The Seven Bravest Knights
A short story
The seven bravest knights in the Realm gathered in the Great Hall before The King. A great evil had cast its shadow upon the Realm, for only in the Kingdom’s darkest days did such a noble gathering occur: the Princess had been taken captive by a mighty Dragon and whisked away to his lair high in the mountains.
It would be the task of these valiant men to rescue her.
“Dearest sirs,” spake The King. “You know well why I have called you before me today. My daughter has been abducted by a horrid Dragon, and she must be saved. Who among thee is brave enough to undertake this task?”
The knights looked nervously round the table, careful to avoid eye contact with The King, who sensed reluctance in their countenances.
“As an added incentive,” he said, “anyone who doesn’t volunteer will be executed.”
The King had read about such incentive programs in a pamphlet on kingdom management, and decided to put it into practice. It worked, for their demeanors changed in an instant. They at once stood ready to give their swords to the task. The first to spring forth was Sir Gryffyn Strongarm, the stoutest knight in all the land.
“Your Majesty,” spake Sir Gryffyn, “I shall fell the beast with my intrepid blade. No man or beast this side of the Rumpback Mountains can match my strength and skill with the sword.”
“Most excellent,” spake The King. “I knew I could count on thy strength to serve me in these trying times.”
“There’s just one thing,” Sir Gryffyn said.
“What is it?” spake The King.
“For such a perilous journey I will require a fine horse,” Sir Gryffyn said. “Not just any fine horse, but the finest fine horse in all the land.”
“You speak, surely, of my prized steed Frostmane, the sturdiest warhorse in the Realm,” spake The King. “The likes of such a beast could never be replaced in a thousand years.”
“I do so speak, Your Majesty,” Sir Gryffyn affirmed. “I cannot best the dragon on foot, but atop such a powerful beast, together with my stoutness, the Dragon stands not a chance!”
“Very well,” spake The King. “Frostmane shall carry you on your quest. My stable master shall make the necessary preparations. Go now, and slay the Dragon!”
And thus Sir Gryffyn departed to slay the Dragon.
A fortnight had passed when a package arrived at the castle. The King opened it with gusto, anxious to see what was inside. He tore open the lid, and there, before his eyes, was Sir Gryffyn’s head. With it, a note:
Foolhardy king, I am stronger than any man. Mere strength will not be enough to slay me. Give up now, lest more of your knights die by my claw!
P.S. I’m keeping the horse.
The King was enraged. He could not let this grave offense go unpunished. In addition to the Princess, his prize horse now needed to be rescued.
He despatched His messengers to summon the bravest knights in the Realm once more.
The six bravest knights in the Realm gathered in the Great Hall before The King.
“The putrid Dragon has killed Sir Gryffyn and stolen my horse, and still my daughter is held captive,” spake The King. “Sir Finnaeus Fleet-of-Foot, you are the fastest warrior in the Realm, faster twice over than any other knight. Surely you can use your great speed to rescue my daughter.”
“Verily, Oh King,” said Sir Finnaeus. “I shall race up the mountain like the swift and free the Princess before the Dragon even sees it coming. Then, I shall proudly take thy daughter’s hand in marriage and become thy son-in-law and heir to the throne!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. I never said anything about marrying my daughter,” spake The King.
“Well, it was sort of implied,” Sir Finnaeus said. “You know, typically when you rescue a princess she falls madly and immediately in love with you and you get to marry her after.”
The rest of the knights nodded in agreement.
“Okay, whatever,” spake The King. “Just getteth it done.”
“There’s just one more thing, Your Majesty.”
“And what’s that?”
“My armor, it’s too heavy to run with the speed you require,” Sir Finnaeus said. “I will need the famous Armour of Dabocles. ‘Tis the only metal light enough that it won’t slow my pace, but strong enough to stop a dragon’s fiery breath.”
“None but the Kingdom’s greatest heroes have worn this armor, and it is with much hesitation that I lend it to thee,” spake The King. “But these are trying times. Therefore, my master armorsmith shall see to it that you don this sacred armor on your quest. Go now, and don’t return until thou hast rescued my daughter. And don’t forget to bring back the horse.”
With that, Sir Finnaeus departed at a sprint, a gust of debris kicking up in his wake. Surely the Dragon’s reflexes would be no match for such fastness!
