Palo Alto Weekly 17th Annual Short Story Contest
Teen Second Place

 

Knight/Mage

by Eben LaPier

Mage
Hello. My name is Thyrius. That's right. The Thyrius. Thyrius the Wicked. Thyrius the Black. The greatest Sorcerer in the Four Realms. Despite all of the titles, I am not evil. I did not choose them. They came to me by a very unfortunate accident.

Knight
Way back in the day when dragons still had a sense of honor and warriors only battled the unscrupulous sort, there lived a brave knight. He was not perhaps the smartest of knights, but he was very noble and very strong. He slew dragons and ogres and hordes of orcs for fun. If he hadn't given a good smiting to someone or something before tea-time, he would go into a funk, skip his tea, and go out to beat goblins or wrestle trolls.

One day he was sifting in his castle, very bored indeed, and decided that he wanted to do something new. "I know," he yelled suddenly. "I'll slay a dark mage!" Now this was a problem, as most mages those days were good and the wicked ones tended to hide in mountain strongholds surrounded by their evil armies. He picked up his 1296 Hero's Guide to the Four Realms and flipped to the section titled "Mages." Finally he found a mage that wasn't overly reclusive and evil or very open and friendly. He was an in between mage, a Grey Sorcerer. He hid so well that his Hero's Guide entry said simply, "Thyrius. Age: 896. Location: Unknown." The knight sat for a while committing the name to memory before heading down to the Great Hall in a much more cheerful mood than before and drank his tea without throttling a single army of Kobolds.

Mage
I was just sifting in my keep one day minding my own business when a messenger appeared at the gate. That in itself was a feat. I try to hide my castle from prying eyes and pride myself on doing it well. So you can see that when the message hit me, I was already pretty shaken. "Vile Dark Mage," he proclaimed in that way that messengers and heralds are so good at. "Beware and prepare for doom, as my master Knight cometh to slay you three days from now at 2:15 and DON'T BE LATE!" I was astonished at the stupidity of this messenger's "master knight." After all, while warning someone to prepare for doom is traditional, telling not to be late for being slain is downright insane.

I probably should have told him to go boil his head, but I wanted a chance at him, so I shut down my guardian golems and brought them down to my basement. As he obviously thought I was evil, I set up clay heads on poles around my house. It wasn't exactly tasteful, but they wouldn't need to be up for long. I set up alarms around my castle that would tell me when someone was coming. I bewitched the trees to moan and groan at intruders. I covered all of my beautiful masterpiece paintings with "secret plans for world domination." I covered the front door in a coat of black paint, and hung a demon head over the mantelpiece. I bewitched my garden to look more evil. Dark Mages are supposed to grow Venus Mantraps and Needle Cacti, not chrysanthemums and begonias. After making my castle look nice and bleak, I went inside, pulled a tome off of my bookshelf, and sat down to read by the light of a fireball.

Knight
After sending his herald out and telling the mage to prepare for doom, the knight went up to the castle library and pulled out a book. It was called "The Professional Slayers Handbook." After the "Hero's Guide" and the "Cat in the Hat" it was his favorite book in the world. He picked it up and thumbed to the page called "Killing Mages." He read, "When a mage is bad, hit him with a sword, but watch out for nasty spells."

He puzzled over this deep and meaningful knowledge for a little while before closing the book. This would be fun, he thought. He liked hitting things with swords. He thought a little bit more about the "nasty spells." He didn't know how a spell could be as hard or sharp as a sword, but he would remember to wear his thick, heavy armor. Mages didn't seem as tough as they were rumored to be. Worn out by so much intellectual work, he fell into a deep sleep. That night, he dreamed happy dreams about smiting foes and saving fair damsels.

Mage
The tome was filled with good ideas for magic wards and hidden passages, but it wasn't really the one I was looking for. Now that I had an evil looking keep, I wanted to match its appearance. I looked through my bookshelves again and finally I found the tome I was looking for, volume eighty-seven of "One Hundred and One Useful Disguises for the Proficient Sorcerer." I put on a black robe with a mysterious cowl and a silver skull for a clasp. Even though it hid my face in shadow, I still made my face invisible, and made my eyes glow a sinister, piercing red. I made my forest look bleak and dismal and called black clouds to gather over my castle. I was now ready for the knight.

