The next day, sometime around noon, Lloyd was having trouble hunting. The deer that he had caught yesterday he had decided to dry into jerky, and he wanted something a bit more substantial than stale crusts of bread for the time in-between, which would be several days, if not weeks. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to be finding even a chipmunk, let alone a deer.
As he was thinking about how hungry he was from eating basically nothing for breakfast, he suddenly came upon a healthy young buck, absent-mindedly noticing that it was eating the leaves off something. The buck raised its head and only seemed slightly suspicious as Lloyd crept closer, crossbow ready. He took careful aim, making sure he wouldn’t miss. His finger was about to apply pressure to the trigger when a loud noise coming from the road startled the deer, causing it to leap off into the underbrush.
Lloyd, who was feeling positively famished, pushed his way through the bushes and past some trees over to the road to see exactly who had startled away his supper. It was a prince. Lloyd could tell it was a prince because he wore a circlet of gold around his head. The prince looked very handsome. He was riding in a litter carried by four pitiful looking slaves who didn’t look very happy. A regiment of soldiers wearing chain mail marched around the litter, and a figure in black-and-red robes and cloak was riding a coal black stallion in front of the procession.
After Lloyd had taken this in, he realized that one of the slave’s backs were bleeding, and that the dashing looking prince was whipping one of them.
“Hurry up!” he roared as he whipped the unfortunate slave again. Lloyd decided that he didn’t like this royal prince. He stepped out of the woods.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Lloyd said. “the bleeding will cause them too faint, and then they wouldn’t be able to carry you at all.”
A bunch of heads turned to see who the person was that had spoken so recklessly. The prince glared. The cloaked figure looked at Lloyd with an interested expression. “Kill this impertinent underling who dare question me,” growled the prince.
“Yes sir,” said the soldiers. They drew their swords and turned towards Lloyd. Then they charged. Lloyd closed his eyes for a second, then opened them, revealing his suddenly transformed snake-like necromancer eyes. He felt the familiar rush of power fill him, followed by a sensation of pulling something up from somewhere deep below, and a bunch of skeletons armed with old, rusty weapons materialized.
The tough-looking soldiers hesitated only a second, surprised, and then continued the charge, attacking the creepy looking but not very skilled skeletons. Lloyd continued summoning the undead, slowly overpowering the soldiers through sheer numbers. They slowly shifted over from the offense to the defense, and they seemed to know that they were losing. After the dozen soldiers gradually became five soldiers, they retreated back to the prince’s litter, cowering.
“I said kill him, you idiots!” yelled the prince as he thrashed one of them with his whip.
“Kill him yourself,” retorted the soldier. After he spoke, he seemed to realize what he had just said, and covered his mouth with his hand, terrified. The prince immediately drew his sword.
“You know what happens to anyone that argues with me,” he said coldly as he ran the soldier through.
“That was mean,” spoke Lloyd with raised eyebrows. The cruelty of this prince reminded him a lot of the necromancers back where he used to live.
“Galdore, kill this brat, because my soldiers seem to be too wimpy to do the job,” the prince said harshly. This whole time the cloaked figure had been studying Lloyd closely. Now, he turned to face Lloyd.
“Yes, your highness,” the robed figure said to the prince in a deep voice. “As for you, unfortunate whelp, you seem familiar. Have we met?” A fireball appeared in his hand.
Lloyd could now see that this figure was a wizard, probably a dark one. He also felt, now that the wizard mentioned it and after he had looked at the wizard’s cloaked face, that the wizard did, in fact, seem familiar.
“Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because you will be dead soon,” continued Galdore, chucking the fireball at him.
“I hope not,” answered Lloyd, dodging the fireball. “Here, have some skeletons.” Galdore incinerated half of the skeletons with a fireball, and then the other half with another fireball.
“Are skeletons all that you have? If so, you are one wimpy necromancer,” Galdore told him.
“Well, all you seem to have is fireballs,” defended Lloyd.
“Just kill him already!” interjected the prince.
“Yes, your highness,” answered Galdore. “You want more than fireballs, young necromancer? I’ll give you more than fireballs.”
As he said this, Lloyd heard a rumbling sound, and dark thunderclouds began to form overhead. “Uh oh,” he squeaked, and he drew his sword. Lloyd’s sword was a necromancer sword, which meant that was made of witchsteel, forged carefully with wraiths trapped inside it. Lloyd’s particular sword had seven wraiths. Stronger witchsteel swords could have up to twelve wraiths, and the most powerful ever recorded had eighteen wraiths.
