Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1986. All rights reserved.
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Sir Gildegarde Brisbane rode his quarterhorse down the old forest road, closely followed by his squire on a smaller yearling. His weapons clanked against the light chainmail blanket draped over the horse with each gallop and a strangely shaped bag hit each time with a thud. Soon, the pair came upon a watering hole and dismounted to give the equines, and themselves, a much needed drink.
After a particularly long drink, his squire spoke. “I’ll bet none of the others defeated a wyvern! They would be too frightened to face such a beast!” He gestured towards the sack hung on Brisbane’s saddle. “When you pull its head out of that bag, they’ll probably run in terror!”
“Now, Wisk,” Brisbane scolded. “The Knights of Farchrist are a brave lot. I’m sure each will return with a fitting tribute to the King.”
“It was the largest creature I have ever seen,” Wisk continued. “To kill such a monster is a feat only the bravest of those knights could accomplish.”
Brisbane smiled. Ah, the devotion of a squire. It indeed knew no limits. “We were lucky to find one so soon,” he said, trying to end the embarrassing praise. “We’ll be back at the castle long before any of the other knights, and I can be back protecting my lord.”
“Why do you worry so much about the King?” Wisk asked. “Farchrist is a peaceful land.”
Brisbane smiled at the lad. Yes, for him Farchrist was a peaceful place. Wisk didn’t know about the early years, after the King had just taken power. He didn’t remember the bitter rivalry between the young King Farchrist and the mage Dantrius. He wasn’t present to witness all the malicious attempts the wizard made to steal the throne. He hadn’t seen the trials or Dantrius’ imprisonment and he had never heard the magician’s threats of revenge.
“It’s my duty,” Brisbane said at last, “to protect the King to my own death.”
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Something was very wrong. Brisbane had left Wisk to tend the horses at the front gate of Farchrist Castle and had ventured inside to search the seemingly deserted palace alone. There were no guards, no townspeople, nobody at all. Something was definitely wrong.
He burst into the audience hall, a room as bare as the rest of the castle. The huge pillars seemed closer together without the throngs of people between them, and for the first time he noticed the beautiful mosaic that was set into the floor. His eyes followed the colorful geometric shapes to the throne, and there he saw the skeletal form of the King.
“M’lord!” Brisbane shouted as he dashed across the tiles to kneel at the King’s feet. The King’s flesh barely hung on his frail bones, he had lost nearly all his hair, and he shook uncontrollably. “M’lord,” Brisbane said. “What has happened?”
The King weakly raised his head to see who was addressing him. “Brisbane!” he gasped. “You’ve returned!”
“Yes, m’lord. I’ve returned, but to what I cannot fathom. Where is everyone?”
The King broke into a fit of tortured wheezing that struck fear into the knight’s heart. His lord was dying.
“D…D…Dantrius,” the King finally managed to stutter before he lapsed into another spasm.
Brisbane rose to his feet, the anger coursing through his veins. He knew he shouldn’t have left the King unprotected. But it had been quiet for years and most people had forgotten the wizard Dantrius. Things had seemed safe. Too safe. And that was the problem. Something had told Brisbane not to go off like the other knights, searching for tributes. His instincts had warned him against it, but Brisbane had gone anyway. And now it was too late.
Brisbane called for his squire, his voice booming through the empty palace. Wisk soon arrived and paused, horrified at the King’s condition.
“Wisk,” Brisbane said. “The King and this castle have fallen under evil magic, the magic of a very evil wizard. I must go and try to put an end to it, but I need someone to stay and take care of the King.”
Wisk looked to the King again and a tear came to his eye. “You can place your trust in me, sir. I won’t fail you.”
Brisbane smiled at the boy and ran from the room, vengeance heavy on his mind.
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After Dantrius had been released from prison, he was banished from the land of Farchrist, so he traveled to the border and there he constructed a tower in which to reside. Since that day, the Tower of Illzeezad Dantrius and the area around it has been shunned by all wandering merchants, and rumors of evil magic radiating from the tower have cropped up in all the nearby towns.
