sounds nice, but I think I’d prefer it here. You can call for me when you acquire this alleged land. Everyone knows all that’s out there is a great sea and some barbaric isles.”
Sᴓren gritted his teeth, “You’re coming, and that’s final! Pack your bags!”
Haldis jumped in her seat and then regained her composure. “If that’s the way you feel about it, love, I suppose I will,” she said.
“Good. I’ll go bring together my followers. Father won’t have a kingdom left by the time I leave.”