The rest of the knights departed, and The King retired to his bedchamber. Come morning, another package arrived at the castle. Anxiously, The King opened it. As he tore apart the box, his nostrils were hit with the foul scent of ash and dragon’s breath. Inside the box were two shoes: the golden running shoes of Sir Finnaeus Fleet-of-Foot, charred to a crisp.
Along with the shoes was a note:
Lumpheaded king, I am faster than any man! What a fool were you to think your knight could run into my cave without succumbing to my fiery wrath. No mere suit of armor could keep my flames at bay. Quit this game, before thy kingdom hath no knights left.
P.S., If you do decide to send someone else up here, send someone bigger. The last one was so skinny he hardly made an appetizer.
Now The King was furious. The Dragon had killed two of his best knights and hurled jests at him about it. This Dragon would pay with its life!
The five bravest knights in the Realm gathered in the Great Hall before The King.
“Oh, warriors five, the impertinent serpent hath committed yet another grievous offense against the Crown, and I shall have my revenge!” spake The King. “Not only has it taken the head from the sturdy Sir Gryffyn and my favourite horse Frostmane, but it has taken the priceless Armour of Dabocles forged by the master armorsmiths of yore.”
“And the Princess,” said Sir Algouin the Wise. “He kidnapped the Princess.”
“That’s right, and he kidnapped the Princess,” spake The King. “Can’t forget about her. This Dragon clearly cannot be bested by physical skill alone. But while he may be stronger than the strongest of knights, surely we can outsmart him.
“Sir Odo the Clever, your cunning and wit are matched by none other in the land. Surely you can outsmart the beast.”
“But, of course, Your Majesty,” spake Odo the Clever. “Everyone knows that dragons are addicted to gold. I shall lure him out of his cave by laying a trail of golden coins leading down the mountain. When he reaches the last of the coins, I shall be lying in ambush ready to slay him.”
“Honestly, that doesn’t sound all that clever,” spake The King, “but I’ll go ahead and assume you’ve thought it through.”
“There’s just one thing, O Great King,” said Odo the Clever.
“I’ll need someone to lend me the gold, since most of my wealth is tied up in illiquid assets like castles and slaves and such.”
Knights are so needy these days, thought The King. Back in the day, you could just tell them to slay a dragon and they would go, no questions asked, even if they knew they would be killed. But nowadays, everyone wanted to “plan” and “not die” and “ask The King for the appropriate resources to successfully complete the quest.” Alas, He was too deep into this endeavor to give up now.
“Very well, I shall lend thee the gold,” spake The King. “But you’d better bring back every last groat, plus interest.”
Thus, The King’s Men wheeled in a cart full of golden coin from the Royal Coffers and handed it over to Odo the Clever. With that, Odo departed.
He was never heard from again.
“That clever bastard tricked me and stole my gold!” spake The King. This was true. Odo was cleverer than The King gave him credit for. And The King was no closer to slaying the Dragon.
Once again, He despatched His messengers.
The four bravest knights in the Realm gathered in the Great Hall before The King.
“We hath many problems to deal with now,” spake The King. “A Dragon to slay, a horse and armor to retrieve, and a cunning knight to hunt down and kill, for Odo the Clever hath stolen away with my gold!”
“And, Your Majesty,” said Sir Algouin the Wise, “a Princess to rescue.”
“Yes, of course. The Princess,” spake The King. “Sir Algouin the Wise, surely with all your wisdom, you can devise a strategem to deal with these troubles.”
“Indeed, Your Majesty,” spake Sir Algouin. “Such a strategem I have already devised. Here it is:
“What we’re dealing with, Your Majesty, is a hostage negotiation, and we must treat it as such. First things first, we have to establish an emotional connection with the Dragon, to empathize with his cause. Did he kidnap the princess out of love? Out of desperation? Is he having financial trouble perhaps? We need to figure out his motivations and then show him that we understand where he’s coming from.
“Secondly, we need to be willing to make concessions. If he wants money, how many chests of golden coins are we willing to pay? If he demands to keep a lock of her hair or an appendage for the memories, do we let him? Which appendages are off limits?
“As for Odo the Clever, we need to cut our losses and let him go. Every time we send someone on a new foolhardy quest they end up dying, and there’s only four brave knights left in the whole Kingdom.
“Thus is my plan.”
The King spent not even a second pondering Sir Algouin’s wise words.
