King Alistair woke up to the sound of alarms ringing. He blinked wildly and resisted the instinct to cover his ears.
He sat up in bed, waiting for his senses to come around. Then understanding dawned on him.
We’re under attack. The realization sent a wave of unsteadiness through him. He sat there, immobilized with shock.
Then, even before he thought of composing himself, his brain suddenly began working at a furious speed, as if making up for the few milliseconds of malfunction. Adrenaline pulsed through his veins, and surges of energy rushed to his aid as self-preservation mode kicked in, shoving away all thoughts and feelings.
“Antoinette, get up. Castle’s under attack,” King Alistair slipped on a set of robes and was already putting his armor on when his wife sat up, bleary eyed.
“Wha- What’s going on?” She wiped her eyes, looking at him.
The king put on his belt hastily and grabbed his sword. Then he turned to the queen and couldn’t help but cradle her face. Sadness overwhelmed him as he realized this might very well be the last time he would see her.
“Antoinette, love,” he whispered, his eyes searching hers. He was lost for a moment in her beauty. “Periphral’s here.”
Then he twisted his head back as the alarm grew louder. “Here,” he stuffed a package into her hand, ripping his attention away from her lovely face.
Queen Antoinette looked at the small box-like package in her hand.
“What is this, dear?”
“That package could possibly save your life. Don’t open it. Take our newborn and run as far as you can from here. Quick,” His face was twisted in a medley of agony and awe as he reached up to caress her face with a gentle finger.
“Run-” Antoinette’s eyes widened in horror as she finally caught up with reality. “No, Alistair, no!”
“Alistair, if we can’t win this fight, run away with us, please,” she pleaded. “How about our other child- I can’t possibly-”
King Alistair swept down to kiss her tenderly, silencing her pleas. “It is but my duty, love,” the queen looked up at him with tear-filled eyes and opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
“Now, go!” King Alistair pushed her away and strode out of the door.
He didn’t look back.
Antoinette stared at the baby lying fast asleep in the crib.
A bead of sweat trickled down her forehead to meet a melancholic tear. Her brows were twisted in a frown, indecision and confusion prowling on the frame of her conscience.
She didn’t know whether she could escape.
Perhaps Periphral would have some humanity in him and leave her son alive.
What if they were captured? She shuddered at the very thought. Even if she refused to hand over the package, unless they let them go… What if she bargained with them? No. Periphral’s forces would just overwhelm her.
There was no way out.
“Sleep in peace, little one,” said Queen Antoinette. A teardrop glistened on her cheek, trickled down her cheek to her chin, paused, and then descended through the layers of air and space to land on the baby’s smooth and pale face.
Antoinette stole one last loving look at the child and placed a package in his hands.
Then the queen ran.
“Send out the archers!” King Alistair ordered.
“Yes, sir!” A line of arrows shot out into the forest.
The king nearly buried his head in his arms. This was a failure.
The king paced back and forth in the control room of the tower.
“Sir?” A tentative voice interrupted the rhythm of his pacing.
“What?” He snapped, turning around.
“Should we send out the cavalry now?” The atmosphere was tight as the soldiers waited for the king’s reply.
“No, no, no, of course not!” The king exclaimed. “The enemies could ambush us from the forest trees! They have an advantage!” He burst out and marched over to the soldiers. “Focus, everyone, focus! This is not the time to make the wrong decisions!”
“Yes sir!” A tense pause.
“Then what else do we do, sir?” There was a loud interjection, and the soldier’s voice was tainted with frustration. The king couldn’t blame him. Though they were less than half an hour into the battle, it seemed like it was already lost.
Okay. First things first. “Have all the residences inside the castle been escorted to the escape route?”
“No, sir. There was no time,” The chilling statement seemed to freeze time. “The enemies have surrounded the castle. There is no way out.”
The king fought back a wave of hysteria. His wife was supposed to be escorted out. Country above family, he steered himself and kept calm and collected.
“The enemies are starting to break down the gates!” A frantic voice reported from the back of the room.
The atmosphere grew even tenser then before.
King Alistair took a deep breath. Looked like he was going to lose both country and family. “Fine. Send out the cavalry and infantry. Protect the castle at all costs.”
There was a communal sigh of defeat as the team processed the words at all costs.
They were going down.
King Periphral couldn’t suppress the excitement as he trotted through the wrecked gates of the castle. The surprise attack was too easy, really too easy. And it seemed like it would continue to be just as easy.