Knight
The morning of the duel was beautiful and clear. The knight, feeling well rested and ready for combat, walked over to his wardrobe and got out his thickest, strongest armor. It was made of dwarven diamond-steel and had smelled of brimstone ever since he had taken it from a dragon's lair a few years before. He called his faithful butler who buttled in with his favorite breakfast (griffin eggs on toast) and his famous monster killing sword. He opened the "Cat in the Hat" read a few pages for motivation ("Put me down, put me down," said the Fish to the Cat) and clanked off to the stables. He was hoisted on to his horse by his squires and rode off toward the black clouds gathering over the sinister forest in the east.

Mage
My alarms told me when the knight got close to my castle. I used my sorcerous sixth sense to probe him. His horse was fourteen years old. His sword was five feet and eleven inches long. His armor weighed eighty-seven pounds and three and one half ounces. He was ungainly and clumsy with all of that heavy armor on. I could use that much to my advantage. I magically projected my voice and gave it a sinister, hollow echo.

Knight
A voice rang through the woods to the knight. "Be gone from my woods, or you shall be forcibly vanquished," it said, making his bones rattle. His horse flickered in fright. These woods were a likely place, he thought. He dismounted and clanked through a grove of groaning trees. A figure stood there by a pair of sinister black gates. He was wearing a cowled robe that hid his face in shadow and made his eyes seem to burn with deadly fire. "Ah, the pathetic knight," he said in a chilling voice. "You have come at last."

Mage
The knight stared blankly for quite a long time after my greeting. His head must have been harder than mithril. At last he spoke. It wasn't exactly the noble speech I was ready for. He couldn't seem to be able to grasp my name. "Thy ... uh ... urn ... er ... rius?" "Thyrius, actually." I told him in a voice cold enough to freeze the nine hells. "But Thy-uh-um-er-rius is close enough. Leave your horse out of my way. I don't want to harm innocent animals." He sat stunned for a few more seconds. It obviously hadn't occurred to him that I might interrupt his ritual challenge. Sounding more than a little flustered, he began again. "Rythius the Black," he intoned. "Prepare to perish by my blade." I decided to humor him by responding. "Only you will perish today, knight. Have at me!"

With better skill than I would have believed him capable of he whipped out his sword and let out what probably was supposed to be a terrible war yell. My sixth sense warned me about what was coming and I ducked under the blow easily. Astonished by his inability to hit me, he overbalanced and staggered sideways. Any smarter knight would have tried a new plan, but not this one. He just swiped at me again. I ducked under the blade yet again. This would be a long afternoon. After a couple of hours, I decided to go inside and take a break. I created an image of myself that he could not harm, and went in for a cup of coffee and a nice read.

Knight
The knight had been fighting for several hours and was starting to lose some of his vigor. The mage, he thought, was so chicken. He did not stand still and fight. He insisted on ducking under every blow. Finally the mage forgot to duck. He swung his sword in a deadly arc that should have chopped the mage in half. It whistled right through him! He should have hit. Why was that cowardly fool still standing? He swiped madly again and again at the mage, but his sword met with no resistance. But he did not give up. Instead he sliced madly at the nothingness that should have been the mage for a few more hours, before collapsing on the ground, completely spent.

Mage
I stepped out of my house after reading five or six thousand pages only to find the knight out cold on the ground. I didn't have the heart to kill him, so I bound him to his horse with a handy spell and a coil of living rope. I set the horse off to where ever it might choose to go. How was I to know that his steed was as dumb as he was, and would head off into the mountains of the north? Should I have been able to tell that he would try to ford a river of lava? Even though I set him free, alive, to go where he chose, since that day I have been known as Thyrius the Merciless, Terror of the Four Realms, Destroyer of the Noble and Annihilator of the Brave. I have had to move to a bleak mountain stronghold, build up an evil army, and destroy villages just to keep a reputation of power and keep knights away. Many want fame. I didn't. It came to me all the same.