It was to this place that Brisbane rode in his fury. He brought his steed to an abrupt halt and vaulted to the ground, sword in hand. He marched up to the door, raised his boot, and with a mighty thrust, kicked the door inward. He jumped through the portal but slipped when his feet hit the floor, falling in a horrendous crash of armor and weapons.
“Serves you right!” he heard a feminine voice say. “Breaking down a perfectly good door. Don’t you know how to knock?”
Brisbane scrambled to his feet, making more noise than he had going down. The room was circular like the tower, and had no furniture. The floor was wet with soapy water and, in the middle of the room kneeling over a bucket and scrub brush, was a young woman, obviously a maid.
“I beg your pardon,” Brisbane said, somewhat confused. “But I have a score to settle with your master, the wizard Dantrius.”
“I’m sure he’ll have a score to settle with you once he sees his door!” the maid scoffed.
“Where is the wizard!” Brisbane demanded.
The maid uncrooked her back and put her hands on her hips. “Oh, if you must know, he’s upstairs!” She gestured to her right and returned to her work.
Brisbane looked to where she had directed and saw a staircase rising along the wall until it ended at a trap door in the ceiling. Funny, Brisbane didn’t remember having seen that when he entered the tower. Of course, this was a multi-story structure; one needed stairs in such a building. They must have been there, he just hadn’t noticed them in the embarrassment over his fall.
He began to climb the stairs and was over halfway to the top when he heard a squeaky voice behind him say, “Fool!”
Brisbane spun to see the evil magician Dantrius standing where the house maid had been. He was a short, pipsqueak of a man dressed in a light green tunic and dark green trousers. He was mumbling to himself and making strange motions with his arms. Realizing the diminutive wizard was casting a spell, Brisbane leapt off the staircase and grabbed the handle of the trap door, just as the stairs vanished beneath him.
Hanging a good six feet above the floor, Brisbane knew he was an easy target for another spell. So he let himself drop, even though a fall from that height would certainly hurt in full platemail armor.
Brisbane crashed to the floor as he saw the area where he had been suspended explode in bright green flame. What a fool he had been! Without his armor, he could have easily dropped to the floor and rushed the dwarfish mage before he could cast another spell. Dantrius fought with magic, not with weapons. Brisbane’s armor not only didn’t help, it was losing the battle for him.
The knight struggled to his feet as fast as he could, trying to ignore the pain. But just as he managed to stand upright, a wave of sleepiness overwhelmed him and he collapsed in a dead faint. Dantrius’ magic had finally caught him.
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Brisbane awoke in a jail cell, stripped of his armor and weapons. Three walls of the cell were solid stone but the fourth was made up of many thin, closely-placed bars. The room beyond these bars seemed unoccupied, but Brisbane could not see all of it. His first thought was to escape. He was a heavily-muscled man and probably could bend those bars, if his strength hadn’t been drained by evil magic.
Brisbane approached the bars cautiously, and as he neared them they began to glow with a pale green light. He slowly reached out his hand, but just before he touched the bars, a sharp green spark shocked him, and he jerked his arm away in surprise and pain. Even if those bars were made of paper, he couldn’t break through them.
Suddenly, Dantrius stepped out from behind a workbench and stood in front of Brisbane, safe on the other side of the bars. “You’ll never get through those bars,” he cackled in an irritating tone of voice. “I’ve enhanced them magically.” He seemed quite pleased with himself.
“What did you do to the King!” Brisbane screamed, forgetting his own personal danger.
“Oh, did you like that?” the puny necromancer piped in shrilly. “That particular curse worked out very well for me. As well it should—it took me several years of magical research to get it right. You see, every couple of minutes, a person under the King’s rule vanishes from this world, and with each missing person, the King himself gets physically weaker.” Dantrius began to laugh.
“Villainous runt!” Brisbane shouted as he rushed for the bars. This time they zapped loudly and nearly knocked the knight off his feet.
“Ooooo!” Dantrius moaned unpleasantly. “You shouldn’t have called me that! I am not a runt. Just because you are such a huge lummox, that doesn’t mean people of average height like me are short!”
“You,” Brisbane said with cool malice, “are a pint-sized, sawed-off, insignificant gnome.”
Dantrius’ face turned red and his green eyes nearly popped out of his skull. “You shall pay for such remarks!” he shouted, his voice squeaking like never before.