“That’s a terrible plan!” spake The King. “The Crown doesn’t negotiate with dragons, and I am not to be made a fool by some ‘clever’ knight. Nay, we shall slay them both.”
The King gave a nod to his guards, and Sir Algouin was arrested and dragged away to the dungeon.
The three bravest knights in the Realm gathered in the Great Hall before The King.
“All right, the rest of ye, one of you shall go after the Dragon, and the other shall pursue Sir Odo the Clever to retrieve my gold,” spake The King. “Sir Bradlee the Berserker, you take the Dragon. Your berserking skills shall come in handy. Sir Quollo Seafarer, you have undertaken many a long voyage and surely can track Odo the Clever to the far corners of the earth.”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” said Sir Quollo Seafarer. “There’s just one thing.”
“Spit it out then,” spake The King.
“‘Tis likely that Odo the Clever escaped across the high seas. To pursue him, I shall require a fleet of ships. And not just any fleet, but the swiftest fleet in all the Realm, for he is surely many leagues distant already. I shall require . . . the Kingsfleet.”
All present gasped at Sir Quollo’s request. Kingsfleet was the crown jewel of the Kingdom, the fastest and sturdiest navy in all the land. He who controlled the Kingsfleet controlled the seas.
“Very well,” spake The King. “But if you so much as scratch one of my warships, you shall pay for it thrice over. And what of you, Sir Bradlee the Berserker? Surely you shall ask some favor of me like your brethren?”
But Sir Bradlee the Berserker had already gone into berserking mode and was thrashing out gates in a frenzy.
“I guess not,” spake The King. “Sir Quollo, depart! And bring me the Dragon’s head and my gold!”
All present turned to leave. They had nearly exited the Great Hall when they were stopped by a voice.
“Your Majesty,” came the voice from the corner. It was a low voice, calm and mysterious, and one that had remained silent thus far in The King’s quest to slay the Dragon. “You have forgotten one thing.”
“And what is that?” spake The King.
“O King, you have forgotten your daughter,” came the voice. “We must rescue the Princess. Surely, in all this commotion, you have not forgotten your own daughter?”
“Oh, yes, my daughter. Of course. I guess it slipped my mind,” spake The King. “I’m sure Sir Bradlee will bring her back, too. Hopefully without berserking her first.”
Thusly, they departed. Many days passed, and The King grew ever more anxious. That He had been repeatedly offended and did not yet have His revenge was too vile an insult to bear.
First came news of Sir Quollo. In his pursuit of The King’s gold, his fleet had encountered a squall and was dashed upon the rocks. There were no survivors. The Kingsfleet, every last ship, was nought but driftwood. Next came news of Sir Bradlee. His head, like that of Sir Gryffyn, was delivered to the castle gates in a box. The King, in his frustration, flung it into the moat without even reading the accompanying letter, which said:
Dude, seriously, you need to stop.
“Curséd Dragon!” cried The King.
The bravest knight in the Realm sat in the Great Hall before The King.
He had been present at all the previous gatherings, but until now had remained silent save for a few choice words reminding The King of the original purpose of this endeavor, of saving the Princess.
“Sir Eadwyld the Patient-but-Willing-to-Act-Opportunistically-to-Seize-the-Throne-When-the-Chance-Arises, you are the last brave knight in the Realm. The task falls to you to slay the Dragon, recover my gold, rebuild my fleet, and find more brave knights to replace the ones that were killed doing all the above,” spake The King. The Kingdom was in tatters. The King had no fleet, no money, and no brave knights to quest in his name. The King was desperate. “It is a mighty task, but you are the Kingdom’s last hope.”
“Your Majesty, this is a grand task you ask of me,” said Sir Eadwyld the Patient-but-Willing-to-Act-Opportunistically-to-Seize-the-Throne-When-the-Chance-Arises. “Surely, this is a task fit not for a knight, but for a king.”
“Are you implying that I, The King, do my own work?” spake The King with vexation. “Preposterous!”
“No, Your Majesty, of course not. I would never presuppose such nonsense,” Sir Eadwyld said. “I am merely implying that the resolution to your problems requires a more . . . creative solution.”
“Go on,” spake The King.