Enchanting steel into witchsteel and trapping wraiths inside of them was an art known only to necromancers, and only the most powerful necromancer blacksmiths could do it. The penalty of giving away the secret was death. Lloyd’s sword was the weakest of the Viper clan’s witchsteel swords, and he had stolen it when he had escaped. One of the other swords belonged to his father and had nine wraiths. The other one belonged to his uncle and had ten wraiths.
Lloyd took his sword, and thrust it upward, releasing a burst of power that ripped through the clouds with a green glow. Galdore winced and faltered for a second but kept forming the clouds. Thunder and lightning flashed, and Lloyd felt exhausted from using so much magic at once. He desperately sent some skeletons at Galdore again, but a deafeningly loud thunderbolt launched itself out of the sky and blasted them to pieces.
Lloyd turned and sprinted as fast as he could away from his more powerful opponent. He held up his sword as another bolt flashed down, this time at him. As it came down, he threw some more power out of the sword and saw seven dark shapes leap out from his sword and redirect the bolt into a tree. He kept on charging through the forest, until he realized that they weren’t following him anymore. He slowed down to a walk, and eventually arrived back at his run-down stronghold. The skeleton let him in, and he went to the kitchen hoping that Ralph had figured out something to eat. After his encounter, he was hungrier than ever. Plus, he had missed lunch, and it was almost supper time.
Ralph was baking bread, and he looked at Lloyd in surprise. Lloyd’s clothes were all torn up, he was covered in cuts and scratches, and his hair was slightly burnt from a fireball that had come unnervingly close. “What happened to you?” Ralph asked.
“Hmph,” grumbled Lloyd.
“Oh, I see,” said Ralph. He cut a slice of bread off of an already finished loaf. “Here’s some bread to cheer you up, but it will probably only whet your appetite.”
“Right now, I’d eat anything,” spoke Lloyd around the mouthful of bread that he had crammed into his mouth. Ralph picked up the entire loaf, grabbed some plates, and they both headed into the dining hall and sat at the small table. They gobbled down the bread, and Lloyd headed up the spiral staircase to his bed chamber, where he took off the sword and scabbard and placed them under the bed. He was exhausted from all the magic he had used and the running, so he collapsed into his bed and promptly fell asleep.
The next morning, back at George’s castle, Irvina was sitting on her bed, thinking about what Aldwyn had said. She tried not to let herself hope that he would think of anything, because she felt there was no way to avoid marrying Bob, no matter how hard Aldwyn thought. Last night, Darreck had said that a messenger had arrived from a nearby inn saying that Bob would arrive today, around midday.
She went downstairs past some windows that were letting the morning sun in, and into the dining hall with the fancy chandelier, and a page gave her breakfast. She ate her bacon in silence while George and Darreck came in, talking.
“He said Bob was attacked by a necromancer kid,” remarked Darreck to George. “We all know who that was.”
“How did Bob survive?” gasped George.
“The messenger said something about a wizard. Oh hello, Irvina, a messenger came this morning saying that prince Bob is going to be a little late today, due to some injured soldiers that he has to find a doctor for,” said Darreck. “and I know how disappointing that is for you,” he added with a smirk.
“Okay,” she said with a glare. She shoved the last bit of food into her mouth and left the room. She went down the hallway that led to her tutor’s office, where she did all her lessons. Her tutor was waiting for her, and he said that he was excited that she was getting married, and that today’s lesson would be about the respect that a queen must show her husband.
She listened to his boring, repetitive lessons while trying to look interested, and also trying not to fall asleep. She had not gotten much sleep last night, and when she did fall asleep, she had had nightmares about Bob arriving. In her dream, Bob had turned into a hobgoblin while George remarked that since Bob was rich it didn’t matter what he looked like or what species he was, meanwhile Darreck had cackled nastily the whole time.
As she thought about her dream, she accidentally began falling asleep, and woke up abruptly with her tutor’s “Harrumph! And a princess must never fall asleep during her lessons!”
When her tutor finally finished telling her his boring etiquette tips, she left for lunch. When she arrived at the dining hall, she found all of the king’s nobles and earls there.
“Hello, Irvina,” said Dale excitedly when she entered. “We’re going to host a tournament in you and prince Bob’s honor!”
“Yay…” she said dejectedly.
“All right everyone, let’s eat!” called George from the head of the table. Irvina and Dale went to their appropriated seats. Everybody waited for George to have the first bite, and then they dug in. In the center of the table there was a roasted pig with an apple in its mouth, with other less dramatic meals around it. It looked good, but Irvina felt to dismal to eat much.
Everybody ate, laughed, and talked about the upcoming tournament and the marriage. Everybody told Irvina that it was wonderful that she was getting married, and that they couldn’t wait to meet the bridegroom. Irvina didn’t really feel all the excitement. All she felt was dread.
