Wendig flash fiction challenge 5/17/13
“A remorseful knight is out for revenge.” 980 words
The Iron Knight
Sir Dorian, Knight of the Realm, tried to look casual as he walked beside the castle wall. He knew that he was in sight of three different guard posts atop the wall, but it couldn’t be helped, what he searched for would be invisible in the dark.
The pain in his left leg was flaring up again and he slowed to give it some ease. The leg was better some days than others, but the pain in his heart was constant and growing. He was close. Close to easing the one pain that made his life a miserable hell.
The cloying stench from the moat had him on the verge of gagging, but he suppressed it. If the guards saw him retching down here, they might wonder what brought him here that was more important than the stink.
There! The mark! It had taken him a full year to locate the grandson of the chief architect who had designed and built this castle, and another half year to gain his confidence enough to find out how the King’s secret escape tunnel was marked. And here it was.
He limped on a few yards and stopped, like he had several times before. He turned to face the town and set about fixing the landmarks he would need to find this spot again in the darkness.
Tonight. The King’s wizard was still off on whatever business he found in the mountains, but there was no telling when he would return. And he was deadly. He had more personal power than the King ever would, but he seemed quite content to place it at the King’s disposal.
Sir Dorian slipped slowly along the castle wall, back tight against the stone blocks. He had dressed in dull, colors that almost matched the color of the castle walls and kept his head down. Nevertheless, if the guards actually looked at where he was, they would see him. The clothing helped, but his only real safety was if they kept their attention on the town or the far edge of the moat.
He paused to study the town and the landmarks he had memorized earlier. No, not quite. He resumed his slow shuffle.
The longer he crept around the castle wall, the more his internal tension built. He was almost ready to scream his release when the landmarks lined up. He smothered a gasp and took a moment to get his heart back under control.
Two minutes later and his hand traced the proper symbol carved into one of the stone blocks. He put his back against it and pushed. The stone pivoted easily and silently and he stumbled and fell on his back at the shock of the easy entrance. Before he could move, the stone pivoted back into place, leaving him in smothering darkness.
Sir Dorian stared down at the bloody corpse. Royal blood dripped slowly from his sword and pooled beside his right boot. He felt only relief. His honor was irretrievably lost almost two years ago, and his life forfeit for this act, but he was relieved. He would no longer have to live with the gnawing pain of guilt and remorse at what he had done in his king’s name.
Faintly he heard shouting and running feet. The guards were coming. Good. Now his life could end; ignominiously for a knight, but end at last. He dropped his sword with a harsh clang and turned to face the opening door framing the King’s wizard.
Morning sunlight streamed through the windows of the throne room, filling the hall with light. Dorian faced the dais and the throne, occupied now by the former king’s younger brother, Eric. The king’s wizard stood beside the throne, staring at Dorian intently. All of the remaining knights stood ranged behind Dorian. He could feel their gazes on his back.
“Why, Sir Dorian?” the wizard said. “Why have you stooped to treason?”
Dorian looked up from the flagstones at his feet. “The king tricked me into betraying my honor,” he said heavily, “but my oath to him was based on my honor. With no honor, the oath was nothing.”
The wizard started to speak again, but Eric, the new king, interrupted him. “Enough! Guards, put him in the dungeon until a suitable punishment is decided on.”
Three days later, at noon on the summer solstice, Dorian stood again in the throne room, but this time he stood beside the throne where Eric again sat stiffly. At the wizard’s order, the guards had let him wash and change into clean clothes. His sword, bright-polished, leaned against the throne.
The wizard stood before him and struck his staff on the floor and the echoes ran around the room. He tapped Dorian on each shoulder. Each touch sent a chill heaviness over his limbs. The wizard nodded at the guards holding his arms and they stepped backwards.
“You betrayed your oath to protect your king. As punishment you are sentenced to protect the king forever.”
The wizard began to chant in a low voice.
Dorian strained to understand, but the language was none he had ever heard before. As the chant continued, his arms and legs became stiff and cold. He tried to move, to back away from the power he could hear in the wizard’s words, but he was locked in place. Fear surged up in him.
The wizard raised his staff overhead. “Behold the Iron Knight!” he brought the tip of the staff down and touched Dorian’s forehead.
Dorian could hear the entire room gasp as cold swept from the staff’s touch down over his entire body.
“Take up your sword and your post,” the wizard said.
The iron body turned toward the throne and picked up the sword waiting there. He turned back to face the assembled throng and waited to protect the king.