The petite prestidigitator clapped his hands and suddenly a huge humanoid beast burst into view. It had limbs as thick as tree trunks, strange patches of green hair, and horrible fangs erupting from a cavernous mouth. It stood at least nine feet tall.
“Otto,” Dantrius addressed the monster, slowly regaining his composure. “Would you please bring our guest out here into the torture room?” He waved his arms and the bars before Brisbane disappeared.
Jumping at his only chance, Brisbane dashed from the cubicle before Otto could block the exit entirely with his bulk. He just escaped the beast’s grasp and dodged around the impish wizard in one swift movement. He saw the door and headed for it.
“Otto! Get him!”
Brisbane was nearly at the door when it sprouted a mass of green slimy tentacles. Cursed magician! Who knew what poison they would inject? Brisbane did not want to find out, so he turned to face Otto, who was immediately upon him. The monster grabbed the knight by the waist and began to haul him to the rack. Brisbane struggled, but Otto was just too strong for him. He squirmed and flailed his arms in vain, trying to break the iron grip. As he was pulled past a table, he desperately grabbed one of the various corked bottles set there, each filled with a different shade of green liquid.
He uncorked the bottle and dumped its contents on Otto, hoping for the best. The huge monster instantly shrunk into a tiny green lady bug that Brisbane promptly squashed under his foot.
“That’s not fair!” Dantrius wailed as he began to wave his hands in preparation for another spell.
But the unarmored Brisbane was able to rush the wizard and grab him by the throat, thus interrupting the intense concentration needed for spell casting. Dantrius hit and kicked the knight as he felt his breath being taken from him. But the mage was weak, so the blows didn’t bother Brisbane.
Eventually, Dantrius’ body went limp and Brisbane let him drop to the floor. He looked to the door and saw the tentacles writhing there shimmer and vanish. Illzeezad Dantrius was dead.
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On his way back to Farchrist Castle, Brisbane had plenty of time to think of what he had just experienced. And the more he thought about it, the more he felt pity for Dantrius. He felt the wizard had deserved death, for this latest curse and for all the treachery he had caused in the past, that was certain, but Brisbane still felt regret for his part in the mage’s demise.
Dantrius had seemed so childlike in so many ways. He was small of stature, and was very possessive of anything that was his. His magic and his revenge. Brisbane could not imagine how anyone, no matter how evil, could keep a grudge for so long. All those years of seething, bitter hate of King Farchrist must have driven the mage stark raving mad.
But then Dantrius couldn’t really be blamed for this latest—no, it was all over now. It would be best not to think about what could or should have been. Brisbane kicked his steeds’ flanks hard and rode off towards the castle.
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When Sir Gildegarde Brisbane rode into Farchrist Castle for the second time that day, it was returned to the bustling center it had always been. He requested an audience with the King and was quickly granted it.
The audience hall was packed, as Brisbane was used to seeing it, and the King was the slightly pudgy man Brisbane remembered. A huge table sat off to one side and was covered with all kinds of savory meats and delicious sauces.
“M’lord,” Brisbane said solemnly as he lowered himself on one knee before the King.
The King rose to his feet, his regal robes falling over his broad shoulders and down to his ankles. “Sir Gildegarde Brisbane, my kingdom thanks you and I thank you.”
The crowd burst into thunderous cheering. The King raised his hands and the din slowly diminished.
“And,” the King continued, “for the brave deed you have completed, I formally ask you to assume the position of Captain of the Farchrist Knights, to train them in the knightly disciplines you have perfected.”
The hall was silent as Brisbane remained crouched before his lord. He thought about the death of Dantrius again. Had it really been necessary? The wizard had been an evil man, but he hadn’t been a monster, like the wyvern. Couldn’t something have been done to avoid his fate? And why did Brisbane feel so responsible?
“Brisbane?” the King questioned, strangely nervous.
Brisbane raised his head and slowly stood before the King. “M’lord,” he said. “I cannot take good Sir Walford’s position for what I have done. I am sorry.” Brisbane turned and rushed from the chamber.
The King slumped into his throne, shocked as the murmurs began to rise throughout the hall.
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