When everybody was done gorging themselves on the delicacies, they went out into the courtyard, where the knights were preparing for jousting. Irvina noticed Darreck was a member of the number of jousters. As everybody waited for the tournament to be prepared, the drawbridge cranked opened and a handsome, burly prince rode in on a large stallion. Behind him rode another figure. He was garbed in a black and red cloak and was also riding a stallion.
“Ah! You must be Prince Bob,” George said to him.
“That I am. I see you are hosting a tournament,” replied Bob.
“Hello, Bob,” said Darreck, arriving at the group with Dale. “The last time I saw you, you were chopping a goblin’s head off.”
“Oh, yes, I’ve chopped many goblin’s heads off,” said Bob. “So, where’s my bride?”
“She’s right… wait… where did she go?” wondered Darreck.
“I’ll go find her,” said Dale.
Irvina had sneaked off the moment Bob had arrived, and she was sitting in her room when Dale found her.
“There you are, Irvina, I finally found you,” he said. He looked at her third-best dress that she was wearing. “And make yourself presentable,” he added. Irvina scowled at him. “Or not,” he muttered. “But you still have to come downstairs!” he called from halfway down the steps.
She walked down the spiral stairs, wishing she could stay in her room and lock the door. When she completed the trek down, everyone was staring at her. Darreck, with his smirk larger than usual, George, who was staring at her proudly, Dale, who had a you didn’t make yourself look presentable accusing look, all the nobles and earls, who all just looked vaguely interested, and finally… Bob. Bob was smiling nicely enough, but Irvina saw a cruel, malicious glint in his eyes. Irvina felt so helpless that she wanted to scream.
Just then, a feeling of recklessness washed over her. She glanced at the portcullis, still open from when Bob had arrived.
“So, Irvina, this is Bob-” began Darreck, but Irvina had broken into a sprint towards the gate to the palace. “What are you… hey! Get back over here!” yelled Darreck. Irvina shoved through the crowd of nobles and earls, who all looked considerably more interested now.
She glanced over her shoulder and saw Darreck, Dale, and Bob, all chasing her. Bob was in the front, running much faster than she was. George was just standing where he was, looking confused.
Before she reached the portcullis, Bob grabbed her arm in a grip of iron. As she was jolted to a stop, Bob smacked her across the face, no longer smiling.
“Don’t you ever try to escape again, because if you do, next time you’ll get more than just a slap,” he warned nastily. Then, for good measure, he slapped her again. By this time Darreck and Dale had caught up. Dale looked slightly uncomfortable, Irvina noticed, and winced when Bob had hit her.
“Come now, sister,” said Darreck coolly. “the tournament is about to start.”
They all went back to the tournament area. George told Irvina that though he understood that she was shy, and a lot of people had been looking at her, just running off like that was not appropriate. After he finished lecturing her, everybody took their seats, and Irvina sat as far away from Bob as possible.
“All right folks!” began the announcer, in an obnoxiously bright uniform. “The tournament is ready to begin! First up is…” there was a dramatic pause. “Sir Rogers and Sir William! Let the jousting begin!”
The two knights mounted their horses on opposite sides of the field, lowered their lances, and charged at each other. Their lances smashed together and broke, sending splinters everywhere. Nobody was unhorsed, so they repeated the process until Sir William got knocked off, to the mixed cheering and booing of the crowd, which included a bunch of peasants that had come over to watch.
“…And now, up next, is Sir Cornelius and…” The announcer gave another of his dramatic pauses. “Prince Darreck!” he said at last, to the wild cheers of the crowd. Darreck and Sir Cornelius mounted their steeds and took up their positions. When the announcer gave the signal, they charged. Darreck knocked his opponent off on the first round and everybody cheered, except Sir Cornelius’ Mother and his Father, who was an earl.
Even though Darreck was an excellent jouster, he wasn’t the best in the kingdom and only got in third, beaten by George’s best knights. However, that didn’t stop the proud king from congratulating him over and over again. Darreck took the praise humbly in front of George, but later he gave a conceited smirk at all the knights that he had beaten. Irvina tried to sneak off to her room again when Bob came over with his soldiers and grabbed her arm for the second time.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he said in a dangerous voice. “I hope you weren’t trying to hide, because we’re about to leave. Guards, lock her in the wagon.”
“Yes sir,” said one of the soldiers. He roughly grabbed Irvina and forced her into a cart and locked the door. As they exited the portcullis, George, Dale, Darreck, the nobles and the earls all said goodbye, not seeming to notice or care that she was in an uncomfortable wagon with a locked door.