His gaze turned to the battling troops. King Alistair’s defense was feeble. Surely Alistair would have thought of a surprise attack? It seemed like the soldiers he put together last minute to defend the castle were unprepared.
King Periphral looked around. The battle, he was going to win. But what he was looking for- where was it? And- And-
Misery swept through King Periphral. His daughter. Where was she? Grief coursed through his veins at the thought. It’s hopeless, He thought to himself, agony wreaking havoc on his heart.
“Watch out!” A hoarse yell broke through his thoughts.
He thrust his sword out in a sudden movement as a soldier flung at him, too fast to catch for the circle of soldiers protecting the king.
“Insolent fool,” King Periphral sighed, and then looked at the soldiers protecting him.
“Abandon duty,” King Periphral said, glancing up at the tower located in the middle of the castle. This was one thing he wanted to do alone.
The soldiers around him halted, confusion flitting across their faces. “B-but, your majesty-”
“Join the fight. I have no need of protection,” With that, King Periphral galloped towards the tower, his horse jumping over the enemy soldiers blocking his way. He bolted past the fighting forces and leapt off his horse.
The entrance to the tower was heavily guarded, but already his soldiers had the majority of the guards occupied or simply put, slaughtered. The king parried an attack and slashed down on the enemy, disappearing through the tower doors in an instant.
It was pitch dark, and the curtains were drawn. The king inched forward, surprised there were no guards behind the door. King Periphral tiptoed up the spiral staircase, careful as to not make any noise.
He walked as cautiously as he could down the polished wood corridor, thankful that the red carpet beneath him insulated any sound. His pulse grew quicker and quicker as he glanced at each room he passed, sword at the ready. There was no point in searching the rooms- once he gained control of the castle, he could conduct a thorough search. Right now, the main concern was whether the king would run away with it.
It was deathly silent, with no hint of noise at all. King Periphral glanced around, apprehensive. What if this was a trap? He broke into a sprint and tore down the corridor, anxious to see that there was not a single guard or person in sight.
“No!” A figure jumped in front of him, blocking his way.
It was a young boy. King Periphral had no desire of killing anyone unnecessarily, much less a child.
The boy moved lithely to stop in front of the king in a fighting stance. “You’ll have to get through me to get any farther.”
King Periphral was mildly amused. “King Alistair sent a stable boy to fight me?”
“I’m not a stable boy, scoundrel. I am the prince,” The boy flipped back his blond locks and stared the king down with piercing eyes. He held his sword infinitesimally higher, a mask of no emotion concealing the rolling turmoil behind the face.
“Lancelot,” King Periphral drew in a breath upon recognizing him. He smothered his shock and examined the boy. He was around fifteen, tall and muscular. The prince had a darkened tan, and sharp features. His eyes narrowed as he saw the king assessing him.
“I may not be a match for you, King Periphral, but I will fight valiantly to death,” The venom in his voice was unmistakable. The prince threw himself forward, stabbing at Periphral’s chest. The king parried his blow and took a step back, surprised by the boy’s strength.
“Been training, have you?” King Periphral chuckled and positioned himself so that he could escape at an opportune moment. “Your father sent you, I presume?”
“My father didn’t send me. I sent myself,” The prince glared savagely at him, and crouched, ready to launch himself at the king.
“Interesting,” The king pierced at him with his sword, but Lancelot fended it off easily. The king’s expression abruptly turned serious. “Let me through, Lancelot. I know you, and you’re a good boy. I’m only here to deal with your father. You’ll regret this in years to come.”
The prince let out a harsh laugh. “I’ll regret it when you take over the kingdom and I’m still alive,” he thrust his sword at him, but Periphral countered his attack easily. Periphral twirled his sword around and swung it down on the boy. The prince deflected his attack, then slid down below him, jumping up from the opposite direction, slashing down on the king’s back. King Periphral turned around, sword whistling through the air.
King Periphral warded off his blow, and began a complicated of series of attacks, but the prince could tell he wasn’t seeking to kill. Lancelot fended off each blow, but his arm burned ferociously with each stroke.
Then, at a moment of folly, Lancelot faltered and the king pierced through his armor. The prince’s sword clattered to the floor and the prince clutched at his chest.
King Periphral glanced at the prince, and the prince saw an apologetic gleam in his eyes, and something- something else. A tear of sorrow was threatening to roll down the king’s cheek.
“Kill me,” But confusion broke through the prince’s mask of bravado and his voice cracked.
