Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Checkmate

I've decided to give everyone a little something to read for Christmas. Remember that I want to learn from my mistakes too, so any input on the story is appreciated.


A concerned look adorned the face of the king as he glanced around his throne room. Two priests flanked him and his queen, with knights on horseback guarding the side doors. On top of two of the four spiral staircases at the extremes of the room, archers were posted, bows trained at the front door. ‘Vhern would be a fool to come in here,’ William thought to himself. The white and black tile that ran the entire length of the throne room brought the memory of the current war to his mind. His army of white had been in an epic war with the black empire Reval for generations. King William had taken over lordship of the lands of Trahlm after his father passed away. His father had held off Reval’s mercenary forces as had his grandfather. William did not want war, but war had come to him. Vhern had held the white castle under siege for over a year. The castle couldn’t support itself for much longer, but Vhern’s forces couldn’t last long either under the constant bombardment of King Williams’s catapults. They had reached a stalemate. William knew that Vhern would have to make a desperate effort to take Trahlm soon. Even so, he knew that eventually, his just and true ways would break the wickedness of Vhern and end the war. William sighed.
“What’s wrong my love?” The queen’s delicate voice penetrated his thoughts.
“The same thing that is always wrong, my dear.” The king turned his attention back to the entrance of the throne room.
Suddenly, the door flung wide open revealing one of the king’s knights. He staggered in, covered with sword wounds.
“Sire, Vhern has entered the castle! The army of Reval is coming for you!”
“What?” cried the King.
“Yes Sire, it’s true.” The knight gasped. “Quick, run to the tower for protection!”
The knight made a retching sound and bent over. He fell to the ground with a moan, as he did, the sword that had stabbed him pulled itself back into the dark.
“There will be no garrisoning in the tower for you William. I have you in my sights.”
Vhern stepped into the throne room, his heavy boot cracking the white tile it landed on. His wife entered next to him. ‘He brought his queen?’ William pondered, ‘No knights or archers or even priests? Just his queen? I knew his move would be desperate, but not this desperate.’
“I am sorry Vhern,” William’s voice echoed throughout the room, “but you and your bride will not be enough to kill me, archers, fire when ready!”
His bowmen instantly raised their bows, aiming at Vhern’s forehead.
“Not so fast William! Vhern cried out, his smug voice irritating Trahlm’s King. “I said I have you in my sights. If your archers fire, then so do mine.”
William glanced around seeing nothing. Then he looked at the other two staircases. Archers from Reval stood there, bows aiming at him and his queen.
“Stand down,” he commanded his archers.
“That’s right,” sneered Vhern, “stand down William.”
“Never!”
Everyone in the room turned to where the cry had come from. One of the side doors had been flung open revealing a small band of men. William recognized them as the castle serfs and squires, the ones that served the knights. Each bore a shield and sword that was just a little too big for them. They ran in and positioned themselves in front of the king, forming an unbreakable line. ‘What brave and loyal hearts!’ William cheered for them inwardly.
Vhern just laughed, “Men, come in and show King William what a precious irony this is.
From the doorway emerged two priests, followed by two knights on horseback, and finally, the exact same number of serfs that had come to King William’s aid. The forces of Trahlm and Reval stared at each other for a long time. One of William’s knights, Richard, lay an armored hand on the squire in front of him.
“Stay brave, stay strong, stay loyal.” It was the phrase he had taught them since they had first come to the castle.
Patrick, the squire that Richard had rested his hand upon, looked at his enemy in fear. ‘How can Sir Richard speak of bravery at a time such as this?’ He wondered. It had not been Patrick’s idea to enter the throne room, and it certainly was not his intention to fight the army of Reval. He eyed the far corner. If he could just get there, he could try to make a stand, and not have to worry about an attack from behind.
The throne room was quite the picture. On one side, the hateful armies of Reval clothed in black, on the other, Trahlm’s forces in glistening white armor. The silence went on forever. One of William’s serfs stepped foreword, followed by another. The serfs of Vhern advanced as well. Vhern pulled one back.