Aldwyn had gone to the castle that afternoon, saw the tournament, and realized that Bob was already there, and was about to leave with Irvina. That canceled out all of his “waylay Bob on the road” plans, and he only had two realistic options left. One of the options would be to travel all the way to the Emperor’s palace and convince him of Bob’s cruelty to his subjects. That options would take weeks, and it would be extremely hard to get an audience with the emperor.
The other option would be to convince Lloyd to save her, and have Lloyd hide her in his castle where George wouldn’t suspect her to be. Even if George knew she was there, he hadn’t ever been able to successfully invade Lloyd’s fortress before, so he probably wouldn’t be able to do it then. The main problem with this plan would be the extreme difficulty of convincing Lloyd to do it. Lloyd disliked royalty a lot, so going out of his way to save some prissy princess would definitely not be the sort of thing he would want to do.
The other problem with that plan would be that even if Lloyd tried his best to rescue Irvina, he might fail. Lloyd was definitely powerful, but not that powerful. Even with the help of his shade, which Aldwyn still disapproved of, sneaking by and defeating thousands of trained mercenaries is no small feat. Plus, Aldwyn didn’t like the look of that cloaked guy. He smelled like black magic.
After much speculation, Aldwyn decided that the Lloyd plan was better, so he opened the door to his lofty cottage and climbed down the apple tree, grabbing and eating an apple on the way. He headed out toward Lloyd’s fortress, making a mental note to save the “keeping the princess in Lloyd’s castle”, part for telling Lloyd after he got back with Irvina. As Aldwyn’s mind wandered, he walked through the forest on the most direct path to Lloyd’s ruinous stronghold, smelling the nice woodsy smell that was emanating from the forest.
As the castle came into view, Aldwyn thought about how he would convince Lloyd to save Irvina. He knocked on the rotting gate. The skeleton stood there, waiting, until it seemed to receive some sort of signal from inside the castle grounds, whereupon it pulled on the rope to crank open the portcullis. The gate opened, and Ralph stood there.
“Lloyd! Aldwyn’s here!” he called. Lloyd came down with cloth wrapped around several parts of his arms and legs, and he had scratches on his face.
Aldwyn glanced at him in surprise. “What happened to you?” he asked. Lloyd looked grumpy.
“I had a run in with a cruel prince and a powerful dark wizard.” He said, as they went to a room with furniture and sat down.
“Really? That prince would be Bob the Rich, who just married Irvina against her will,” remarked Aldwyn.
“Bob the Rich… Bob the Rich… where have I heard that name before?” wondered Lloyd. Then Lloyd seemed shake himself out of his thoughts. “Whatever. So anyway, Aldwyn, why are you here?”
“Ah… actually… well, I have something to ask of you, a sort of favor,” began Aldwyn slowly.
“Yes, yes,” spoke Lloyd impatiently.
“You won’t really like it or want to do it,” continued Aldwyn.
“Okay, I get it! Just tell me,” burst out Lloyd.
“Could you go rescue Irvina from Bob?” finished Aldwyn.
Lloyd raised his eyebrows. “Seriously?” he said. “Why would I do that? Why would I make myself an enemy with another kingdom? And how would I do that? And all for some prissy princess? That’s more than just a “favor”, Aldwyn.”
“Well, you also owe me. Besides, it’ll be a fun adventure,” Aldwyn countered.
“Fun adventure? You know I’m not some hero who goes around rescuing princesses,” replied Lloyd.
“That doesn’t change the fact that you owe me. I rescued you, now it’s your turn to go and rescue someone else.” Aldwyn told him with a wink.
“You’re just going to keep bugging me until I do it, aren’t you,” said Lloyd accusingly.
“Yep,” said Aldwyn cheerfully.
“Fine!” snapped Lloyd. “I’ll do it! Just don’t look so smug, or I won’t.”
“I’m not looking smug, I’m looking relieved,” explained Aldwyn.
“Mm-hmm,” said Lloyd doubtfully. “Where is this Bob’s place anyway?”
“Here’s my map,” said Aldwyn, showing it to him. “You see, if you go South East, but mostly East, on the road from George’s castle, you’ll get there in about eight days.”
“Hmm, interesting,” spoke Lloyd, looking at the map. “What if I cut through the forest?”
“You’ll get there in about six days, but cutting through the forest would be dangerous,” warned Aldwyn.
“So? I’m a necromancer. I can take care of a few robbers and wild animals,” Lloyd told him.
“I suppose…” said Aldwyn, considering the prospect. “I guess.”
Aldwyn hadn’t thought Lloyd would give in so easily, and he was relieved. “Thanks, Lloyd. I know you don’t like doing this sort of thing,” he said.
“Whatever,” was Lloyd’s reply.