King Periphral raised his sword higher, preparing to slash down on the prince. His revenge would be taken.
The prince closed his eyes, and King Periphral’s sword was suspended in mid-air. The innocent expression- it was too much like his daughter. King Alistair had taken away his daughter, but Periphral would take the higher road. Revenge was not worth another unjustified death.
King Periphral lowered his sword and touched the prince’s shoulder lightly. “I do not kill unduly, much less brave young men like you.”
Lancelot opened his eyes in wonder.
The king looked away and walked further down the corridor, then turned back.
“You should escape, while you can.”
The prince stood there for a moment, and then he turned and ran.
King Periphral sprinted down the corridor, and then turned into a lavishly decorated hall and came to an abrupt halt.
In front of him, sitting distinguishably on the throne, was King Alistair.
“Welcome, Periphral,” King Alistair said, his deep, resonant voice resounding off the hollow walls of the castle.
“There’s no need to be courteous, Alistair,” King Periphral said, unsheathing his sword. “You know what I came for.”
“As a king, there’s always a need for courtesy,” King Alistair stood up and sauntered down the steps. “You, of all people, should know that.”
Periphral glared at him. “Still the same, I see.”
King Alistair sighed, and held his arms wide in an open gesture. “Why is it that we have to fight, Periphral? Is it not possible to go back to the old days? What happened to our friendship?”
“Friendship?” Periphral scoffed. “It would be more aptly described as fiend-ship,” he muttered under his breath.
“Our friendship, Periphral,” Alistair’s face creased with wrinkles.
“You were the one that destroyed it,” Periphral’s eyes were brimming with sadness and sheer hatred.
King Alistair looked at him for a second, and then dropped his arms. “I expect it has been pleasant for you here, so far?” He looked away, downcast.
King Periphral sneered. “On the contrary, I had a rather unpleasant meeting with your little boy,” he said, an image of Lancelot flashing in his head.
“My little boy-” The king’s voice cut off, and he made a gagging sound.
“Yes, your little boy,” Periphral stared unwaveringly at Alistair.
“Then why are you here? Don’t you already have what you want?” King Alistair choked back tears and crumbled to the floor.
“I want my daughter,” The words hung in the air.
“For the last time, Periphral, I did not kidnap your daughter. Neither did I kill her!” King Alistair buried his head in his arms. His voice became a pained whisper. “You have my son. You have gotten what you came for. So why are you here to torment me some more?”
“I’ve gotten what I want?” Periphral cocked his head to a side. Why would the king say that? How did the… the gem have anything to do with Lancelot? Periphral nearly hit himself on the head.
The boy had the gem, and I provided his escape route. King Periphral let out an enraged roar and rushed at King Alistair.
His sword touched flesh and was wrenched out of his hand. King Periphral let out a guttural cry and took a step back.
King Alistair stood, pointing the sword at his own throat, tears dripping down his beard. “If you have my little boy, you have my wife.”
King Periphral couldn’t react. It didn’t make sense. He didn’t see Queen Antoinette with Lancelot.
“Take care of my kingdom,” King Alistair eyes were staring off into the distance. He held up the sword-
And plunged it into his own chest.
“No!” King Periphral clutched at thin air as Alistair collapsed. “I- I didn’t kill your wife, or your… your child.”
But King Alistair was already on the floor, motionless.
King Periphral wiped his face furiously as tears started to escalate.
He’s your enemy, Periphral. He’s dead. He killed himself. Periphral smiled grimly and brushed the dust off his robes.
Silence hung in the air.
Silence is deathly. King Periphral walked ever so slowly out of the hall.
King Periphral ran down through the millions of rooms. The king was dead. The land was his. Slowly, the euphoria thawed his shock. But he had yet to find the gem. The boy he fought earlier, Lancelot, could’ve run away with it, and he was smart. It would be hard to track him down. King Periphral frowned as he pondered to possibilities.
A cry broke his reverie.
King Periphral stood ram-rod straight and whirled in the direction the cry came from. He strolled down the corridor, sword in hand.
The wailing grew louder and louder and reached its peak when Periphral turned into an opulently polished room with antique woods, warm lightings, and-
King Periphral scrutinized the room with a ludicrous expression.
The crying started pierced his ears, and King Periphral walked cautiously towards the wooden crib the sound was issuing from. He looked in the crib, and-
The king gasped in shock.
There wasn’t a need to track down the prince.
The gem was clutched in the hands of a small, wailing baby.