“Stand your ground you fool and protect me!” He hissed.
Sir Richard took up position in front of his king. “I will guard you till the end my liege.” his confident voice filling the king with pride for his men.
“No, Sir Richard, protect them.” King William motioned toward his serfs, “They’re just boys.”
“Yes, my liege.” Sir Richard charged toward Vhern. “For the King!” He yelled.
The broken lines of serfs collided and the clanging of their swords pierced the silence. Patrick ran foreword, eyes on the corner. Only one of Vhern’s men stood in his way. The evil squire charged him, sword flailing. Patrick dove under the pathetic attack and stabbed the squire in the back. What Patrick lacked in bravery, he had always made up for in his skill with a blade.
“It’s over! Reval will fall!” Sir Richard shouted from across the room. Patrick glanced over to see Sir Richard dispatch of the serf that had been protection Vhern.
“You’re brave, I’ll give you that,” Vhern sneered at Richard, “but it’s that same bravery that will bring about your death.”
Sir Richard looked around him. Vhern had pulled out his sword, a knight stood to his right, ready to attack, and an archer had him in his sights. ‘I will probably die here,’ Richard thought to himself, ‘but let it not be said that Sir Richard’s last stand was done in vain!’ Suddenly, Vhern’s queen pulled a dagger out of the folds of her dress and stabbed Richard in the leg. He fell from his horse, which ran off. He staggered to his feet, sword in hand. A low growl formed in his throat which turned into a full war cry. He charged Vhern but the knight stepped in his way. The impurities in their swords rained sparks across the ground. In a last attempt, Richard thrust his sword at the knight. It found its mark. The knight fell to the ground, but not before an arrow pierced Richard in the back. He dropped to the ground as well.
“No!” cried Patrick. The man that had raised him, given him hope, and believed in him had died. Patrick fought tears as he stumbled into the corner next to Sir Richard. The archer had moved on, not even noticing him. Patrick stood at Richard’s side. Suddenly, a feeling he had never felt before emerged, anger. He glared at Vhern. Looking to his right he saw the horse that Richard had ridden. Patrick’s resolve was set. He marched over to the animal and swung himself onto its back. The words of Richard rang through his head: ‘stay brave, stay strong, stay loyal.’ The horse reared back, unused to the weight of its new owner. Patrick had become a knight.
“No, I won’t do it, I won’t!” Vhern’s queen cried out. Vhern had pulled her in front of him to protect him from one of William’s archers. She tried to escape his firm grip.
“You can’t move. They’ll kill me!” Vhern shouted at her.
They fought at each other until the bowman fired his arrow. At the last second, Vhern swung his wife in the way. Silently, she fell limp in Vhern’s arms. A hush fell on the battle scene. Both sides paused to stare. Vhern glanced around in contempt.
“She’s nothing! Just like all of you, nothing, just my pawns.”
The room remained motionless. King William drew his sword, “May the black empire Reval fall, and you with it!” he shouted.
“For Sir Richard!” Patrick shouted.
“For Trahlm!” King William’s army chorused
One by one, the army of Reval fell until all that remained was Vhern. William advanced toward him. Their blades met. Yelling over the clanging of their swords Vhern shouted, “My grandfather took your white castle years ago and this will be no different.”
A swift upstroke caught the white king off guard.
“But we’re still fighting now. My ancestors have always prevailed against Reval. So no, it will be no different.”
William regained his footing and resumed attack.
“Trahlm will belong to me William!”
“Never!”
Suddenly Vhern knocked King William’s sword from his hands. As William dove to get it Vhern raised his sword to strike down Trahlm’s king. Everyone in the throne room gasped. A moment of silence followed that seemed to last as long as the war itself. Then, an arrow cut through the air, finding its mark in the black king’s stomach. Vhern fell back onto the tiled floor. William, found up his sword and stood over him, pressing its blade to Vhern’s throat. Patrick rode up.
William spoke softly, “Go tell the people that it’s over. The war is over.” Just saying it filled him with relief.
“Yes sire.” Patrick galloped out of the door. Vhern looked up at William, the fires of hate in his eyes slowly dimming. As his last breath escaped him, he uttered a lone word.
“Checkmate.”

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