“What I propose, Your Majesty, is that I become The King,” said Sir Eadwyld the Patient-but-Willing-to-Act-Opportunistically-to-Seize-the-Throne-When-the-Chance-Arises. “Now, now, hear me out. No need to get flustered. Your Kingdom has no money, no ships, no brave knights, and – though you seem to keep forgetting it – no Princess. Now, when your enemies hear of your weakened condition, clearly there will be usurpers who will try replace you by force. But, if you were to, say, disguise yourself as a peasant and leave the Kingdom, your enemies would be none the wiser, and you would escape with your life. I will take your place as King, and I vow to fight every last usurper. Once they are all dead, I will slay the Dragon, rebuild Kingsfleet, recruit some more brave knights, et cetera, et cetera. When the Kingdom is well again, I will send word to you so that you may return and reclaim your Crown as if nothing ever happened.
“Surely this is all much easier than fighting off usurpers and rebuilding the whole Kingdom yourself, no? ‘Tis a win-win, Your Majesty. What do you say?”
The King pondered Sir Eadwyld the Patient-but-Willing-to-Act-Opportunistically-to-Seize-the-Throne-When-the-Chance-Arises’s plan. Something about it seemed suspicious, but He couldn’t quite put His finger on it. Ultimately, He had no choice but to agree.
“Very well, Sir Eadwyld the Patient-but-Willing-to-Act-Opportunistically-to-Seize-the-Throne-When-the-Chance-Arises. Thy plan is less than ideal, but I suppose it is our best option,” spake The King. “But tarry not in rebuilding my Kingdom. I have no desire to live as a peasant for so long.”
“Of course, Your Majesty. Thy Kingdom shall be rebuilt in no time at all.”
“By the way,” spake The King, “how’d you get that epithet?”
Sir Eadwyld the Patient-but-Willing-to-Act-Opportunistically-to-Seize-the-Throne-When-the-Chance-Arises, Sir Quollo Seafarer, Sir Odo the Clever, Sir Finnaeus Fleet-of-Foot, the Dragon, and the Princess sat around the campfire laughing. The Dragon rolled over in a pile of treasure and spit a spout of molten gold into the air.
“He actually fell for it, eh?” said Sir Odo the Clever, who brushed Frostmane gently as he puffed a pipe.
“Oh yeah. Watched him walk out of town in rags three nights ago,” said Sir Eadwyld. “He’s rarely been outside the castle walls except to hunt, and every peasant from here to the Swamplands knows his face. I’d be surprised if he survives a week.”
“You kind of have to feel bad for the guy.”
“Feel bad for him? If anything I feel bad for Sir Gryffyn Strongarm and Sir Bradlee the Berserker,” said Sir Finnaeus Fleet-of-Foot.
“For the record, they were both an accident,” said the Dragon. “I didn’t mean to slice Gryff’s head off like that, it was just instinct. You see a knight, you cut his head off with your dragon claws. And Brad, well, he was just so . . . berserk. I thought he was actually trying to fight me.
“Alas, my feelings of sorrow are far outweighed by this pile of gold.” The Dragon nuzzled his snout into a heap of amulets and smiled.
“Their sacrifice was not in vain,” said Sir Quollo Seafarer. “By the way, Princess, erm . . . Your Majesty, I get to keep at least one ship, right? It wasn’t easy convincing every sailor in Kingsfleet to stage our deaths.”
“Yea, and I really liked that pair of running shoes this one burned,” said Sir Finnaeus, casting an annoyed but endearing glance at the Dragon. He didn’t mention the suit of priceless armor that was now his.
“I’ll have the cobbler make thee new running shoes as soon as you give me back that armor, Sir Finnaeus. And Sir Quollo, you may not have one of my ships. However, you are hereby promoted to Lord Admiral of Kingsfleet, so you can ride on them whenever you’d like,” spake the Princess, who was now, in fact, The Queen. “Also, I think we’ll rename it Queensfleet. Has a nice ring to it.”
“What about our friend Sir Algouin the Wise?” said Sir Odo. “The King sent him to the dungeon. He’ll miss the celebration.”
The group was preparing to celebrate a feast that very evening, to honor the new Queen and her husband, King Eadwyld the Patient-and-Once-Acted-Opportunistically-to-Seize-the-Throne-When-the-Chance-Arose.
“He’s no fun at parties, anyway,” spake The Queen. “We’ll let him out tomorrow.”
She turned to Eadwyld.
“You did good, dear,” she said. “Now, let’s go rule this place.”
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